Counting your blessings

It is often when playing football with my son that I remember to do this. Frequently, I have had to have been extricated from my somewhat grim engagement with the “oughts’, ‘shoulds’, and ‘have to’s’ of life at my office computer. A slow, somewhat creaky jog down the back lane from our house to the village green finds me still a tad reluctant; disgruntled with this distraction from the perceived importance of my prior preoccupations.images

As we start to punt the ball between us towards, where at the edge of the cricket ground stands a single junior sized goal post, my mind begins to open up to the vastness of the Suffolk sky.  We’ve developed at strategy between us, my son & I, of using both sides of the goal-mouth whereby goalie becomes striker by virtue of going off to collect the ball. So simple, why didn’t I think of it in my teens? We begin our to and fro rhythm; I feel my body starting to limber up. The wildness of my initial shots at goal are targeting better as I tune in to the muscle memory I began laying down over half a century ago with my hours of kicking a ball against a wall with my mates during those timeless after school evenings.

And there’s still opportunities now- even with our twin facing goalmouth system – for musing whilst the other one’s off chasing the ball. My mind turns first to savour the beauty of the environment: the clouds, trees, maybe even the sounds of the sea if the wind is in the right direction. Once warmed up I begin appreciating that my body is still so responsive – it even seems that my left foot shots are more confident then they were at the height of my footballing prowess (just before cigarettes & beer interrupted).

We humans have a built in cognitive bias; to pay attention to the negatives, the perceived threats. Once, in the pre-verbal history of our species it was sabre-toothed tigers and absolutely vital. Now, it might be anything from a late tax returns to a perceived slight on an internet forum.

Not only are we more likely to find our minds focusing upon ‘negatives’, according to some neuropsychologists, we need up to 7 times the number of positive to negative ratio of experiences to redress the ‘negatives’ balance! And, crucially, we tend to overlook neutral experiences – our perceptual apparatus being so finely tuned to run after positive experience and avoid negatives.

Being in good health is like that; clearly, poor health is a negative experience, but it’s rare – apart from that post-exercise buzz – that good health is appreciated. Rather, it’s taken for granted and becomes a ‘neutral’ until it’s absence demands attention: as a weighty, negative experience! By noticing we’re in good health, by savouring that experience we can turn a perceptually neutral experience into a positive and begin to invest in the life-enhancing process of redressing that ‘cognitive-bias’. And we’ll have to go some if it’s 7:1

So here’s a great daily practice: count your blessings … using the ten fingers simply bring to mind 10 things to be grateful for (reminds me of “Reasons to be cheerful”, Ian Drury). Endeavour to make at least one finger stand for a complete novelty!

Watching shocking media news often has me, for example, appreciating: living in a welfare state, a stable political system, a relatively benign/predictable climate, breathing clean air, water in the tap …of  course there’s masses of news items which can bring on iration but that’s all too easy for us, too well-practiced! Try turning it around to bring on gratitude (along with compassion for the hapless unfortunates to whom the  the news items refer).