A few weeks ago I was at the gym, warming up on the rowing machine. Within minutes I was battling; burning thighs, aching shoulders and unstable knees. Based on my performance I deduced that it would take another 3 minutes to get to my 1000m target. I doubted that I could last that long. Having been sick for 6 weeks, I was out of form and was seriously considering quitting. It is then that I noticed some toddlers in the pool taking swimming lessons. They were adorable and very entertaining. I then delightfully discovered that I had almost reached my 1000m target while distracted! In those three minutes I felt no physical discomfort, because my attention was on the aqua babes.
To experience something you have to give it your attention. Plenty of things can, and do, happen to you while you aren’t paying them attention but to experience them your attention is required. When my attention was on my strained body, I was aware of the pain from rowing; when it was on the kids I felt no physical discomfort even as I continued to row. The same phenomenon explains why some ailments, like an aching tooth, seem more painful at night. During the day many things compete for our attention while at night we have fewer distractions, our attention is less diffused and hence the pain is experienced more intensely. It is for this reason that many success coaches encourage people to focus on what feels good by keeping a gratitude diary. “O” magazine has even distributed free gratitude journals with an issue.
Since you can only experience what you are giving your attention to, focusing on the things that you are grateful for instantly upgrades the quality of your present experience. The law of attraction teaches that whatever you give your attention, you get more of. Thus, an attitude if gratitude has the power to improve your future experiences; where attention goes, energy flows and where energy flows, stuff grows.
Having sold the virtues of gratitude, I must admit that it is not a practice I am enthusiastic about. I couldn’t explain my ambivalence until I stumbled on an Abraham-Hicks talk on the practice of appreciation. Often we use contrast to evoke gratitude; for example, I may think “my electricity bill is high but at least I have electricity, some people don’t even have a roof over their heads” or “my husband lazes around but at least he is home unlike many others”. I used contrast between the positive and the negative to evoke a feeling of gratitude for the positive. The problem is that I had to pay some attention to the negative, and wherever attention goes energy flows. Thus this common way of evoking gratitude injects a bit of what you don’t want into your current and future experience.
Appreciation on the other hand is purely in the realms of the positive. When a chocoholic savours a piece of chocolate all focus is on what is right about the experience. This is appreciation! To appreciate Cristiano Ronaldo’s fine Adonis physique it is unnecessary to conjure your husband’s beer belly. When you appreciate all your energy is focused on the positive. Appreciation is what gratitude wants to be when it grows up.
Here is the Abraham-Hicks clip on Appreciation and how to achieve a state of appreciation