One Day You're Here, One Day You're There
Some days you just have it and other days you don’t. How is it that you go through some days with an inner sense of aliveness, feeling on top of your game and just happy in everything you do and other times you’re just completely out of it, in a totally dull mood like the happy centre in your brain just decided to take the day off?
I like to call this internal feeling your life’s background refrigerator hum, which much like the subtle hum of a fridge, is always there and has an affect on everything you do. But you don’t really notice it until you really dial in on your inner self. Except there’s a feeling attached to it and it can go either way, positive or negative.
Feel it now. Is your inner dialogue one of comfort or discontent? Do you have an upbeat outlook on life or is it looking rather dull?
It can be hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this internal hum on any particular day. Sometimes it seems like you have almost no control over how you feel on a day to day basis and it just feels so random. Some days just work for us and other days don’t.
Let’s try to put an end to this, or at least understand it a bit more. I dug deep into the inner workings of our brains to get a better idea of why this happens to the best of us and if there’s anything we can even do to stabilize our up and down rollercoaster moods.
The Most Important Moment of Your Day
It starts with waking up. Our minds kind of do a bit of a mental reset when we go to sleep and we usually wake up in a more or less neutral mood (whatever our personal “neutral” is) despite the mood we went to sleep in. This neutral mood usually develops in one of two ways as we go through the motions of our day - up or down. Positive or negative.
At this point in our day, our minds are still a blank canvas ready to be filled with thought. And if we’re not careful during this crucial beginning of our day, we can set ourselves down the wrong path. The thoughts that we allow into our minds at this time creates a sort of momentum of thinking that we subconsciously follow through the rest of the day.
This is due to human inertia. An object in motion stays in motion. Similarly, the parts of the brain that we activate at the beginning of the day are the parts that we are more inclined to use as the day goes on. Like attracts like.
Step One: Think of What You're Grateful For
If we’re not consciously trying to put good thoughts into our heads right from the get go, we might end up filling it with negative thinking which causes a spiral of negativity as the day goes on. “Ugh I hate waking up early”, “I’m so not ready for work”, “oh no I have so much to do today” - sound familiar?
Instead we should direct our thoughts towards the positive during this crucial part of our day, even if it does feel a little forced at first. I get it - you just woke up, you’re tired and you can barely think. The last thing you wanna do is sit there and brainstorm a bunch of feel good thoughts.
So that’s why it’s a good idea to think up these happy thoughts before you go to sleep. What I like to call the “morning gratitude” list. And the best part is we have proof: this study (Joel Wong, Ph.D, Psychology, University of Indiana) showed that out of 300 participants, “those who wrote gratitude letters reported significantly better mental health four weeks and 12 weeks after their writing exercise ended.”
I like to see it as a workout for the mind, but instead of training your physical body you are training your thoughts.
Step Two: Write it on a List
As the study shows, gratitude towards life is one of the best ways to promote a state of happiness. If experienced on a daily basis, you prime your mind towards healthier positive living.
Now, write down a list of at least 8 of those things (to start, you can add more when they come to you) that you TRULY GENUINELY grateful for in your life. Put it down in a notebook, piece of paper or whatever works for you. The keyword here is genuine, as the things on your list must be 100% authentic to you.
How do you know when thankfulness is authentic to you? You’ll know. You kinda just feel it when you think about it. It dives a little deeper than a surface level “thanks” into almost a soft body tingle when you feel how thankful you are for that thing.
I can’t stress this part enough. Make sure your list is actually authentic to you, not things that you think you should put. If burritos genuinely make your life worth living, put it on the list, no one’s judging (except maybe your personal trainer).
Now take that list and put it right under your bed, just an arm's reach away from your sleeping position.
Step Three: Read it Every Morning
Now comes the consistency, a habit you need to develop if you ever want to see any sort of lasting change in your life. When you wake up every single morning, take the first 3 minutes of your day to read off your list.
I know, you might feel tired, lazy, unmotivated and unable to think but it’s super important you do it right when you wake up to get your mind geared into positive thoughts right from the start so just do it!
If you really still feel dead asleep when you wake up (like I always do), go to the washroom and splash some cold water on your face and eyes for quick wake up. Now go back to your list and read it out before you get distracted by the smell of fresh french toast.
Now, listen to this part as it may just be the most important part of this whole thing. Are you ready? OK, here it goes. When you read out the list (out loud is better than in your head), it’s not enough to just blindly read each item and go on with your day. You have to, have to, HAVE TO, feel each item as you read it.
Remember what I said earlier about feeling when something is authentic to you? This is where it comes in.
So for example, if “Saturday nights with friends” is one of the things on your list, don’t just read the words and move on to the next, truly feel the warm, happy comforting feeling you have on the inside when you hang out with your friends.
Close your eyes and actually visualize your friends around you doing everything you would normally do with them that inspires positive feelings inside of you. Feel and imagine each item on your list like this as vividly as possible (doesn’t have to be any more than 10 seconds) and move on to the next. And then so on and so forth as you cover your entire list. It should not take you any more than 3 minutes every morning.
When you do this, something very interesting happens in your brain. You fire up the neural pathways that prime your brain into a positive thinking trajectory for that day. You pump it full of feel good transmitters that your brain naturally produces when you experience genuine gratitude.
To get a little more scientific, a research study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex states that "gratitude stimulates the hypothalamus (a key part of the brain that regulates stress) and the ventral tegmental area (part of our 'reward circuitry' that produces the sensation of pleasure)".
Now that the first few thoughts of your day activated these key regions of your brain, chances are the next thoughts will be in the same direction of positivity and so on. Each happy thought builds on to the next. That’s the human inertia I mentioned earlier doing its thing.
And there you have it, you’ve created a snowball effect of happy thoughts that will continue through the rest of your day. Do this daily and you have an impenetrable shield of positivity that helps you through every day.
It also improves the structure of your brain to better support thoughts of gratitude and feelings of positivity through neuroplasticity. To put it short, repetitive positive thought can rewire your brain and strengthen areas that stimulate positive feelings. The more you do it, the easier it is for you to activate the happy part of your brain.
Try this daily 3 minute mind exercise out yourself and see if you can notice a shift in attitude. Train your brain to be indestructible and show those nasty negative thoughts that they can’t touch you.