Are you grateful? This is a question that virtually everyone on the planet would say yes to and subsequently rattle off a list of items they are grateful for. This is generally true no matter if the individual is rich or if they are flat broke. It is especially true right now as this happens to be the gratitude season with Thanksgiving just around the corner. It is a time for families and friends to gather and celebrate by giving thanks while feasting and making announcements regarding those things that they are grateful for.
Gratitude Has Overarching Effects
The fact is that gratitude is an extremely popular notion thought to be at the core of being courteous and thoughtful, but actually, gratitude is much more than that. Most people would be surprised to know that gratitude is a powerful state of mind that has very real and tangible benefits which can be quantified and studied. Gratitude is far more impactful on the system than ever thought possible and it has neurological underpinnings which brings me to a personal encounter with this underrated emotion.
Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, initially thought to be a movement disorder but now shown to be a progressive degenerative neurological condition that has close to 100 symptoms and is due in large part to a dopamine deficiency. Parkinson’s can affect the body in ways that include severe tremors, loss of balance, severe stiffness, rigidity and back and joint pain. As you can see, even with this very short litany of issues it promises to be a real bumpy ride; to which I can attest.
Like Michael J. Fox, I noticed a small tremor in the index finger of my left hand that eventually caused me to go to a neurologist who let me in on the news. Because of this condition there are numerous challenges that get in my way. The other day was particularly tough as I was experiencing strong irritability and discomfort with little to no desire to be out and about. I was due to meet with friends that evening for dinner and considered canceling and letting them know that I would not be good company. Fortunately, there was also little desire to sequester myself either, so I used a couple of personal tools to change my internal state. One was to listen to an audio file that included frequencies designed to put my brain into a relaxed state, and simultaneously I sat mindfully still and began to list as many things as I could that I am grateful for in the span of 10 to 15 minutes.
I often include gratitude in the morning and usually before meditation; however, that day I specifically used it to connect with my higher self and experience spiritual consciousness. After about 30 minutes I felt so much better and subsequently had a marvelous time that night. That mind/body response was not just a placebo effect. My body/brain experienced a neurobiological transformation associated with my brain’s release of a neurochemical cocktail directly related to the contemplation of gratitude.
How the Brain Responds to Gratitude
You might ask: What do our brains look like on gratitude? Initially there is a shot of dopamine – whether expressing gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life or for being grateful to someone who has extended a helping hand or shared a gift; the brain triggers the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that, among many other things, is secreted in conjunction with social connections, camaraderie and optimism. This hit of a special neurotransmitter encodes the experience in order for the individual to connect the act with feeling good. It all has to do with survival and the fact that social interaction and belonging are hard-wired into our DNA.
This hard-wiring developed over thousands of years in response to things our ancestors relating the disconnection from the tribe, clan, or family as meaning certain death on the savanna, so sociability is rewarded to sustain the practice. Additionally, when you engage in being grateful, serotonin, another feel-good neurotransmitter, is released in direct response to positive thoughts, memories and expressions of thanksgiving. The region of the brain that lights up at that time is called the anterior cingulate cortex (a small area of the brain just above the temporal lobe on either side of the left and right hemisphere). Serotonin supports mood elevation very similar to anti-depressants, affecting will-power and motivation.
Over the past few years there have been many research projects specifically aimed at deepening our understanding of how the simple state of gratitude affects the body and mind. One such study is featured in The International Journal of Workplace Health Management (Vol.2 pp.202-219). This research project noted that among nurses, gratitude was a consistent indicator of a number of productivity enhancers; such as, fewer absences, higher job satisfaction, more proactive behaviors, less exhaustion, less cynicism, greater health and increased safety within the work climate. In other words, gratitude brings happiness by not only expressing it to others but also having gratitude towards the self.
Gratitude and It’s Affects on Trading Results
So, what does this have to do with trading? Well, one of the ways to put this into practice and begin laying the groundwork for enhanced focus on what-matters-most and being in the now of the trade is to use a gratitude journal. This could be a brief but compelling paragraph every morning or evening that describes the day in terms of all the things that happened which involved a sense of well-being and high performance and being grateful for each of these experiences. As noted above, this exercise, due to the nature of the brain’s response to gratitude, would begin to lower stress levels, sharpen focus, support greater clarity and develop an increase in the brain’s ability to be coherent, communicative and coordinated, all of which are precursors to supporting your ability to remain centered, grounded and focused as you trade.
Here are a number of other benefits directly related to the act of being grateful: pain reduction, stress regulation, the improvement of sleep quality and the reduction of toxic emotions, just to name a few. So, giving thanks takes on much greater implications for getting the results that you want both in trading and in life.
This is what we teach in the Mastering the Mental Game, online and on-location. Ask you representative for more information. Also, get my book, From Pain to Profit: Secrets of the Peak Performance Trader.