Intentional Gratefulness

gratitude practitioner self care

Intentional gratefulness

Rhonda Emonson


Carer Care Inc.

Think about the last time you thanked someone close to you. Were you really feeling the emotion behind it? Were you saying it out of habit or to simply be polite? The truth is, sometimes we experience a disconnect between expressing gratitude and actually feeling it within us.

We hear the word so often and that is for good reason. Gratitude is associated with powerful effects such as lowering our stress, enhancing resilience and a general sense of overall happiness. It is known that the benefits of being grateful fosters positive feelings and stronger connection with those we are close to and who wouldn’t want that? 

Of course, actually feeling gratitude is a very important part of the equation as opposed to just going through the motions of expressing it. But you know and I know…sometimes you are just not feeling it. Have you experienced this disconnect-this confusion? You are not alone, many people would agree with you if they were being honest.

Grateful is an adjective, with some describing being grateful as a feeling or showing an appreciation for something done or received. We are thankful and we welcome an experience. Gratitude means appreciating the good things that life has given us…the invited and the uninvited.

If we just focus on what we want but don’t have, we’ll remain in a negative state of mind. That does not mean that some circumstances are not complex. Gratitude is a part of being wise and one component of wisdom is understanding the complexity of any given situation. However, when we practice gratitude, we are acknowledging the many factors, large and small that contribute to our lives, that make up the fabric of our existence, sort of like a richly coloured tapestry.

As a professional who spends the majority of your working hours caring for others, there is no doubt that you are frequently making critical decisions with decisions significantly impacting your client or patient and their family. The decisions you make, may even be life threatening or life enhancing and there are significant consequences on how you go about your day as a professional.  

It is only natural that you also think about what did go wrong, what could have been done better, what if I …...what if I didn’t? Our brains tend to focus on what didn’t go so well.  It is just what we seem to do.

We learn from what we did or didn't do and reflecting on what did or didn’t go so well does help us look at our processes and from that... we do learn. But then think about this. Neural pathways in the brain strengthen the more we use them. This is the 101 of how neuro plasticity works. Perhaps one way to describe it is to think about it as a muscle, the brain constantly adapts to what it is repeatedly exposed to. Interesting isn’t it?  

What we need to understand is that constant focus on what didn't go so well... creates a filter, a mental filter and that filter becomes stronger and stronger and stronger. The things that did go well, well they get lost in the mix, they become insignificant and we lose sight of the things that did go well. 

Constantly operating at this mindset, this way of focusing can lead to low morale, to low mood, to anxiety and to emotional exhaustion as the ‘good bits' the ‘what went well’ or even the ‘what was OK’ get blocked by the constant focus on the ‘what didn’t go well’.

Something to think about in your role as a caring professional...what do you predominately think about?

Do you constantly think about what didn’t go well, the problems, the issues that you are concerned about but cannot control?

What happened that could have been managed more effectively? 

Or, are you able to regularly think about the happy moments, the great outcomes and those things that were...well...sort of funny?

To help you rescue your emotional exhaustion or risk of emotional exhaustion, we can train the brain to highlight and actually remember the good things that happen throughout our day.

We can do that by intentionally being grateful.

Let us now look at some practical things you can do as you learn the skill of being intentionally grateful.The exercise I am going to share with you will train your brain to intentionally start undoing the mental filters that are not resourceful and don’t serve you well. You will start to enhance resourceful behaviours such as being able to focus on the ‘what is ok’, and ‘what is alright’ as you go about your tasks on any given day.  

The technique is cost free, can be done without others needing to know what it is that you are doing and you can tap into the technique frequently even as you go about your demanding role.  

As a start

Focus on things that went well...they can be simple things such as;

  • The traffic on the way to work wasn't so heavy today
  • You enjoyed a catch up with a colleague at handover and they shared something that made you laugh
  • It can just simply be, that you felt in flow and the day progressed without any drama

 You may be wondering...well so what...what does this matter….? It is easy to find research that supports this concept, that people who practice daily gratitude feel happier and that happiness is even noticeable to others.

This means that  something small, cost free and non intrusive can make a significant difference in your endeavour to reduce emotional exhaustion. 

As you practice this technique your brain will start to recognize good things and you will enjoy the benefits of resourceful behaviours in reference to those behaviours that are not serving you well.

Some tips and tricks

  1. As soon as you notice negativity creeping in...focus more on what is ‘going OK ', ‘what is working’ and ‘what went well’ - even if it is simple. 
  2. You know and I know that when we do learn something new, the more often we do the task, the more likely it will become a benefit and the more likely it will become a normal part of our everyday. So repeat, then repeat the above.
  3. There is merit in doing the intentionally grateful exercise even on consecutive days so that it becomes familiar and so that you start to develop new neural pathways. Remember, this is a judgement free zone.
  4. Share with colleagues that you are developing a new practice so that they can encourage you and notice the difference. 
  5. There is a reason for noticing more than one thing to be grateful for on a given day. The reason is that we all find it easy to think of one good thing, the second thing we might need to think a little more about and well the third is a bit harder so you have to think some more. When you undertake this technique, you start to focus more on ‘what is working’, ‘what is Ok’ and ‘what went well’ and something beautiful start to look for those things the next day and the day after.

The exercise is simple and you are able to implement it at any time of the day and in any situation.

As I mentioned before, it is important to continually practice the technique...just not do it once...or twice. Just do it regularly. Remember that it is important to be more aware of the mental filters that are actually filtering out our positive experiences and being intentionally grateful will enable you to feel motivated and increase your sense of satisfaction in the difficult situations you experience in your day to day. 

Some more tips

For each of the examples you reflect on that were ‘ok’, what  ‘went well’ write down in a few simple sentences the following:

  1. What was it that happened?
  2. How did this happen?
  3. How did you feel then?
  4. How do you remember it? 

A summary for you

  • Intentional gratefulness is a really useful exercise to keep practicing to enhance neural pathways that are resourceful for you in your professional caring role. 
  • It is important to do for at least five consecutive days
  • Do if often
  • Share with colleagues what you are doing 

So we have learnt that…

Focusing on ‘what went well’ or ‘what was Ok’ on a regular basis can help us develop neural pathways that are more resourceful and enables us not to be so burdened with negativity of our professional role. When you are going through a hard time, it is easy to focus on negativity, it is easy to start losing sight of the bigger picture. Learning to look through the lens of gratitude helps you gain a fuller perspective. This doesn't mean you have to ignore or minimise negative emotions though. You can experience and acknowledge those feelings and you have a choice about being grateful and a choice about where you invest your emotional energy. Be intentional about investing in the things that inspire gratitude.

You might already set aside time each day for prayer or meditation. If reflecting on what you're grateful for isn't already part of that habit, it is an easy addition to make. Consider journaling or writing down your thoughts. It is not only convenient to look back on when you need a boost, but it also makes it easier to share with those close to you.

When I do this exercise with clients in my private practice, many mention that they feel happier and this provides experience based evidence that gratefulness can elicit happiness.   

If you have further questions or would like to tap into one of the services to support you with resilience skills, practitioner self care or emotional well being, contact  us at:

Carer Care International

Care Care Inc.

[email protected]




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