The first exercise I will prescribe to most athletes and patients is very simple and takes only 30 seconds. I call it „Vitamin G“ and it is about practicing gratitude.
At night, before you go to sleep think of 3 things in your life that you are incredibly grateful for. If you find it hard start with only 1. As you get better you will be able to find 3 things.
If you struggle then start with things that are far away from you and that you take for absolutely granted. For example :
„I am grateful for the sun rising this morning“
„I am grateful that I did not die today“
„I am grateful that our soccer team won today“.
As you get better with this practice try to work more towards being grateful for the presence or actions of other people around you :
„I am grateful for my husband being there for me“
„I am grateful for my coach pushing me to my limits today“
„I am grateful for my teammates giving their best everyday“
And as you get super good at this exercise you might even try yourself at being grateful for your own actions. This is a transition into pride. So you might say :
„I am proud of me for giving my absolute best today in practice“
„I am proud of my ability to pass the ball so well“
„I am proud how I handled myself today in the meeting“
Things dont always go our way. Hell, we do shitty things throughout the day. But most people are already really good at recognising their own faults. We are actually masters at recognising our own faults. Wait, you might say, well there is this guy who is an absolute asshole and thinks he never makes mistakes and everything he does he does right? Yeah this guy is probably destroying himself on the inside and compensates by giving you the illusion of confidence. It is an illusion. Dont be fooled. Focus on yourself.
Why is gratitude so important?
Well, for one it is the opposite of anger and regret. Feelings of anger and regret will eat us from the inside. The hormonal and neurochemical response to anger and regret is poisonous cocktail that will attack our brain, our immune system, our adrenals and our balls/ovaries, and thereby lower our level of power hormones.
By feeling or experiencing gratitude we instantly let go of anger and regret and we produce neurochemical responses that will give us performance and health.
A study in the Journal Applied Sport Psychology from the year 2014 showed that elite athletes who did regular exercises of gratitude significantly improved their self-confidence and were better able to focus on their process and improvement instead of feeling jealousy or anger towards others.
Alex Korb, neuroscientist from UCLA, discovered that pride and gratitude trigger the reward circuits in our brain. When we feel gratitude or pride we release dopamine. What he also discovered that a lack of gratitude and pride will biochemically lead to feelings of shame, fault and depression. It is a biochemical pathway that will automatically pick up, as soon there is a lack of pride and gratitude.
Another study from 2014 also showed that this simple exercise in gratitude I presented will significantly improve sleep. This exercise will raise the serotonine levels in the brain by the same amount as the anti-depressive Fluoxetine (Prozac) will.
If in the beginning you will find this exercise hard and frustrating because you think there is nothing in your life to be grateful for, then you dont have to be frustrated. Neuroscientist Alex Korb says we release the chemicals of gratitude not by finding gratitude but by searching for it!
I am grateful for you reading this !
May the FLOW be with you all brothers and sisters!
Gerrit Keferstein is a Medical Doctor specialised in Performance & Functional Medicine. He is most known for his work on the optimisation of recovery and adaptation in elite athletes.