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.

The Qualities of Great Leadership

As Nelson Mandela was laid to rest on Sunday, among the hills of his ancestral homeland, it made me think about what made Mandela the great leader that people spoke of.
Nelson Mandela
The people of South Africa said the following about their former leader:
“I’ve always seen Mandela as a father figure.”
“I’ve always admired his humanity, openness and forgiveness.”
“He taught us to love one another.”

I think the quotes above and my own belief is that a great leader isn’t just about what a person does, but also who they are as a person.

For me personally, some qualities of a great leader include: being of service to others, trustworthiness, dependability, compassion and love. 

I think many of these leadership qualities are also true of a great coach.

In conclusion, one of my favorite leadership quotes is by Nelson Mandela who says, “It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur.  You take the front line when there is danger.  Then, your people will appreciate your leadership.”

I am curious about your thoughts on Mandela or what you feel are qualities of a great coach or leader.  Please share your comments below so others may benefit from your wisdom.  Thanks!

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.

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

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?

Follow me on Twitter: @adammorris21 | Add me on Google+: gplus.to/AdamMorris21

Meet Your Brain

For my final post in the series on the books that have made the biggest impact on my coaching practice, I choose Your Brain at Work by David Rock.  It outlines the implications of all the recent research in neuroscience to the way we function at work – as employees, as bosses.  There are several terrific takeaways from it, notably, that the pre-frontal cortex – the front of the brain where complex calculations take place, decisions get made and self regulation gets handled – is easily exhausted.  It needs a great deal of rest and glucose.  Our ability to think clearly, make good decisions and manage ourselves erodes steadily over the course of the work day. 

David Rock also shares his model expressing what people need for their brain to be at its best, known as the SCARF Model:

Status – a clear sense of our own self worth and the acknowledgement of this perception in our environment is critical to our brains feeling good.

Certainty – we crave certainty the way we crave sugar or any other reward.  We will avoid uncertainty at all costs.

Autonomy – it is critical that we feel as much control over our environment as we are capable of managing; loss of control is interpreted by the brain as a serious threat.

Relatedness – we will naturally find what we have in common to increase relatedness, we will move toward people with whom we can relate believing them to be like ourselves, and away from those to whom we cannot relate making them “other”.

Fairness – is as rewarding as food or sex, and when things are perceived as “unfair” it causes us to feel an intense sense of threat. 

 For more on The SCARF Model check out some of David’s YouTube videos.  The book is also a really fun read, and there is a lot more that what I can share here!

Going With the Flow

Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (pronounced mee-high  chick-sent-mee-high, my friend David Rock told me that, and he is important because he wrote one of my top books The Brain at Work) is another book that stopped me in my tracks.  Published in 1990, my copy is old, much dog eared and underlined.  The author is more recently widely known as a pioneer in the Positive Psychology arena, and his early work outlined in Flow was required reading for coaches because it was solid research about what makes people feel good.  Absent real problems like psychological damage, war or pestilence, people were coming to coaches with the objective of optimizing their existence and more specifically, their time at work.  Csikszentmihalyi says that in his studies, when people reflected on their most positive experiences they seemed to share one if not all of these characteristics:

  1. “ the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.”
  2. we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.”
  3. The task has “clear goals and
  4. Provide immediate feedback
  5. There is deep but effortless involvement that shuts out the noise of everyday life
  6. We are able to exercise a sense of control over our actions
  7. Self consciousness disappears, but sense of self emerges more strongly after the experience is over
  8. The sense of time passing is altered; minutes can seem like hours, or hours can feel like minutes.” (Harper, 1991, pg. 49)

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that to achieve flow we needed to maintain the balance between the level of challenge of the activity, and our skill level – if the challenge is too low, we become bored, if it is too high we become overly anxious.  Each individual needs to monitor their own challenge level to keep it optimal to stay engaged. 

This rang so true for me, and it was extremely useful in work with clients who were clearly bored, but judging themselves for it, thinking they had perfectly jobs and should be happy.  Not so!  To stay in Flow, it is critical to constantly be raising the bar.  This is not totally true for everyone all the time, but for some people, some of the time, the model is extremely useful.

For more information on Flow