Neuroscience fascinates me. This interest aligns with my mission because, in addition to capitalizing on smart technology, productivity consultants manipulate human behavior to maximize output and enhance quality of life. Noting that November is the season for giving thanks, I did some digging into what neuroscience has to say about gratitude and personal productivity. I found that science has proven that a grateful heart directly impacts brain potential.
Productivity and Brain Hacking
Merriam-Webster defines neuroscience as “ a branch of the life sciences that deals with the anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, or molecular biology of nerves and nervous tissue and especially with their relation to behavior and learning.” Brainy stuff, right? OK, stay with me, among many definitions, Merriam-Webster offers the following for the word “hack”: “a clever tip or technique for doing or improving something.” Now I didn’t find “brain hack” in the dictionary, but I think a lot of what we engage in to boost our productivity adequately defines the brain hack concept. Consider:
- Time Blocking to keep our mind on the tasks we’ve deemed important
- Using lists to remind our mind where it needs to direct effort
- Proactively managing expectations to ensure maximum output
- Honoring our individual energy cycles to boost output and avoid burnout
And it turns out, we can add practicing gratitude to this list.
Some Conversational Science on Gratitude and Productivity
The inner workings of the various regions of the human brain is far beyond my area of expertise, but I do know that the frontal lobe of the brain is tied to cognition and personal motivation and that it is activated when we work to manage our attention. The frontal lobe, like all areas of the brain, is influenced by many neurotransmitters, one of them being dopamine. Dopamine enhances our motivation and motivation drives productivity.
Neuroimaging studies confirm that the frontal lobes also activate when we experience the emotion of gratitude. They’ve proven that both feeling and expressing gratitude releases dopamine, as well as serotonin, which is colloquially termed the “happy molecule.” Motivated? Happy? Yes, please! These are emotions that drive productivity!
Gratitude: Abundantly Available and Easy to Share
Gratitude is not a scarce resource. Everyone has something to be grateful for at any given moment. The key is to stop and acknowledge that which we are grateful for, and it doesn’t have to be something big. As I type this, I can be thankful for the audience who will read it. I can also be thankful for my health, the afternoon sun streaming in my window, the electricity powering my computer….I could keep going.
It’s also easy to share gratitude; there’s an endless supply available to us and it’s a non-depleting resource. By way of example, I could call or text my family members and tell them I’m thankful for them. I get the benefit of sharing the gratitude and they get the benefit of receiving it. The same goes for my clients and my service providers. I could yell out a word of thanks to the mailman pulling up at this very moment – but this might scare him and you get my point. Though I do think I’ll drop him a note of thanks in the mailbox this holiday season.
Start Practicing Gratitude Today
There are endless ways to foster gratitude, but if you’re looking for a way to get started, you might:
- Stop in this moment and list 3 things you’re thankful for
- Start a family dinner tradition that involves a round-robin on things each member is thankful for
- Pick up a gratitude journal – go for a five-year version that allows you to look back for even more gratitude
- Send a note of gratitude to a client/employee/coworker
- Text a friend/spouse/child: I’m thankful for you!
November is a great time to kick-start your practice of gratitude. Besides feeling good and making others feel good, you can expect a boost in your and their productivity when you practice gratitude. Neuroscience backs me up on this. And I encourage you to keep it going beyond this month because the benefits of gratitude are there for the taking year-round.
I want to close by sharing that I appreciate you. I’m truly grateful for your support. And I’m thankful we’re together on this journey to greater productivity.
Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop. She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.