The Practice of Gratitude

The ChiefOur dog, a three-year-old black lab named Chief, really has lived up to his name. He is dignified, kind, and gracious with all people and with other dogs. At meal time, he sits patiently and watches intently while his food is prepared. When we put his food down, he waits to be invited to eat. But then he does the dearest thing: when he is finished eating, he goes over to whoever put his food down and thanks them by nuzzling the hand. It is truly adorable.

Is there anything more attractive than gratitude? I think not. And guess what? It is as good for the person expressing gratitude as it is for the one receiving it. The research is piling up. Barbara Fredrickson’s research on Positivity shows a significant difference in health indicators, creativity, and resilience in people who practice gratitude among other positive emotions.

Robert A. Emmons and Anjali Mishra, leading researchers on the way gratitude affects health and well-being, define gratitude this way: “Gratitude is an acknowledgment that we have received something of value from others. It arises from a posture of openness to others, where we are able to gladly recognize their benevolence.”

Their work shows that there is evidence to support the notion that gratitude facilitates coping with stress and reduces toxic emotions resulting from self and social comparisons and materialism. Further, experiencing gratitude can make positive memories (as opposed to bad ones) easier to access, helps build community, makes achieving goals more likely, and promotes health.

In the US, we are once again celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. It is not accidental that most cultures have a “gratitude” holiday. It is simply good for us to stop and remember what we are grateful for. Many people “say grace” year round before eating, which is a wonderful way to stay mindful about how fortunate we are to have plentiful food and clean water.

Of course, practicing a form of religion usually involves giving thanks, and The Blue Zones research shows that people who live the longest belong to some kind of religious community. The secular among us can easily reap the same benefits. From a health and well-being standpoint there is ample evidence that practicing gratitude in small ways on a daily basis is a good idea.

Some ideas:

  • When stopped at a traffic light or sitting in traffic, instead of looking at your smartphone, make a list in your head of all of the things you are grateful for. It will lower your blood pressure, release beneficial neurotransmitters and reduce adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream.
  • Write a thank-you note or email to someone who has done something nice for you. It will make you smile and it will make the person who receives it smile.
  • As you are falling asleep at night, review your day and come up with one lovely thing you are grateful for. It can be as simple as the hummingbirds who love the tree outside your kitchen window or the fact that you have a job.

Make gratitude a habit. It isn’t that hard to do—and the rewards are immediate and vast.

How to Be Grateful

Coaching isn’t all about achieving happiness, but it certainly is almost always focused on the pursuit of what the client believes will make him happy.  You may have heard already that the happiest people are happy because they are grateful rather than grateful because they are happy.  It is not a chicken/egg proposition.  It is in the research – The Happiness Advantage, The How of Happiness.  Consciously choosing to constantly scan the environment for what you are grateful for, and keeping lists of the same, changes the brain and literally makes you happier.  So if want to be happier, there is one super simple easy thing you can do right now.  Today: this minute.  Be more grateful.  Not just once a year on Thanksgiving, not just when you get a promotion or good news.  All the time.  But how you might ask: how do I be more grateful?  Well, David Steindl-Rast explains it perfectly in his TED talk – you can take 14 minutes and watch it or you go with my Cliff Notes.  Here they are:

 Stop. Look. Listen.

That’s it. 

 Stop. Look. Listen.

 Notice what is going on that you are grateful for – the sun, the rain, running water, indoor plumbing, shoes that fit, electricity, your adorable dog/cat/child, your funny colleague, your car started! Your new desk chair you had to lobby five years to get. Functioning internet. So much.  An endless list.

 When?  As often as possible.  Here are some ideas to get into the habit:

  •  Any time you start obsessing about your To Do list, stop and think of things you are grateful for instead.
  • Anytime you start second guessing what you should have said in your last meeting, stop and…
  • Set a timer on your phone to do it every 15 minutes. 
  • Every time an email/text/tweet comes in.
  • Every time you hear a beep of any kind (I do this; you would be amazed how much beeping goes on.  It makes it much easier not to be annoyed at the sound of trucks backing up!).
  • When waiting at a stop light.
  • When brushing your teeth (Oh the possibilities, unlimited clean water, hot water! toothpaste, dental care!).
  • Every time you sit down at your desk. 
  • Every time you get up from your desk.
  • When you get into bed.

Other ideas? Try it, and see what happens.

Running on Fumes

I recently spoke to a friend and colleague who needed my input on something.  This colleague has the highest IQ of anyone I know ( not exagerating), and an intimidating work ethic.  She is literally the gold standard for productivity in our companygas tank on empty.  After a string of emails, I failed to understand what was required of me so I picked up the phone to chat and found my friend literally incoherent with stress.  It took me several minutes to get her calmed down enough to explain what she needed from me.

It made me stop and think. 

We forget that we are a finite resource.

We can do so much and no more.  Even if we practice (highly recommended by coaches everywhere) extreme self care*, we can do so much and no more

My sister Mia is a lovely person, does for others all day long.  She is chatty, fun, highly engaging and extroverted until about 8 o’clock at night at which point she says “I am out of words”, and goes to bed with a book.  Such a role model.

It is critical for all of us, as  leaders, professionals, parents, and friends to know at what point we “run out”. Out of gas, as it were.  Do you know when you are at a quarter tank?  Do you have reasonable boundaries around your rest time?  I have found that it isn’t so much others we have trouble saying no to, it is ourselves.

Stop and think.  Remember, you are a finite resource.

 *Extreme Self Care: A term coined by Thomas Leonard, a pioneer of the coaching profession and popularized by Shirley Anderson, considered to be a Yoda of the coaching profession. It could be defined as: enough sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, down time, meditation and/or prayer, time to connect with others, and fun as you need to operate at 100%.  Click here for more information about the multiple aspects of well being from a Neuroscience standpoint.

5 Questions to Match Your Style to Your Job

Man Working on Personal ComputerAre you a jack of all trades or are you a subject matter expert? Review the two definitions below. Think about the type of work you do now…which term best describes you in your current role?

generalist: one who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas.
specialist: a person devoted to one particular branch of a subject or pursuit.

Some people are very passionate about having extreme task variety. They love to do a little bit of everything and get bored when focused on one thing. Others are very passionate about having a specific area of focus and being able to dedicate the majority of their time to learning and mastering that pursuit.

Now review the two definitions again. Think about the type of work you like to do…which term best describes you when you’re happiest and at your best?

If you answered the same way both times, then you’re likely on the right path. If the type of work you perform in your current role is not in alignment with how you work when you’re at your best, then it’s time to consider some changes. Analyze your current role to see if there are adjustments that can be made to position the role to better suit your style. Or, perhaps you need to consider if the solution is to find a more suitable position within the organization or elsewhere.

Begin by asking yourself some questions…

What does my ideal job role look like?
Where are the gaps between my current role and my ideal role?
How can I begin to close those gaps?
What obstacles to change am I likely to encounter?
Who can help me facilitate the changes that need to be made?

If you’ve discovered that you’re a specialist in a generalist’s role, or vice versa, preserve your sanity and increase your happiness by making the necessary changes. Navigating this type of journey can be a difficult, overwhelming adventure and you’ll need help.

Sounds like you could use a good coach.

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Why Is Your Tummy So Big? (4 Factors for a Powerful Question)

(Editor's Note: This is not the author's tummy.)

(Editor’s Note: This is not the author’s tummy.)

I’ve always battled with my weight. This last year has been especially tough as I’ve had to take a break from my other career (as a prolific goal scorer in adult recreational soccer leagues) due to nagging injuries that have turned into chronic injuries. I started playing almost 30 years ago and haven’t had any significant periods away from the game until now. The wear and tear has caught up with my knees and ankles.

When you’ve got chronic pain in your knees and ankles, getting regular aerobic exercise is a challenge. It hurts to walk, let alone to go for a jog or a run. Exercise for me has always been specific to the sport I’m playing. Take away the sport and I don’t get enough exercise. Take away the exercise and my clothes fit tighter than they should be.

I’ve been telling myself that I need to do something. Yeah, tomorrow I’ll do something. Of course, tomorrow soon turns into yesterday, then last week, then last month, and here I am still sitting in my recliner. So one night while I’m sitting there with my 5-year-old son, he turns to me and asks, “Dada, why is your tummy so big?”

As soon as the words left his lips, my wife chuckled and then got embarrassed for me. I initially had a similar reaction. Kids say the darndest things…often when you least expected or are prepared for them. During my pause to think about how to respond, I realized he’d asked an incredibly powerful question. For his purposes, I used it as a teaching moment and answered it with a simple statement about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, and that I needed to get better at both.

The answer I gave him was good enough for him, but it wasn’t good enough for me. Like most Dads, I want to be a superhero in my son’s eyes. And, I don’t want my alter-ego to be “Flabby Man.” So his question got me off the recliner and moved me into action. I did some research on local gyms and will be signing up for one this week…let the journey begin.

Upon further reflection, here are four factors that made his question so powerful:

  1. The Person Delivering the Question. There’s built in credibility. He looks up to me and I don’t want to disappoint. Most importantly, there’s an established positive relationship.
  2. It Lacked Judgement. Consider the alternative that most of us are used to hearing…“have you lost weight?” Which is roughly the equivalent of saying, “you were fat and I can’t tell if you’re any less fat than you used to be.” The best questions are those that aren’t judgmental, accusatory, or have hidden agendas. I honestly don’t know if my son loves my big tummy or is disgusted by it, he just wanted to know why it is the way it is. But…
  3. It Caused Me To Think. I was pushed to examine the factors behind the issue in question. And…
  4. It Motivated Me Into Action. After voicing the factors that led to the issue, I was motivated to consider the solutions and to act on them.

Good coaching sometimes comes when you least expect it and from those you least expect it to come from. Out of the mouths of babes.

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To Beat Defeat is Really Neat

The last couple of days I’ve been doing some redesign work on our department intranet site. Things were moving along pretty well until I encountered a problem. I knew what I wanted to do and felt confident I knew how to make it happen but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.

I was puzzled and slightly frustrated since everything appeared to be done correctly. I had reviewed and analyzed all the little details of my work to see if I missed something. I couldn’t find anything. So I started experimenting with different settings that might have contributed to my problem. That didn’t work either. At this point, slight frustration turned into genuine frustration.

I picked the brain of my colleague in the office next door as he’s worked on a similar project. He couldn’t find anything out of place either and suggested I call our expert up in the I.T. department. But by this point, I was committed to figuring this one out. I refused to admit defeat!

After attempting every possible minor adjustment without success, I discarded ALL my work and decided to start over again from scratch. As far as I know, I did everything the same the second time around only this time, it worked! I threw my hands up in victory and danced around my office while laughing uncontrollably. (OK, so I may have exaggerated that a bit but I was obviously pretty pleased with myself.) Even though I can’t tell you exactly why it worked the second time but not the first, I did learn some new techniques and approaches throughout the problem-solving process.

The takeaway here is that there is a huge learning opportunity and an enormous level of satisfaction to be gained from solving a problem. And in order to solve a problem, you need to allow for the extra time involved. In this instance, I spent an extra two or three hours that I hadn’t originally planned for but the emotional return far outweighed the time investment. Had I escalated the issue to our I.T. department, the problem may have been solved a little quicker, though no guarantees, but I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to the outcome that I am currently experiencing. I’m still smiling!

What emotions do you experience when you solve a difficult problem? Do you learn best by doing? If not, what type of learner are you? And finally, leaders, are you allowing room for your people to problem solve?

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The Corporate Ladder: To Climb or Not To Climb

Last week I read a great post by Ted Coine over at the Switch And Shift blog that really resonated with me. The title of the post was, “You and Your People: Very Different Motivations.” In his post, Ted challenges the common leadership assumption that all employees want and need to continue their ascent up the corporate ladder.

“One of the worst problems we have is that we put ourselves in the shoes of others, rather than trying to understand what the world looks like to them from their shoes.”

In his post, Ted shares the story of a friend who is currently in an uncomfortable place of contentment in her current role. As she or anyone who has found themselves in this situation can attest, it is uncomfortable because you don’t want your being content to be misinterpreted as being unmotivated or disengaged. To avoid these dreaded labels, here are some tips to consider when explaining to your supervisor that, “All I really want is to do my job even better than I do now…”

  • Know Your Role, Grow Your Role. Understand and be able to explain how your role adds value to the organization. Additionally, continually look for ways to enhance and improve your role and be prepared to share those ideas.
  • Share How Your Vision and Values Align With Those of the Organization. Even if you’re not 100% totally aligned, sharing the commonalities can go a long ways toward helping your supervisor understand that you’re still on board with the program.
  • Request More Frequent Reviews/Check-Ins. Never say never…6 months or 6 years from now, you’re liable to change your mind and want to start climbing the ladder again. Whether that’s the case or not, requesting more frequent feedback helps demonstrate that you’re serious about continuing to excel in your current role, while also providing a forum to discuss future opportunities should they arise.
  • Help Them Get To Know You Better. Odds are your feelings of contentment are influenced heavily by what’s going on in your personal life. Allowing your supervisor to have some insight into that should help them understand why you feel the way you do.

Do you have any other tips? Have you ever had this conversation, either as employee or as manager? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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