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Part 21. The Hidden Benefits of Gratitude 

By Pam Garcy

In psychology, you might hear the term "cognitive activation model" or "spreading activation model" mentioned. What is a cognitive activation model? It is basically a model of the thinking that explains how one thought leads to the next. When someone says the word dog, you might first think of your dog Rover, then think of a dog bone, a dog bowl, dog food, a dog house, a dog playing fetch, etc. Eventually, your thinking will spread to other things that are associated with the concept of a dog. For example, you'll start to think of a pet store, cats, guinea pigs, kids playing with a hamster, etc.

Why would I bring up such an odd model when the topic d'jour is gratitude? Well, sometimes when you're in a crummy place, you're activating the parts of your brain that are associated with being in a crummy place. So, you're basically strengthening the routine of thinking of things as crummy, depressing, sad, difficult, or not worthwhile. The practice of focusing upon what you're appreciative about, or what you're grateful for, can help you to activate an entirely different set of associations. When you activate this different set of associations, it improves your outlook. Your mood improves, your perspective is more optimistic and you will be more likely to take positive and helpful actions.

The practice of gratitude creates a setting in which your inner guidance can bubble up to the surface. In other words, you will be more receptive to your inner wisdom because you are making it safe for this wisdom to surface. You'll be less likely to get falsely discouraging or pessimistic understandings of your situation. Instead, you will be approaching things from a place of wisdom, therefore you will receive more wisdom.

How can you nurture gratitude?

Here are some tips for nurturing gratitude:

Intend a state of gratitude. What this means is that you envision yourself already feeling grateful. Seal this through an affirmation such as, "I am happily noticing my gratitude for all that is."

Take what I call a gratitude walk (or ride). During a gratitude walk, you say the words thank you, over and over again, as you step. Thank you becomes a mantra, and it can become a walking meditation if you allow yourself to focus upon the words, your experience of the words and your associations to the words. It is good to do this for several minutes, becoming aware of all that you have--especially that which you normally take for granted.

Sit in gratitude. What this means is that you simply sit and begin to look around you. Notice all that you have, inside and outside of you. That which you can see is readily apparent--it will be what you might notice first. Then begin to think about what is not as apparent. What is not as obvious, that you can still notice and appreciate?

Express appreciation. Think of several friends, family members, acquaintances, or people who serve your life. Who can you appreciate today? You don't have to do anything more than express this--you can express it verbally through words or nonverbally through kind actions.

Celebrate—anything! This is just plain fun. Find one of the many reasons to celebrate & create a celebration! When was the last time you hosted a party? It doesn't have to cost a lot--it is the idea of having the people you want around you, sharing in the happiness of any reason you decide! You can just ask each friend to bring a different food item to share, for example, and by the end of it you'll have a delicious feast! When you get into the act of creating a celebration, your reasons for gratitude will become even more apparent!

As you practice any of these, or all of these exercises, notice how you begin to feel inside. You might enjoy paying attention to your shifts in mood, energy, perspective, insight and/or awareness.

The positive effect of gratitude on receiving inner guidance
Have you ever attempted to look at a 2-D holographic drawing? You stare into it in a different way in order to see what is truly there. You cannot just look at it like you look at everything else. Instead, you must first get very close to it, relax yourself and then slowly back away--keeping your eyes positioned the same way as you would when you were close to the drawing. If you are able to retain this stance, the real image will soon emerge for you. It will be a 3-D image, rather than a 2-D image. Oddly, once you're able to see this 3-D image, you can then move your eyes and notice all of the various aspects of it. But, not until you position your vision just so.

What I have noticed is that it is often the same with our inner guidance. When you get very close to what is, accepting that you might not see all of what is before you, you can then adjust your vision. When you adjust your vision toward gratitude, you can then back up and see the larger picture. When you are able to recognize what is good, what is automatically in your favor, what is working, what is helpful, what is healthy, what is right, what is beautiful, what is available, what is amazing, what is self-renewing and what is magnificent about life, it is as though you're seeing a painting from a new and mind-opening angle.

When you are able to position yourself to look at your life from such ant angle, your vision begins to include more--you are also able to explore within--and finally, you are positioning yourself to receive more. This includes being able to ask yourself questions and receive the answers which are waiting to avail themselves to you--your inner guidance.

Gratitude Upon Receiving Guidance
It is also a good practice to be grateful after you've tapped into your inner guidance! Be grateful for the fact that you have created this experience for yourself, and for the wisdom that you've allowed yourself to tap into! The gratitude will feed the process, allowing it to grow and become even more abundant! Like a gardener with a hose, what you water grows!

REMEMBER: This is a process. Keep going to see ongoing results!

Pam Garcy, PhD is a Psychologist and Coach in Dallas, Texas. If you'd like a partner in reaching your goals and overcoming the obstacles that seem to stand in your way, please contact Dr. Pam for coaching at Dr. Garcy offers a special 10% coaching discount to all valued subscribers of Cultivate Life and to customers of Dr. Pam's best-selling books - including the bestsellers The Power of Inner Guidance: Seven Steps to Tune In and Turn On and Wake Up Moments of Inspiration

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