As Thanksgiving approaches, our minds tend to wander to happy thoughts: time with family, good food, days off from work, black Friday sales…whatever brings a smile to your face at this time of year. Hopefully one of the things you also think about is gratitude.
So often “life gets in the way” of focusing on what we are grateful for and our minds become overtaken by frustration and what we do not have. This general disappointment and malaise coupled with the with the anger, hate and divisiveness in our country right now makes it seem that some of us have lost the ability to feel gratitude for the good things we have in our lives.
What exactly is Gratitude? It’s the quality of being thankful. To truly experience gratitude (and to be grateful you must fully “connect” in your mind and body) think back to a time when you narrowly avoided a bad situation: you slammed the brakes just in time to avoid an accident; got an “all clear” on an important medical test; you caught your child as s/he teetered over the top of the stairs. You feel a rush of adrenaline and then a heartfelt Thank you overwhelms your brain. Underneath the heart palpitations, you have sense of calm - a crystal clear sense of how fortunate you are that all is okay. This is gratitude. Think about gratitude as not just a feeling, but an experience and an attitude to cultivate.
Research continues to support the idea that experiencing gratitude can positively impact both your physical and emotional states, but also your ability to succeed personally and professionally. Gratitude is scientifically-proven to promote happiness, improve mental and physical health, cultivate positive relationships, increase productivity and enable you to better deal with challenges… all of which will improve your work-life balance and enable you to achieve the business success you desire - personally and with your organization.
Positive teams are more productive! This is no surprise. A study by Kim Cameron and his colleagues at the University of Michigan have discovered a way to improve performance that has nothing to do with dishing out hefty benefits or deploying new processes. Instead they discovered, a workplace characterized by positive and virtuous practices, including gratitude, excels in a number of domains.
Summarizing the findings, Cameron explains
“When organizations institute positive, virtuous practices they achieve significantly higher levels of organizational effectiveness — including financial performance, customer satisfaction, and productivity … The more the virtuousness, the higher the performance in profitability, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement.”
When your organization is filled with people who are grateful for what they have (not focused on what they don’t), then your business thrives.
So how does this help my business succeed?
Gratitude will not only improve your own productivity, it will have a positive impact on the productivity of your organization, clients and partners. Giving and receiving thanks makes us feel more positive. We develop a higher resilience to stress. We enjoy better levels of concentration and we’re motivated to work hard – all of which enables us to achieve more.
Builds Strong Relationships
Happy, gracious and thankful people are far more successful at cultivating positive relationships. Establishing strong connections is essential in business. The practice of gratitude will enable you to foster strong relationships with colleagues, customers, suppliers and partners and well as grow your business.
Showing appreciation and thanks is also an important leadership quality. Its one of the most effective ways to engage and motivate employees and increase staff retention rates. When people feel valued, they feel positive. And when you make them feel good, they’re more likely to demonstrate loyalty and be more productive.
Puts Things in Perspective
When things feel overwhelming or are not going the way you would like, take a minute and take some deep breaths. Quickly shift your focus to something that you are grateful for and is going well in your life. You can’t be grateful and angry at the same time.
Then go back to focus on what made you feel “badly” at first. Is this situation really as bad as you initially thought? It’s very easy for most of us to go to an “extreme" reaction due to a negative mindset and not the situation itself. Bringing awareness of this immediately will help you bring perspective to the situation and that will drive solutions instead of wallowing in a place of anger or frustration.
Doing this over time builds resilience so things that don’t go your way won’t continue to throw you for a loop each time they occur. Because they will...that is life. But you can choose to focus on solution-building or staying mired in frustration.
The healthier you are in body and mind, the stronger your professional performance will be. A happy, calm and energized individual is better equipped to work productively, think creatively, manage stress and handle the many challenges we all face on a daily basis. Negativity is incredibly damaging to our physical, emotional and mental health because it simply encourages and attracts further negativity, which is not conducive to success of an individual or an organization.
Think of the last great experience you had with a company. Most likely the employee was extremely positive and helpful. Customers (and potential customers) deeply connect to employees who share genuine gratitude. It creates strong bonds of loyalty and mutual support. Employees are more productive and committed to fulfilling the organization's mission when leaders show appreciation and gratitude. So everyone wins!
So how do you get there?
Geoffrey James, contributing editor for Inc. Magazine, suggests to think of gratitude as an emotional muscle that grows and strengthens with intentional use. We’ve all seen those videos that teach you how to “build great abs in just 5 Minutes a Day”, well, this also works for gratitude.
1. One simple exercise is to take two index cards and write “I’m glad…” or “I’m thankful…” on each. Put one on your desk so you see it consistently at work and put the other somewhere at home where it will be in frequent view there (on the remote, the fridge or the bathroom mirror).
Whenever you notice one of the cards, complete the sentence starter in a way that’s true for you at that moment. Examples: “I’m glad…the presentation went well this morning,” or “I’m thankful…that the kids got off to school quickly and easily this morning”. It can be a big thing or a small thing, personal, professional, or global. Just connecting like this regularly exercises your gratitude muscle.
2. Keep a simple gratitude journal. At the end of each day write 2 or 3 things that occurred for which you are grateful.
3. Add a simple sentence to the words "Thank You" when you thank the people you encounter each day. At the coffee shop or grocery, instead of going on autopilot and mumbling the perfunctory “Thanks” to the cashier, share something uplifting such as: "This job must get difficult at times. Thanks for hanging in there." This will feel good for you and certainly for the cashier who probably hears little in the way of acknowledgment.
4. When you're at a stoplight, look around for something that makes you smile. So often, we’re in autopilot mode and don’t notice the beauty around us. We often have tunnel vision - looking narrowly forward, thinking of our "to do list" or at our phones, but expanding your periphery opens a whole new perspective. You may see a tree in new bloom; the sun setting on the horizon; a group of children playing with wild abandon, full of giggles. Once you take the time to “smell the roses” it’s amazing all the beautiful things around you that you will begin to notice.
As you do these exercises and begin to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, you’ll notice all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle positive changes in your personal and professional lives. Enjoy and embrace them.
At this special time of year, I would like send a very heartfelt wave of gratitude to all of my followers and clients. I am so appreciative of your business, notes, thoughts and stories you share and the ability to work with and learn from you. I am truly blessed and humbled and remind myself of this every day!
Happy Thanksgiving to my friends in the US and as I share to friends in other wonderful places, take a few minutes on Thursday, 24 November, to think about what you are grateful for and how you can introduce this concept in your workplace. It will make significant positive change!