When I asked successful business and thought leaders how they prepared to reach their goals in the upcoming year, several said gratitude gave them an edge.
Some mentioned setting aside special time to reflect and express gratitude for all the positive they experienced. This close to Thanksgiving, that seems perfect this time of year. But why stop there?
Jon Gordon told me practicing gratitude one day a year isn’t enough. “If you do it daily,” he said, “you’ll notice incredible benefits and major life change.” The science backs him up.
One of the challenges in reaching our long-term goals is getting derailed by short-term gains. These are decisions that look good in the moment—instant gratification usually does. But they actually prevent us from making progress or even set us back.
See if you recognize any of these:
- The impulse buy that dings your savings goal.
- The skipped workout routines that plateau your weight loss.
- The late night at work that keeps you from your child’s school recital.
We get the short-term win from the purchase, the rest, and the project completion. But we lose the long-term payoffs that only come from reaching our goals: financial security, physical health, and lasting connection with our kids.
It’s true for all kinds of goals. What Jon and many others realize is that gratitude is the difference maker.
Why? There are at least three reasons gratitude can help you stay the course and reach your goals:
- Gratitude keeps you going. In one study researchers Robert A. Emmons and Anjali Mishra had students list goals they hoped to reach over a two month period. Ten weeks later they checked back and found the grateful students were closer than others in the study to reaching their goals.
Emmons and Mishra said there’s a prevailing (but unproven) idea out there that gratitude can leave people feeling complacent. If I’ve got enough, then maybe I don’t need to achieve more. Instead, they determined, “gratitude enhances effortful goal striving.”
Gratitude improves your patience. A lot of times we take the easy out because we’re impatient. Achieving big goals takes time and effort. Thankfully, gratitude can keep you in the game.
David DeSteno of Northwestern University led a study where participants were asked to recall an event that made them feel grateful, happy, or neutral. After writing about it, they reported their mood and then made a series of financial decisions.
If they wanted, they could take a cash reward at the end of the session or receive a larger amount by check in the mail at a later date. The grateful were happy to wait for the bigger payout. “On average, we increased people’s financial patience by about 12 percent,” said DeSteno. “[I]magine if you could increase people’s savings by that much.”
Gratitude lowers your stress. People fall for instant gratification because indulgence and avoidance are both attractive ways of coping with stress. But we all know they’re not effective in the long run, and we’ve got the bills and ill-fitting clothes to prove it.
It turns out gratitude is a far more effective way to cope with stress. Maybe not on Thanksgiving Day itself! But after looking at several different studies, Emmons and Mishra conclude, “[T]he evidence strongly supports the supposition that gratitude promotes adaptive coping and personal growth.”
I love asking successful people what they do to succeed. When they’re answers overlap with each other it’s like building a list of best practices. When the science backs them up, we’d have to be foolish not to listen.
Expressing Gratitude is just one of eight different best practices I collected in my free, new ebook Achieve What Matters in 2017: 8 Strategies Super-Successful People Are Using to Accomplish More Next Year. You can get your copy here.