What comes to mind when you imagine what practicing gratitude looks like?

For many of us, it’s probably this method that we always hear about – write down a list of things that you’re grateful for, picture them in your mind, and really feel into that sense of gratitude.

There’s nothing wrong with this practice. It can be an important reminder of the good in our lives. However, if we want to experience the positive mental and physical changes that a robust gratitude practice can bring us, simply writing things down, it turns out, isn’t the most effective way to do this.

Why gratitude?

As Dr. Andrew Huberman explains in this episode of his podcast, gratitude is a prosocial mindset. Prosocial mindsets and behaviours make us more effective in interacting not only with others, but also with ourselves. There are certain neural circuits in our brains that are wired for prosocial thoughts and behaviours, which bring us closer to the sensory details of interactions, people, and experiences.

Although we’re a social species, our brains are often wired to be more defensive. However, when the prosocial circuits are active, defensive behaviours are reduced.

If your prosocial circuits are active during, for example, a meeting with a client, your body language would be more open and you would appear more approachable, projecting confidence and putting the client at greater ease. With a regular gratitude practice, we can overcome our defensive wiring and reap the benefits in both our professional and personal lives.

Besides social and interpersonal benefits, a regular, effective gratitude practice has a host of mental and physical benefits. These include reduced anxiety, stress, and inflammation, increased motivation, joy, and, of course, gratitude, and increased empathy. Gratitude builds resilience to prior trauma and and protection against potential future trauma. It may also contribute to increased neuroplasticity.

The science

The prefrontal cortex is the part of your brain that sets the context for your experiences; it is where meaning is made. Gratitude is a mindset that activates this part of your brain.

Let’s say you’re doing something that may be uncomfortable, like public speaking. If you’re doing it because you want to – you want to teach people or broaden your audience, for example – then your prefrontal cortex can assign it positive associations and effects. If you’re doing it because you have to – like for an assignment in school – then you don’t get the same positive effects. You can’t lie to your brain that you love something if you actually don’t.

There is also overlap between the neural circuits for gratitude and joy, which is why a gratitude practice can increase your happiness. Gratitude is associated with increased serotonin, the neurochemical that stabilizes mood.

Regular gratitude also builds up the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in empathy and understanding others’ emotions. Gratitude is also linked to the “theory of mind,” an important skill that lets us understand others’ experiences and perspectives without necessarily having had the same experiences.

In your business, being able to put yourself in your clients’ shoes and see from their point of view will help you serve them better and result in higher-quality work, driving their satisfaction and loyalty.

The power of story

Dr. Huberman cites a study in which participants individually listened to a story. Although the participants were listening to the story in different locations, at different times, by themselves, and came from all walks of life, there was a surprising result: their heart rates while listening to the story were found to be almost identical.

As humans, we’re naturally wired for stories and storytelling. Stories are how we learn and how we make sense of the world.

Another study, “Neural correlates of gratitude” by Fox et al., had participants listen to stories from Holocaust survivors – stories in which they had been helped in some way or given a life-saving gift of food or clothing and felt strong gratitude for the help they received. While they listened to these stories, participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) that measured and mapped their brains’ activity.

Participants “were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experiences would feel like if they received such gifts,” according to the paper’s abstract.

Fox et al. found that while participants were listening to the stories and rating their gratitude, there was increased activity in their medial prefrontal cortexes and anterior cingulate cortexes, showing how simply listening to a story of gratitude affects our brains.

Putting gratitude into practice

The most effective gratitude practice is one in which you receive gratitude. Does this mean you should go around fishing for compliments and praise?

No. There’s a better and easier way to build a daily gratitude practice, and once you’ve got it down, you can grow your gratitude in as little as one minute each day.

As I discussed above, stories have power, and you can use that power to build a daily gratitude practice. Find a personal narrative that is powerful for you – find a story that, as Dr. Huberman says, “inspires you with the beauty of the human spirit or the ability of humans to help each other.” You can also think about a time when someone was genuinely grateful to you and how receiving that gratitude felt.

While taking in or thinking of this story, take point-form notes about its details: the struggle, the help received, and how it affects you emotionally. This is your “cheat sheet” that will help you build familiarity with the story and get into that gratitude mindset more easily. Each day, or every other day, spend some time thinking about this story of gratitude.

As you repeat this exercise and become more familiar with the story, your neural circuits will activate more easily, eventually allowing you to slip into your gratitude practice in as little as one minute.

Gratitude in the workplace

Building your own regular gratitude practice can definitely help your business. As I said earlier, gratitude activates the prosocial circuits in your brain that improve how you interact with others. If you run your own business or work as a freelancer, you know that strong interpersonal skills are essential to how you interact with clients, collaborators, and employees.

Showing your gratitude for your co-workers and employees, and encouraging them to build their own gratitude practices, will result in a happier, more empathetic workplace that feels welcoming and supportive.

Building your gratitude benefits every social relationship you have - not just the ones that you verbally express gratitude for.

If you want a little help growing your gratitude, check out our Gratitude Visualization on YouTube!


Dawn O’Connor

I have over 30 years of experience working with more than 10,000 clients in helping people unlock their productivity potential. Personal productivity is my passion! Every day I am curious and excited to learn what people are working on. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!

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Updated: Jan 24

Caireen Kennedy has always believed that “good design should be for everybody.”

Freshly back from some away time, Caireen, the principal designer and owner of Shift Modern Home, is ready for a shift – no pun intended.

Although she loves her work and wants to remain in the interior design space, Caireen is looking at ways she can deliver things in a digital or remote capacity.

This, coupled with her conviction that good design should be for everyone, was the inspiration behind The Pally Box.

“The Pally Box was my response to the number of inquiries that I get where people just do not have the budget to hire me but may have the budget to do a fairly extensive renovation,” she says.

It contains finished design palettes already put together so that customers can “play around a little bit” and decide how to manage their renovations.

“The Pally Boxes have every finish you would need for a renovation, whether it’s your kitchen, your bathroom, entry, whatever it is,” says Caireen.

“Anything that’s not furniture, it has.”

This desire to shift her business came after what Caireen describes as a “really, really tough year, mentally and physically.”

Business was booming, but she wasn’t looking after herself and decided that something had to change in 2022, for her “own enjoyment of life.”

She recently hired a marketing coach to help her bring The Pally Box to the public.

“I feel hopeful, but I’m also a tad terrified,” she says. “You suddenly get a glimpse of what’s possible and then it kind of scares you. My natural inclination is to step back, but I think now is the time for me to step forward and into the next thing.”

Caireen credits Focus Bubbles with getting her out of bed in the morning and bringing structure to her week. She especially enjoys what she calls the “water cooler moments” before the Bubble, “the five to ten minutes to check in with people.”

“As a solopreneur, it’s just been really nice to have that point of connection with people,” she says.

Moving forward, Caireen’s main goal is to make sure her work “fills her soul” and “excites her every day.”

Caireen’s Profile


The Pally Box


Emilie Charette

I’m a full-time university student, part-time Focus Bubbles host, and a part-time D&D dungeon master. When I’m not writing, I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, and getting new perspectives on life. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!

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We all want to do our part to make sure our planet stays beautiful, vibrant, and healthy, but it can be hard to know where to start, especially when working remotely or running your own business.

We have good news for you: besides saving time, working remotely can already reduce emissions because fewer people are driving for hours to commute! That’s one small thing that can really add up.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

We all learned the three Rs in school and they can absolutely be applied in your home office. Looking for a new desk lamp or shelf? See if your local thrift or vintage store has anything – you can find some amazing items at a steal of a price. We love Mr Mansfield and Bex Vintage in Calgary for mid-century and other retro finds. You can also save money and the environment by only buying supplies that you need and reusing items like paper and envelopes before recycling them. Sure, you tore that envelope, and it can’t be used to send another letter, but you can use it to jot down notes. Only buying what you need also helps reduce office clutter.

Go paperless as much as possible

A completely paperless office may not be feasible for everyone, but simply reducing how much you use can have significant effects. Only print documents when it’s absolutely necessary and print double-sided if possible. If something needs a signature, services like Docusign allow you to securely sign documents without the hassle of printing and scanning, thus saving you time, too. If you love sticky notes, try using a whiteboard to jot down your ideas on instead.

Use eco-friendly office supplies

Sometimes we can’t escape the need for office supplies, so we can aim to purchase conscientiously as much as possible. Buying recycled paper is one easy way to do this, as is avoiding supplies that are packaged in plastic, since many plastics can’t be recycled. There are also office supplies companies that have embraced more sustainable practices in manufacturing and delivery.

If you’re in Zoom calls (or Focus Bubbles!) a lot and want to look your best, there are also companies that make eco-friendly hygiene products - better for you and the environment.

Light up your life

Optimizing the light in your office can have an impact on your mood and productivity, but it can also affect how eco-friendly your office is. Using natural light as much as possible can help reduce energy use (and save you money on your electric bill!). If your natural light isn’t sufficient, opt for energy efficient light bulbs. They often last longer than traditional bulbs, too, so they’re good for the planet and your wallet.

Embrace your laptop

Not literally, of course, even if it probably deserves a hug for all its hard work. But laptops are more energy efficient than desktop computers, with laptops using 60 watts per hour compared to a desktop’s 175 watts per hour. A desktop is also continually drawing power because it’s plugged into a wall, while a laptop runs on battery when it’s not charging. Of course, energy consumption also depends on your equipment and how you use it. There are also ways to save energy if using a laptop isn’t possible.

Personal responsibility can only go so far in reducing humans’ environmental impact, but everyone doing whatever they can is the most important thing. If you want more advice on making your home office – and your life – a little greener, I’d recommend visiting Plastic-Free YYC and Zero Waste Canada.

Feel free to share your tips with us in case we missed something! Every little change has an impact.


Dawn O’Connor

I have over 30 years of experience working with more than 10,000 clients in helping people unlock their productivity potential. Personal productivity is my passion! Every day I am curious and excited to learn what people are working on. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!

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