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Leaders: To Be Great, Be Grateful

(posted: August 25th, 2012)

I am convinced that the key to lifelong success is the regular exercise of a single emotional muscle: gratitude. If you were asked to make a list of things for which you are grateful, how long would it be?

Most likely it would include your health, your mind's ability to function well, your family, your teammates, and your friends.

But what about the "small things" we can easily forget in our crazy day-to-day lives? I would certainly include that first cup of Peet's coffee prior to my 5:00 am workout!

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it"

William Arthur Ward

On Leadership and Greatness

If you want to become great, you have to focus on being grateful. You can change any situation in your life by simply redirecting your mind to focus on what's right about it versus what is wrong.

Expressing gratitude is really the art of noticing - noticing what others do and how it affects you.

One suggestion I share with my clients that often elicits surprise, and sometimes draws skepticism, is to engage in the mindful cultivation of gratitude every day. Practicing generosity shifts your attention away from what you don't have to what you do have, and away from yourself toward others.

"Forget yesterday - it has already forgotten you. Don't sweat tomorrow - you haven't even met. Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a truly precious gift - today."

Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

A Sense of Gratitude

People who approach life with a sense of gratitude are constantly aware of what's working and wonderful in their life. Because they enjoy the fruits of their successes, they seek out more success. And when things don't go as planned, people who are grateful can put failure into perspective.

By contrast, people who lack gratitude are never truly happy.

If they succeed at a task, they don't enjoy it. For them, a string of successes is like trying to fill a bucket with a huge leak in the bottom. And failure invariably makes them bitter, angry, and discouraged.

Therefore, if you want to be successful, you need to express more gratitude.

"True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not."


Practice Each Morning and Evening

The best time to exercise gratitude is when you first wake in the morning and before you rest your head on your pillow at night. Take out your tablet (electronic or otherwise) and record the events of the day that created positive emotions, either in you or in those around you.

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?"

William Arthur Ward

Ask yourself this:

  • Did you help somebody solve a problem?
  • Did someone help you?

Write it down.

  • Did you connect with a colleague or friend?

Write it down.

  • Did someone give you a big smile just when you needed it?

Send them an email (or better yet, a handwritten note) and let them know what it meant to you.

Exercising Your Gratitude Muscle

When you practice like this, you are programming your brain to notice more reasons to feel gratitude. Over time, your "gratitude muscle" will become so strong that you'll attract more success into your life, not to mention greater numbers of successful (i.e., grateful) people. You'll also find yourself thanking people more often. That's good for you and for them, too.

This method works!

If you don't believe me, try it for at least a week. You'll be amazed at what a huge difference it makes.

On True Thanksgiving

One year at Thanksgiving, I decided to keep a Thanks Giving journal for my 11-year old daughter. Every day for an entire year I logged at least one thing I appreciated about her - the way she interacted with her friends, how she cared for our dog, the big hugs and smiles she gave me, her true desire to please others, her thoughtful prayers each night - anything, small or large.

I looked for the things she was doing that touched me, or revealed attributes, characteristics, or qualities I appreciated. I wrote them all down, secretly, for the entire year. By the end of that year, I'd filled an entire journal.

When I gave it to her the following Thanksgiving, she cried, calling it the best gift she'd ever received. (Even better than the iPhone I'd given her for her birthday!)

The funny thing was that the person most affected by this gift was me.

Getting Positive

All that journaling forced me to focus on my daughter's positive traits. I was consciously looking for all the things she was doing right. That heartfelt focus overwhelmed anything I might have otherwise complained about; even the typical teenage behaviors!

My appreciation, gratitude, and intention to find the best in her was something I held in my heart and eyes each day.

As a result of choosing to take a mere five minutes or so every day to document all the reasons why I was grateful for her, it truly changed both our lives and I have continued this journaling for the last three years; I even started one for my husband.

Don't forget about personal notes of gratitude. Handwritten, of course. While e-mails and texts might be convenient, they are common and most are easily brushed aside. An occasional handwritten note, however, is a surprise and can make a big and lasting impression on employees, colleagues, and even your boss.

Challenge Yourself
  • How can you build your gratitude muscle?
  • What does your list look like?
  • What best practices can you implement in your daily routine to notice what you and others do, and then to acknowledge and express your appreciation?

This blog post was originally published at www.linked2leadership.com.


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