As I wrote my book, "Top of Mind," I spent time studying how brains learn new habits. Specifically, I wanted to explore the science behind training your brain to practice new habits naturally and consistently, making them almost second nature.
We can train our brains so that the actions we want to take become part of who we are rather than just another thing to think about doing. It takes time and effort, but teaching yourself to prioritize certain initiatives that matter to you is what makes you grow into the person you want to be.
During the holidays, which can be a time when we focus on receiving, receiving, receiving, I want to challenge myself and others to be more grateful. Not grateful for the things you're receiving from others, but grateful for what you have and where you are -- even if it's not ideal.
This may not be the easiest practice for a lot of us, but it's important to acknowledge and appreciate what we have. Here are five habits to start practicing today that will train your brain to be more grateful:
1. Remind yourself to thank the people who lend you a hand.
When someone helps you out, it's natural to feel a sense of gratitude in the moment. But you're not always going to be in a position to immediately write a thank-you note or make a gesture that underscores how much you appreciate his or her help.
In those moments, write down what you're thankful for and a reminder for yourself to share your thankfulness with this person. It doesn't have to be more than a quick note on your phone about the encounter as long as it's enough to reference and act upon later when you have more time.
2. Start your day with intentional gratitude.
Every day is a clean slate. Once it gets going, though, it can get away from you, and the next thing you know, it's time for bed, and you didn't focus on what you planned to. Avoid this by starting every day writing down one thing you're grateful for. Write down and reflect on what's good. It's simple, but it starts off your day on the right foot before you jump back into the daily grind.
3. Experience different cultures.
I just got back from traveling to another country for a vacation with my family. While it was great for spending quality time together, it was also a learning experience. Learning about and experiencing new places and cultures is incredibly valuable. Not only does it connect you to the other people in the world, but it also opens up your mind and makes you think about your own life differently.
Traveling is something I'm blessed to be able to do, and it's humbling every time I go somewhere new. It's a reminder to me just how big the world is and how grateful I am to be part of it. I know not everyone has the opportunity to travel, but if you do, take it.
4. Surround yourself with grateful people.
You're the average of the five people you spend most of your time with. If you want to be more grateful, surround yourself with other appreciative, thoughtful people. Since I've started making more conscious decisions about my time and relationships, I've become a happier, more grateful person. I've also become better at appreciating the grateful nature of others around me. This kind of stuff is contagious and allows you to really understand those around you.
5. Put yourself in someone else's shoes.
When you're in your own little bubble and things are going well for you, it's easy to forget that life does not work that way for everyone. My wife, for example, has rheumatoid arthritis, and unfortunately, she's in a constant state of discomfort or even pain.
Sometimes I forget how lucky I actually am. Things may not go well for me once in a while or mistakes get made -- but I don't live with chronic pain. She is a reminder to me to be grateful for my health, practice empathy, and always work to understand people from their perspectives.
Habits aren't formed overnight. Check in with yourself each month to monitor how well you're committing to these habits. Over time, you'll start naturally practicing them, and your brain will have to do less work. The holidays are great time to think about things like this so you can go into the new year with new habits of gratefulness.