Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be negative, yet how difficult it is to be thoughtfully optimistic? I certainly have. In fact, just this morning as I was getting ready for my day, my brain was jammed in a negative loop. It felt like two people trying to get through a turnstile at the same time; everything had a negative vibe. First, my alarm didn’t go off; then the shower was taking its own-sweet-time warming up. If that wasn’t bad enough, I couldn’t find my contact solution and then I had to walk all the way down the hall to get a clean towel! I guess I woke up on the wrong side of the bed because I had a real difficult time overcoming negativity.
Experience has taught me that when I’m in a state of negativity, gratitude often breaks the cycle. In fact, I find it impossible for my brain to hold onto negative thoughts while at the same time practicing gratitude. Unfortunately, gratitude doesn’t come naturally, so it’s not easy to be grateful. This can be the case, particularly when you’re going through a rough time. You have to practice gratitude to get good at it. Years ago someone showed me the “gratitude hand.” It’s a powerful little tool that I often use both personally and professionally to help develop a state of gratitude.
First off, take a look at your hand. Notice your four fingers and one thumb.
Now look at the pinky: The pinking reminds us to take a moment to be grateful for something small, something that you may usually take for granted. For example, Do you have socks? How nice is it that you have socks! Did your car startup today? Do you have clean water? Is the room you are in warm? Did you eat today? There are many places in the world where people don’t have their basic needs met. I can be thankful that I don’t have a broken leg because if I had a broken leg, I would wish I didn’t have one. There are many small things for which to be grateful, and when we take the time to look at our pinky, we can remind ourselves of little blessings.
Notice your ring finger: This finger is the traditional bearer of a wedding ring, so we use this finger to remind us to be grateful for a relationship. Good relationships are the most important factors in our mental well-being. The better our relationships, the better we feel about life in general. Take a moment and think about the people in your life. Who is in your life that you are thankful? A neighbor? A teacher? Are you grateful for your partner? I know I’m often thankful for my wife and kids. Are you grateful for your parents? Think, for just a moment, about someone you love or who loves you and imagine them in your mind. Got them? Now, what is it about that person you appreciate? Take a moment and feel gratitude for this person.
Now the middle finger: This finger is traditional to use to flip someone the bird. But this time, we use this finger reminds us to do the opposite… give a compliment. It’s easy to be critical and complain. When we are critical, we lower our self-esteem. However, when we compliment someone, we not only raise their self-esteem, we raise our own. Who do you know that deserves a compliment? Maybe you can let your child know you are proud of them, or you might compliment a co-worker on their help or the job that they are doing. Visualize this person and take a moment to think about what they do well and make it a point to remember to give them this compliment.
Next is the pointer finger: Look around you. Find something of beauty and point to it. What this finger reminds us is that beauty is all around us. Is there a painting on a wall? When was the last time you looked at it and thoughtfully noticed it? Can you appreciate the work and talent that went into its creation? Maybe you see a plant or flower. Enjoy for a moment its beauty. Perhaps you see something as mundane as a light fixture. Take a moment to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into building something both useful and beautiful. As the Chinese philosopher, Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.” Take a moment and recognize beauty.
Finally the thumb: Give a thumbs-up to yourself. What is one thing you are good at doing? Maybe you’re a good guitar player, or you have a lovely singing voice. Appreciate your talents! Now this might be the most challenging of all gratitude practices. Do you find yourself resisting this practice even as you read this? Perhaps you’ve said something in the past like “I’m my worse critic.” It’s time to stop that. What are you good at doing? Are you a good cook? Do you like to arrange flowers? I like to think I have a talent for writing, and I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to speak to you even now. Everyone has talents. We just forget to enjoy them. Give yourself a second and be grateful for what you are good at and then express that gratitude to the universe for giving you that talent.
Practicing gratitude is an excellent way to start learning how to beat negativity. When I’m in a negative emotional state, I am suffering, but when I am grateful I have love. Transforming suffering into gratitude is a sacred act of the heart. Eckart Tolle said it well “It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.” I believe that if you will take the time, pause, and appreciate all things with gratitude of heart, you find negativity stays at bay…even if you happen to wake up on the wrong side of the bed.
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