Thanksgiving week is one of my favorite times of the year. It invites an opportunity to reflect, spend time with our dearest people, and give thanks. I say this with the understanding that the holidays can bring their own stress as well in complicated family relationships and the ever-increasing advertising pressure to distract us with Black Friday deals of things that we want but may not need. Let’s keep our perspective a little higher and not allow anything to rob us from the real gift of the season. As we enter this week, let us be reminded of the gift of gratitude.
Giving gratitude will strengthen your priority relationships!
Gratitude is a discipline. It requires mental space, intentionality in reflection, and some honesty with your own heart. When your emotions get the better of you, gratitude will ground you. We all face disappointments, unmet expectations, and failed commitments. Our hurt can range from heartburn to heartache. There’s a weight to the significant issues in life, work, and relationships. Left unchecked the issues may leave us unguarded and vulnerable.
Upon my own reflection, since last Thanksgiving, I have privately met with 50+ leaders for 360 feedback reviews. These private coaching sessions include a report that gives specific feedback to the leader from 5-20+ professional and personal colleagues who have given responses to their 360 assessment. The feedback comes in 3 ways. As you can imagine there are insights to help strategically define how a leader may develop. Next, there are perception gaps they need to close such as blind spots or hidden strengths. Finally, they include specific affirmations that are encouraging. The formal assessment gives written language to strengthen a leader from the inside out. It’s the gift of written gratitude!
A recurring theme in all these reviews are the effects of stress. The need for strengthening represents the possibility that something is weak, vulnerable, or unhealthy. It’s a threat to your welfare. After the push of a deadline, fiscal quarter, or semester we can be exhausted. We need recovery because our reserves are spent. We are the weakest when exhausted and stressed.
It’s impossible to be stressed and grateful at the same time.
As I work with my leaders, I continue to test this theory. It’s a discipline of focusing on what’s good instead of drifting to the worry of what’s not. For many leaders, dealing with the issues of performance, energy, and engagement reflect the long-term effects of stress. It can be chronic. Stress is specific and situational how it impacts each of us. The research from the book Choke, which evaluates students, athletes, and high achieving leaders, gives evidence of how stress affects our brain chemistry and our abilities to perform. As a runner, I often refer to stress as mental lactic acid. We’ve got to get it out of our system or it will break us down robbing our natural strengths. Gratitude will cleanse your system of stress faster than you think. Let me suggest one timeless and timely practice.
Keeping a journal captures your words of gratitude
For 25 years, I’ve kept a journal. It’s a daily practice of reflection to ground my day. Suggesting journalling may seem commonplace, but for some, it's a first-time idea or practice. After my 360 coaching sessions, I encourage leaders to start a gratitude journal. It can begin with drafting a written response to the participants who contributed to the 360. It’s a specific way of saying thank you for speaking into my leadership. The formal feedback invites the informal sincere response. In a statement it captures, “Thank you for responding my 360, I learned in my report that I need to grow in this specific way..., I’ve committed to focus on developing as a leader in this area…, you’ve helped me get started.” Imagine for a moment if you shared this response with your manager, peers, direct report, friends, or family. What would be the impact?
Everyone values specific and sincere appreciation
Remember gratitude is a discipline and the work has a reward. I’ve heard first hand the process has been life-defining for some leaders. A gratitude journal is a place to capture specific statement, comments, even questions. It’s your private place to clarify your thinking before you share. Imagine if you took the time to write down who are the key relationships and how you are grateful for their role in your life.
How may gratitude strengthen you and the health of your relationships?
As you enter into Thanksgiving week get started capturing what you’re grateful for this Thanksgiving. Once it’s written down then you’ll be ready to give thanks at your next opportunity. That may be the real gift of this season.
*Here are my leather journals written over a 3 year period. I also recommend Moleskins if you like to keep it simple. My personal favorite that I use today is from Oaks of Wisdom, my wife’s hand-drawn journals. Enjoy!