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      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude All Year Long

      Author: Carrie Myers

      November is Gratitude Month, which is an amazing reminder that there is always something to be thankful for. But what about the rest of the year? We tend to treat gratitude like it’s something we can use as a holiday decoration and then pack it away until the next year. But, gratitude is important to practice throughout the year. What do I mean by practicing gratitude?

      And why does practicing gratitude matter? Keep reading…

      Your Brain on Gratitude

      Your brain is made up of billions of cells. These cells have “arms” that reach out and attach to each other. This is how nerve pathways are formed. But these pathways don’t just happen by coincidence or chance. They’re formed when thoughts and actions are repeated.

      Can you say habits?

      So, if your habit is one of complaining, procrastinating, or having a generally negative attitude, you’ve created pathways in your brain. These then become your automatic go-to reactions to life circumstances.

      But the opposite works, too.

      If you start practicing gratitude and being thankful for what you have, what opportunities are coming your way (even if you don’t know what those are yet!), and who is in your life, you begin to change your brain. You begin to create new nerve pathways. This happens thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s amazing ability to adapt and form new pathways.

      As the saying goes, neurons that wire together, fire together (remember from biology class…your nervous system is like a little electrical system within your body). And it’s this wiring and firing that is the basis of neuroplasticity.

      Turns out, you can, indeed, teach your brain new tricks.

      This doesn’t happen overnight, though. It takes consistent practice—and practicing gratitude is one way to do this. And by practicing I mean being intentional and purposely taking the time each day to find what you’re thankful for, even when you’re having “one of those days.”

      Little Johnny wrote all over the wall—again? Be thankful you have walls for him to write on.

      Little Janie pulled the potted plant over on top of herself, got a bump on her forehead, spilled potting soil, broke the pot, and is now crying hysterically? Be thankful you have a child to comfort and snuggle with.

      As you practice this mindset of gratitude, over time, you will use the negative-centric pathways less, and they won’t be so loud and automatic. With that said, they won’t completely disappear either. I mean, if we only wore the proverbial rose-colored glasses, we wouldn’t be alerted to danger—like when your kid is reaching for that hot pan. Or a car pulls out in front of you.

      Some “negative” pathways are necessary to keep you safe. It’s when they rule your world that they become a problem.

      Here’s another amazing thing about gratitude. You can immediately feel its effects on your brain and body. This is not from the act of neuroplasticity, though, since that takes time. This is due to your brain’s neurotransmitters—those chemicals that make you feel one way or the other. In this case, we can thank dopamine and serotonin for that immediate feel-good, warm-fuzzy feeling when we practice gratitude.

      Making Gratitude a Habit

      Ready to give a gratitude practice a try? First a few reminders…

      There’s a reason this is called a gratitude practice. It takes practice to focus on gratitude. And if you’ve been drenched in negativity lately—or for most of your life—it’s going to take more practice and it will be more difficult—but still very doable (and worth it!).

      Remember, those negative pathways in your brain are well-worn. They’ve been your go-to. And forming new pathways takes time.

      My fellow VitaMom, Ashley, explains that the well-worn pathways are like highways. They’re fast and get you to your destination more quickly.

      Now think about bushwhacking a new path. You’ll need the right tools, it’s going to take time, and you won’t use that new path right away. But the more work you put into that new path, the more familiar it becomes to you and the more likely you are to use it.

      Speaking of which…

      If you’ve made Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer part of your identity, being negative feels safe, familiar, and comfortable—even if you’re miserable and know it. Being positive and expressing gratitude will most likely not feel good at first, despite the dopamine and serotonin boost. This is because those feelings are not familiar to you. They’re not “safe.”

      Now, we could go down a rabbit hole at this point, but we’ll save that for another time. For now, here are a few ideas based on Positive Psychology that you can start using today.

      Three Good Things

      There was a study published in 2005 that used healthcare practitioners as study participants. It was called the Three Good Things Intervention. Since then, its results have been replicated, which means their validity is strengthened (in other words, they’re more likely to be true).

      The reason this group was used was due to the high burnout rate among medical professionals. The gist of the study was to have them write down three good things that happened that day and what their role was in it.

      What they found was that when Three Good Things was practiced, participants were happier, more resilient, and experienced less burnout.

      Some interpretations of the study also say participants slept better. I’ve been using this tool myself at bedtime to help me fall asleep faster. I’ve been practicing it long enough now that I often don’t make it to good thing #2 or #3.

      You can use the same intervention on yourself. Writing it down helps to solidify it more in your brain, but if you don’t have the energy for that at bedtime, focus your thoughts on 1. What went well today? And 2. What role did I play in it?

      This is especially great if your mind tends to start “Rolodexing” on that hamster wheel as soon as your head hits the pillow. If your thoughts start drifting away from gratitude, just bring them back to the center of your brain and heart.

      While I often don’t get to what my role was (again…zzz), if you can do it, give it a try. It might help increase your confidence when you realize that you have more control over many situations than you might think. And, you might start looking for ways to improve situations that you previously thought were out of your control.

      Hence, why Three Good Things helps with resilience. When you realize you have some level of control over something you didn’t think you had any control over—even if that “thing” is your attitude—you become more resilient in those situations.

      Letter of Gratitude

      Who would you like to thank today?

      We often get so wrapped up in our lives that we forget that we didn’t get here alone.

      Writing a letter of gratitude telling someone how much you appreciate them and what they do not only gives them warm fuzzies but also brings you a shot of happiness, as well.

      The Gratitude Letter is another evidence-based Positive Psychology tool that has been shown to increase positive emotions—for both the giver and receiver.

      According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the Gratitude Letter tool, “affirms positive things in your life and reminds you how others have cared for you—life seems less bleak and lonely if someone has taken such a supportive interest in us. Visiting the giver allows you to strengthen your connection with them and remember how others value you as an individual.”

      Think of someone you haven’t thanked—maybe have even taken for granted—and write them a letter expressing your gratitude for them. The letter does not have to be long. Take about 10 minutes to write it.

      Here’s the part that is tough for some—deliver it in person.

      If that’s not possible, give them a call or have a video chat.

      The first time is always the most difficult, especially if all this gratitude stuff is new to you. After you’ve done this once and see how it positively affects the other person, you’ll start thinking of others and over time, thanking people and telling them how much you appreciate them will become second nature.

      Keep a Gratitude Journal

      Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to be complicated. Get a notebook and make it a habit each day to write down at least one thing you’re thankful for and why.

      The “why” and the “writing it down” are what will help you make this a habit more quickly.

      The more senses you get involved, the more cemented into your brain this will become.

      When you write something down, you’re using touch and sight. Now speak it out loud. You’ve added speech and hearing. Lean into how it feels to express gratitude. You’re going to want more of that feeling (unless, of course, it feels uncomfortable because you’re so comfortable with feeling negative about everything).

      Why include why you’re thankful for your gratitude?

      It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’m thankful for the roof over my head,” but when you get to the deeper reasons why you’re thankful for that roof, it means more and it helps bushwhack that new pathway more quickly.

      Start a Gratitude Jar

      Gratitude isn’t just for adults. The earlier you teach your children to practice gratitude, you’re helping to form those pathways in their brains—which means you’re giving them a solid foundation for adulting.

      Make gratitude a family affair.

      A fun way to integrate gratitude into your family is to start a gratitude jar. Keep paper near it and encourage your kids to write at least one thing they’re thankful for each day, including other people and why. The jar can be opened at the end of the week and read as a family. Or save it for “those days” when everyone needs a reminder to be thankful.

      The Bottom Line

      People who practice gratitude tend to be happier, healthier, and more resilient than people who don’t. Practicing gratitude does not mean being oblivious to potential danger, sadness, or grief—nor does it mean having to deny when your kids or spouse are driving you crazy.

      It simply helps pivot your mindset from one of lack and always focusing on what you don’t have to one of abundance and being grateful for what you do have.

      For those situations where you can’t find anything to be thankful for, consider the lesson you can take from it and apply it to your life.

      Practicing gratitude takes consistency and time. Before you know it, noticing the good will come more naturally. And who knows? You might even find yourself being thankful for those hard times because that is where your growth happens.

      Five Tips for Easing Back into Schooltime Routines

      Five Tips for Easing Back into Schooltime Routines

      Author: Carrie Myers

      If you’re like many families, summertime means the loss of a normal routine and schedule. So, when back-to-school time inevitably rolls back around, those first few weeks can be rough—unless you’re prepared. Here are a few tips for easing into a new school year.

      Wrap-Up Summer School Projects

      If you neglected to go through your kids’ backpacks from last school year, now might be a good time to do so. Hopefully, you won’t find their summer reading list or some other summer project that’s supposed to be completed by the upcoming school year (and hopefully you don’t find that the stench you’ve been smelling is some critter they brought home and were supposed to take care of over the summer!).

      Do School Shopping Early

      This is especially important if you tend to procrastinate. Get school supplies, backpacks, lunch boxes, and any clothes and shoes well before the start of school (like two or three weeks before). This cuts down on the stress of last-minute shopping—and increases the chances of getting the colors and themes your kids want (unless you hate that cartoon character they’re crazy about, in which case, feel free to procrastinate).


      Don’t wait until school starts to begin some sort of routine. Summertime often means later nights and sleeping in—at least sleeping later than during the school year. Two or three weeks prior to school starting, set a time for bedtime—and announce it early—like the previous week, but also early on in the day that you’re starting it—and remind them often throughout the day so that no one can say you didn’t tell them (little do they know, we moms know all their tricks).

      How to set the earlier bedtime is up to you, but it definitely does not need to be all or nothing. Depending on when you’re beginning the earlier bedtime, try starting with 30 minutes earlier for the first few days and then add up from there. Just beware that they may have trouble falling asleep at first, since they’re bodies have adjusted to staying up later. This is where the bedtime routine comes into play. What do they normally do during the school year? Bath, brush, read—or something along those lines? If they’ve gotten out of that habit, now is the time to reinstill it.

      On the other end, if they’ve been sleeping in, start setting alarms and practice getting up and getting “ready” in the morning. If you don’t want them to consider you a total summertime buzz-kill, allow weekends to stay on summertime.

      Ease New School Year Jitters

      Whether your kids will be in a new school this year, or you have a child who does not deal with change well, ignoring their anxiety will not make it go away. Start talking about how they’re feeling, answer any questions they might have, and start them on their new routine so that it becomes familiar to them.

      Contact the school and their new teacher and ask if you can all do a meet-and-greet the week before school in their classroom. This will increase their familiarity and help them feel safe going there. If the child is in middle or high school, ask for a tour of the school and a meet-and-greet with their teachers. If they’ll be using a locker, ask if they could get their locker assignment and locker code or combination so they can practice opening it without trying to figure it out with the pressure of other kids and bells going off (I literally still have this recurring dream at least once a year that I cannot remember my locker combo and the bells are going off, I’m late…ahhhh!)

      Make Sure You Still Squeeze in Fun

      Summer is short enough, and the purpose of preparing for school is not to shorten summer even more. Even with easing back into a schedule and routine, be sure to add plenty of end-of-summer activities and family time (or downtime if summer has been all go, go, go). And while I do not recommend planning your family getaway for the last week of summer, if that is your thing, being prepared beforehand will be imperative!

      Here’s to a safe, healthy, happy school year!

      We’d love to hear your tips and what works for you! Drop us a line!

      Ditch the Devices & Get the Whole Family Moving

      Ditch the Devices & Get the Whole Family Moving

      Author: Carrie Myers

      I try to avoid using the saying “The Good Old Days,” but in today’s highly technologically-advanced world, it’s hard not to use it. And yes, here it comes…

      When I was kid…

      We played outside. We didn’t have a choice. I laughingly recall standing at the front door during summer, face red and sweaty from running around, begging to come inside for a drink. Okay, that’s my child’s mind embellishing it a bit—we didn’t have to beg for a drink—but the point is, we played.

      And we played outside—and so did other kids. There was never a scarcity of neighborhood kids to play with.

      We played Freeze Tag, TV Tag, hopscotch, hide-and-seek, Red Rover, What Time Is It Mr. Fox, Mother May I, Red Light Green Light, Frisbees, Wiffleball, and Kickball—and dared whoever kicked the ball over the neighbor’s fence to climb over it and snatch the ball before their dog, a Basset Hound named Lightening, came screaming out of his house to chase us, his long, floppy ears flying out behind him.

      We climbed trees and swung from the branches. We did cartwheels and round-offs (I have a scar on my knee to prove a bad landing) and rode bikes.

      We tossed the baseball around, jumped rope, flew kites, and hula-hooped (well, I attempted to anyway).

      We roller-skated and skateboarded down what seemed like a gigantic hill at the end of our street. Going back now, I see it’s just a small noll (hey, everything looks bigger from a kid’s perspective).

      If we were at my grandparent’s farm, just four miles from our house, we fished in the ponds, walked through warm cow manure barefoot (you haven’t lived until you’ve had the warm squish of cow poop between your toes!), fed the animals, “helped” my Gramps and aunt milk the cows (and run when milk came squirting at us), swam in the pool, and jumped on the pogo stick.

      How many kids do you see playing like this anymore? Probably not many.

      Instead, our kids are living in caves, eyes glued to screens, watching garbage that adds nothing but trouble to their brains and bodies.

      Case in point: A 2022 report in BMC Public Health suggests that young children who go over the recommended one-hour screen time limit experience developmental deficits, specifically in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive health domains.

      But when parents limit screen time, research suggests positive results. For example, a 2022 study in JAMA Pediatrics links less screen time, instigated by parental interventions, with an increase in physical activity.

      But how do you get your kids off the phones and out the door? Here are five tips to get them—and you—moving.

      5 Tips for Getting Kids Off the Devices and Moving Outside

      Set Boundaries

      Assuming you own the phones, computers, tablets, and gaming systems and pay the bills for them to run, you have a right (and I dare say, a responsibility) to decide how and when those devices are used (and even if your teen is paying for theirs, if they still live under your roof, the same parental rights apply, in my opinion). You also have a right to check those devices. This is made easier by setting clear boundaries—and putting them in writing.

      I’m a fan of writing up contracts, especially as kids get older and take on more responsibilities. Lay out the rules for using the devices and make sure everyone understands them, including the consequences of breaking the rules. Then have each one sign the contract, make copies for each person, and also hang a copy of the contract for all to see. Then the tough part—the follow-through. You must follow through with the consequences if they break the rules. Yes, they might “hate” you for a bit…but not for long if they want it back.

      Be a Role Model

      Parents are kids’ first role models. Don’t give them any ammunition to use against you, claiming that you’re a hypocrite—like telling them to get off the devices and go outside while you’re face-deep in your own devices, scrolling through social media, and never go outside to “play”). And while I do not believe parents should have to entertain the kids, it does help them to become more active if the parents are also active—including together as a family. This can be as simple as going for a walk after dinner most nights or discovering a new swimming hole in your area.

      Introduce Them to Games You Played as a Kid

      Depending on your age, you may or may not remember or recognize the games I mentioned earlier in this article. Do an internet search of the games, or borrow or buy a book, like 101 Playground Games, to get ideas.

      Get Creative

      Sit down and design a simple obstacle course with your kids. Have them draw it out and then create it in your yard. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Use what you’ve already got. Or do a nature scavenger hunt. Go camping or hiking. Visit the local park. Plant a garden. Mow the lawn. Rake the lawn. Walk dogs. Stack wood. Assign each kid a housekeeping duty, crank the music, and make it a dance party (yes, I’ve been known to dance with my vacuum). Formal exercise isn’t the only thing that counts as physical activity.

      Get a map of the U.S. or another part of the world and map out a route from point “A” to your destination; decide how many miles each family member needs to contribute to the “trip” each week to get to your destination. This is where some inexpensive pedometers come in handy, or measure out a trail in your yard or neighborhood so that you know the distance. Plan a fun, active adventure when you get to your “destination.”

      Physical Activity Inside Counts, Too

      While I love seeing kids getting outdoors more, I know that sometimes that’s not possible. What are some ways to be more active indoors? There are all kinds of exercise, yoga, tai chi, and boot camp types of videos out there. You could teach your kids very basic exercises that only require their own body weight, like push-ups, squats, and planks. Get some fun, kid-friendly exercise equipment and teach a “class” a couple of times a week.

      Bottom Line

      Becoming more active doesn’t have to be a burden or “one more thing” you need to add to your plate. By cutting down on screen and device time, you make space for physical activity. And by adding music (and maybe a little competition) to activities you already do, you can sneak movement into your family’s day without them knowing that they’re exercising. Make movement fun again!