connecYou See What You Look For: How to Train Your Brain for More Gratitude, Joy, and Connection
Have you ever decided to buy a certain type of car? Let’s say you want a blue sedan. As you mull over your decision, you notice blue sedans everywhere. Did everyone get a blue sedan overnight? Probably not.
When you become more aware of something, you start seeing it more often. This brain pattern can be annoying if you haven’t intentionally put some guardrails on your mind.
Fighting with your spouse about dirty clothes on the floor? If you walk into your bedroom and there’s a ‘not quite dirty sweatshirt’ randomly sitting on the floor, it will be all you see. Making a proactive effort to eat healthier? You may have never noticed the huge array of chips at your mother-in-law’s house, but now it haunts you.
We (consciously or unconsciously) train our brains on what to look for and what to ignore. Our mental framework determines how much attention we pay to particular pieces of the world.
Think back to the hypothetical blue sedan. What if instead of being particularly conscious of blue sedans, you chose to be particularly conscious of moments of gratitude, joy, and connection?
When you make a proactive effort to notice these things, you’ll see more of them. For the rest of today, pick one of these categories to pay attention to:
Gratitude. I was working with an IT team at a major bank. We were talking about how they make a difference to their organization. One of the guys said, “No one ever notices us until something goes wrong.” It’s not just IT. It’s everything. Our brains gloss over all the times our takeout order is correct, all the days we wake up without a stuffy nose or every person who uses their turn signal on the road. Training your brain to notice how often things are going ‘right’ helps the rough patches feel more insignificant. Which statistically speaking, they are.
Joy. When do you feel the space between your eyebrows soften and the corners of your mouth lift up? Is it when you take that first sip of coffee, hear a throwback song, or take off your shoes at the end of the day? Pay attention to it. Notice the joy in other people. A child at the store, a dog being let off the leash in the dog park, or your team laughing at a cheesy joke on Zoom. After a few hours, the world will appear more joyful. It was always there, now you’re noticing it.
Connection. Did someone hold the door for you? Send you a funny meme? Even just give you a passing smile? These moments can be fleeting without a proactive effort to internalize them. You don’t need to spend minutes basking in the fact someone smiled at you; you’re likely way too busy for that. Just spend one second, as if you’re mentally checking off an item on your mental ‘to-do’ list.
This will feel awkward for the first couple of hours. Without an established lens, you’ll likely need to put forth some mental horsepower to tease out what you’re looking for. By the end of one day, it will become easier. You’ll start to naturally notice things in the moment they happen, instead of consciously reminding yourself to look.
We see what we look for. If you’re searching for evidence that your boss is a jerk, your spouse is rude, or your career is off track…you’ll find it. If you’re searching for things to be grateful for, small moments of joy, and opportunities for connection, you’ll find those, too.
Choose wisely, friend.