Almost exactly a year ago, a couple things happened that were to cause me to have a major shift in my life—again.
The first thing that happened was I received a gift. It was a Christmas gift from my teaching partner, and dear friend. She gave me a calendar for Christmas. It was one of those daily calendars that fed me an inspirational quote or saying every day. My friend said her husband was concerned about the message she would be sending by giving me the calendar. Might I think she assumed me to be depressed? Well, he was right—I was probably not clinically depressed, but I was in a pretty dark place and receiving this calendar from her did confirm what I was already coming to on my own. It was time to address the situation!
That was the second thing that happened. I made a choice. I decided that I needed to get happier, so I made a New Year’s resolution to incorporate certain practices to help me toward this end.
Specifically, I decided to keep a gratitude journal. I also decided to incorporate daily exercise—even if it was just 10 minutes each day.
There were some other specific health habits I incorporated, but essentially, these three practices—turning that daily calendar, recording 3 things I was grateful for every day, and incorporating little health practices into my life--led to some pretty profound changes for me including a complete change in career and a joyful lifestyle that is in stark contrast to what I was experiencing this time last year.
How could those seemingly, minor changes in how I was going about my daily routine have such a major impact on my life? Well, to be honest, this wasn’t my first rodeo. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve reinvented myself a number of times, and it’s nearly always been during one of these dark and challenging times in my life.
But this time was different. Why? Well, this time, I was driven to understand it so I could make it more permanent. And to help other people to do it! I was now armed with the knowledge of growth mindset that I’d recently gained through my role in professional development at the school where I taught. I now became an avid consumer of TED talks and through this medium, I discovered positive psychology, and my favorite expert among those in this field, Shawn Achor who coined the term, "the happiness advantage."
The reason it was easier this time and the effects more dramatic was because my brain was wired for this change. Every time I’d done it in the past, I’d strengthened neural pathways to make the next time easier. I needed to oil them up, but it wasn’t long before they were ready for action.
See, scientists used to believe that our intelligence and our abilities are biologically fixed and that once our brains reached maturity, you are who you are—“you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, right?
Well, clearly this is a room of people who know better and who are committed to continued learning. But did you realize that the reason public speaking gets easier for you as you continue in this course is because you are actually changing the wiring in your brain. You’re not just becoming desensitized to being in front of crowds, you’re literally strengthening the pathways that allow you to recognize potential topics, and to design and deliver oral presentations. This is known as neuroplasticity and scientists can now prove that your brain literally changes to accommodate and make easier anything that you practice regularly--whether it's by choice or through passivity. The testing they’ve done shows that you actually GROW certain areas of your brain according to the activities that you give most of your attention.
I chose to practice happiness, and as a result, I developed what’s known as The Happiness Advantage, a concept that I’ll discuss more at a later date. What I want to share with you today are what have been and continue to be the results of the my rewiring.
That daily calendar? Well, it provided nuggets of wisdom. Many of which I tore out and pinned up in strategic places. When I started feeling grumpy or discouraged, I could find the right message and use it to change the lens through which I was viewing the situation. By practicing this regularly it became much easier to shift myself out of a funk.
Secondly, the gratitude practice rewired my brain for appreciation. It taught my brain to see the world through a lens of awe and wonder and to find the lesson in any situation so that I could be grateful for it. Again, such a simple practice—it starts by recording three things each evening—I know many people who practice this one; one client of mine said in the beginning all she could come up with one day is that she was grateful for butter, flour, and sugar, and that when you combine them you get cookies. Eventually, though, you change your brain to recognize the potential positive in just about any situation and the gratitude just becomes natural. It’s a much more pleasant way to experience this life than through a lens of anger or resentment.
Finally, the daily health practices I adopted told my brain that my body is important—that I am valuable, and that my choices matter. Because of my commitment to this area, I have attracted teachers that know how to keep me interested and increase my knowledge of how to maintain optimal health so that I can continue to reap the enormous benefits of attending to my physical wellbeing!