Gratitude Matters - Are you Paying Attention to What is Going Well?
Recently I received two handwritten notes, thanking my husband and I for helping to guide friends on a recent tour of New York City. Though not necessary, it was a beautiful thing to receive such an expression of gratitude! Why don’t we take the time to count our blessings and express appreciation to others?
Those of us with ADHD recognize that our focus and attention can rapidly shift. We often roll with tunnel vision just to get through the day. The very real challenges of living daily life with ADHD can make it easier to focus on what isn’t working, rather than what is.
The brain only has so much power to focus its attention, neuroscientist and author Alex Korb says in an article titled “The Grateful Brain.” It cannot easily focus on both positive and negative stimuli.
The more we dwell on areas of life that are out of control, the more out of control we feel, Korb explains in another article, “The Stress of Uncontrollability". This cranks up anxiety, increasing activity in the emotional center of the brain.
When we stop fixating on things beyond our control, stress goes down and positive emotions go up, psychologists have discovered.
This is why I start every ADHD coaching session by asking clients what is going well. When a client is struggling with feeling overwhelmed, for example, their thoughts are stuck in the anxious part of the brain, the amygdala (temporal lobe). Once we make a plan, the client’s thoughts move to the calm, rational part of the brain, the frontal lobe. Check out this neat diagram explaining parts of the brain!
Studies have found that grateful people tend to experience more optimism, lower anxiety, a stronger immune system, less stress, and an overall increase in energy. These benefits can be produced just by thinking about gratitude.
A brain scan of subjects during a 2009 experiment by the National Institutes of Health showed that thinking about gratitude increased blood flow in the hypothalamus, which controls major body functions, such as sleep and metabolism. The study also highlighted brain regions activated by dopamine, the feel-good chemical, which is a neurotransmitter that individuals with ADHD are in short supply of. Dopamine helps with motivation, taking action, and a sense of reward. The fact that gratitude was associated with being rewarded made the participants want to continue being thankful.
So how can we become more grateful? The world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, Robert Emmons, says that the practice starts with “paying attention.” He encourages a daily practice of recalling the gifts, grace, benefits and good things you enjoy. This helps you notice things you might otherwise take for granted.
Intentionally focus on the positive. There is always something to be thankful for, no matter how small. Starting every ADHD coaching session by discussing what is working sets the tone for the entire session. We start to see challenges through the lens of strengths, which positions the brain for success. Before we know it, we are also looking at what is good in our lives—as well as in the lives of others.
If you’d like to feel the power of thankfulness, check out “8 Gratitude Exercises to Unlock the Most Powerful Emotion That Exists.” Decide to focus on gratitude today and discover the difference that it makes!
To experience a better quality of life with ADHD, consider working with a coach! Visit my website to Schedule a Free Session today!
Your ADHD Coach,