Episode: The Gratitude Advantage
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Michael Hyatt: It’s Thanksgiving time here in America, and even though retailers leap straight from Halloween to Christmas, I love this holiday. Thanksgiving gives us a chance to pause and count our blessings, something that goes back to the first American Thanksgiving celebrated in October of 1621. The new residents of Plymouth Plantation had a lot to be grateful for. They arrived at Cape Cod 11 months before, woefully unprepared.
As historian Nathaniel Philbrick said, by all rights, none of the Pilgrims should have emerged from this first winter alive. The Pilgrims were hoping for a climate like the French Riviera, but no. Even for the cooler clime, that particular winter was brutal. In fact, half of them didn’t live to see another. They knew plenty about farming, hunting, and fishing. That is, if they still lived in England. But the crops they brought weren’t suited for the new soil. Their nets and hooks were the wrong size for local fish, and while birds filled the Massachusetts skies in the summer, they flew south for the winter.
The Mayflower was supposed to be packed with fish and furs when it returned to England, but instead it sailed home empty. Unprepared for another winter like that, the Pilgrims would have been wiped out. But that’s not what happened. Wampanoag Indians took an interest in the foreigners and leant a hand. They taught the Pilgrims how to fish and what would grow. The gift was a godsend. By autumn, the Pilgrims were more than surviving; they were flourishing. They did the most reasonable thing imaginable. They threw a huge party and invited their new neighbors to share in the bounty.
A quick aside for all Food Network fans out there. Turkey probably wasn’t on the menu. University of Washington professor, Robert Tracy McKenzie, says birds were probably on the table, but wild turkeys were just too tough to shoot. Instead, they probably had duck, geese, deer, fish, clams, corn, carrots, parsnips, and cabbage. Oh, and eels. Mm.
Expressing gratitude was important to the Pilgrims, and it ought to be important to us too. Researchers at my alma mater, Baylor University, found that materialism and a corresponding lack of gratitude was (their words here) “negatively associated with well-being.”
Now most of us know this intuitively. Grateful people are happy people, but science is finally catching up with personal experience on this point. For the last several years, researchers have come to the conclusion that gratitude is a key component to help people live happier, longer lives. We can lump these and other benefits under the title The Gratitude Advantage.
Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt, and this is Lead to Win, my weekly podcast designed to help you win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. In this episode we’re going to explore the gratitude advantage, and I’m here with my cohost, COO and eldest daughter Megan Hyatt Miller. Thanks for joining me, Megan.
Megan Hyatt Miller: Hey, Dad. It’s good to be here with you today.
Michael: Do you like Thanksgiving?
Megan: I do like Thanksgiving. I like it especially because it’s not overly commercialized. My husband Joel and I were at Target last weekend not long after Halloween, and they had already switched over to the Christmas candy.
Michael: Yeah, it makes you a little crazy when you see that happening. I’ve gotten mailings already about Christmas promotions, and as we’re recording this, this is the week after Halloween.
Megan: Come on, people. It’s too much. You mentioned today that our topic is the gratitude advantage, and you’ve outlined four gains we can expect to experience when we practice gratitude intentionally. Do you want to share the first one with us?
Michael: I do. The first gain is gratitude improves your health. In fact, it has a direct impact on your health. As reported by Kennon Sheldon, Todd Kashdan, and Michael Steger in Designing Positive Psychology, grateful people visit their doctors less often and live longer than others. Did you know that?
Megan: I didn’t know that. That is fascinating.
Michael: That’s pretty interesting. They go on to say that thankfulness helps us sleep better (I’m all for that), control our blood pressure, and generally reduce physical complaints.
Megan: That’s pretty compelling.
Michael: It is.
Megan: On that point about a longer life, when a reporter asked 107-year-old Lona Collins what she does to stay young, she said to stay grateful. “Don’t go crabbin’.”
Michael: I love that advice. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise to us that there’s this mind/body connection, that how our mindset is is going to have an impact on not only how we feel but probably just our overall health.
Megan: No doubt.
Michael: Gratitude also reduces stress. According to researchers Robert Emmons and Anjali Mishra, after looking at several different studies, “The evidence strongly supports the supposition that gratitude promotes adaptive coping and personal growth.” Just to summarize, what that means for people who are not so adaptive, like you and me… I think adaptive is number 34 on the StrengthsFinder scale of 1 to 34 for both of us. Is that right?
Megan: It’s true, yeah. My kids could attest to the reality of this in my life.
Michael: So people like us probably need a double dose of gratitude in order to remain flexible and not stressed. They went on to explain that thankfulness (get this) redirects our attention from our difficulties to the benefits we enjoy. This literally just happened to me this morning.
I got up this morning, looked at my schedule, jam-packed all day until tonight (I have some personal things tonight too), and I just started to complain a little bit internally, and I thought, “Nope. We’re talking about gratitude today, and I have to be grateful.” And as I was grateful, I noticed a shift began to happen. Not all at once. In fact, it felt a little bit artificial at first, but the more I forced myself to stay in gratitude, I felt my body relax, and I literally started feeling a little bit joyful.
Megan: That makes sense, because we all perform better when we’re approaching life from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity.
Michael: It does something to your mindset, to your approach, to just the energy.
Megan: To your physiology. Right? That’s what you were talking about earlier that you experienced this morning. Okay, before we go any farther into these gains of gratitude, let’s talk about how to practice gratitude. What practices do you use to put yourself in a posture of gratitude on a regular basis?
Michael: My favorite thing to do to get myself in a posture of gratitude is journaling. I literally force myself every day to write down as part of my journaling practice what I’m thankful for. Some days it’s tough. I really have to think, “What am I thankful for?” Some days it comes easily, but I force myself to come up with three things every day. I don’t know what it is about three, but it’s more than what’s on the top of my head. I have to dig a little bit. It’s very helpful, and it’s funny how that kind of practice bleeds over into other areas of my life.
Megan: I love that. One of the things we do at our house is something called the gratitude report, and we’ve been doing versions of this since our kids were really young. We sit around the table almost every night for dinner, and we go around and share what our best thing of the day was, so kind of like a win, and then something we’re grateful for. It’s funny, because inevitably there will be somebody at the table who had a hard day, and they just don’t want to share anything. You’re kind of coaxing it out of them.
What’s amazing to me is that when we’re done with dinner and everyone has shared… Because it’s not optional. You have to come up with something. Part of the reason we include the gratitude part is that even if you don’t feel like you’ve had wins in a day there’s always something to be grateful for. Regardless, when we’re done with that exercise, everybody feels so much more positive, so much more grateful, so much more connected to one another than they ever would if we just chitchatted through dinner.
Michael: The great value of this is that it will turn your kids into grateful little kids. The reason you’re doing that… I don’t want to take credit for this, but we did this in our home with you guys growing up. Okay, if practicing gratitude is especially tough for you, you might want to draw from the Frank Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life and use the George Bailey technique. What do I mean by that?
In the film, a guardian angel shows George what the world would be like had he never been born. Mom and I just watched this as a theater production recently, and this really stuck out to us. It shows us how much easier it is to notice our blessings when we imagine their absence. So take a moment to imagine what life would be like without your spouse, without your job, without your home, any blessing it’s tough to be thankful for.
Megan: That’s a great exercise. Now to set us up for our next gain, I’d like you to hear from our friend, best-selling author Jon Gordon. Listen to what he has to say about one of the greatest benefits of gratitude.
Jon Gordon: I love talking about the power of gratitude, because the research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. If you’re feeling blessed you won’t be stressed. One of the ways I love to experience the power of gratitude is with a “thank you” walk. While you’re walking you just say what you’re thankful for, and when you do that you’re flooding your brain and body with these positive emotions that uplift you rather than the stressful ones that slowly drain and kill you.
Just by doing this simple act, you’re not allowing the fear, the negativity, and all that negative stuff to wreak havoc on your body, your mind, and your soul. You’re fueling your mind, your body, your heart, your soul with these great emotions, great energy that allows you to feel great. When you’re doing this “thank you” walk or taking a “thank you” drive or just practicing gratitude, you can focus on the little things and the big things.
It’s those little things and big things we can be thankful for in any moment. Those big things could be you’re thankful for your health, your family, the great things in your life. Those little things could be that you’re walking on pavement, that you can actually walk. You’re thankful that you actually have hands to move, a mouth to speak, eyes to see. It’s the littlest things.
I’ll never forget speaking to a school. When I was done, a guy came up to me. He was a teacher there, and he said, “You know, Jon, I was paralyzed in this accident, and I was able to move my big toe. A couple of years after this accident I was able to move this big toe, and I was so grateful for that.” In that moment I realized how we can be grateful for the littlest things and how to some people it’s a big thing. It may be little to us, but it’s a big thing to them. So when we talk about gratitude, nothing is too big or too small to practice that power and experience that power.
Now a key part of gratitude also is to know that it produces happiness. Happiness is a by-product of feeling grateful. It’s a by-product of living with purpose, of living with passion. It doesn’t happen on its own. A lot of people are seeking happiness. You will never find happiness by seeking happiness. You will find it by being grateful, by being purposeful, and living a life of love, passion, and joy. Happiness comes from that. So be grateful, and you’ll have more things to be grateful about.
Michael: So that’s the first gain: gratitude improves your health. The second gain is gratitude extends your happiness. In other words, gratitude makes us more pleasant to be around. Just think about it this way. What’s the opposite of gratitude? Complaining, cynicism, even arrogance. Do you like hanging out with people like that?
Michael: Nope. Me neither. In fact, I avoid those people like the plague.
Megan: Totally agree. Gratitude also allows us to put difficult experiences in context.
Michael: In other words, reframing.
Megan: Okay, this is a little soapbox moment, but I personally hate the idea of reframing. Authenticity and integrity are really important to me, and it’s important to me to tell the truth about things that are difficult. Reframing sort of feels like trying to wrap up something that was really negative in wrapping paper and say it wasn’t so bad.
But I do think when you practice gratitude those negative experiences are put in context with other areas where you’ve seen God’s provision in your life, you’ve seen things work out, you’ve seen abundance in play kind of across the board. There’s sort of an “in relationship to one another” thing that happens that you can understand scarcity is not the final word.
Michael: Okay, I don’t disagree with anything you said, but I have to make an argument for reframing because I like that word and I’ve used it in other contexts. Here’s what I think you’re saying, and correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t think you object to reframing; you object to doing it too soon.
Megan: Yes, or when you’re just dishonest about that the bad thing is really bad.
Michael: Right. Like we’ve had all these mass shootings. There’s no way to reframe that and put a bow on it. It’s just a really, really bad thing.
Megan: Or natural disasters or anything.
Michael: Yeah. There are some things you probably can’t reframe. There may be some things even in the midst of that you can be grateful for. I wouldn’t presume to know what that’s like to be involved in a situation like that, but I don’t think we’re so far apart on reframing.
Megan: I think I’ll give that to you.
Michael: Okay, good.
Megan: One of your favorite ways to reframe or to put difficult things into context, as I might say, is by asking a certain question. What’s that?
Michael: The question is…What does it make possible? This is also a question you can’t ask too soon.
Megan: It’s almost like it has to come with a warning label.
Michael: That’s right. It’s almost like the person asking that question should have to count to 15 or wait two days after a bad thing before they ask it, but if you can eventually get to this question, it’s amazing. Years ago, I was on my way to work and had a cup of coffee in my right hand and my briefcase in my left hand and was going down two flights of stairs in our townhome at the time, where we were living while we renovated the house we live in now, and I tripped.
I fell down to the bottom of the stairs, the first flight, and the coffee was all over me. I was already late, and I was really frustrated. Well, as I got up, I realized something was bad wrong. In fact, it turned out I broke my ankle, and I ended up having to have surgery and six screws put in my ankle.
Megan: You really just shattered your ankle. You didn’t just break it. It was in pieces.
Michael: By the way, those screws and the plate are still there to this day. And I run on it, which is amazing. But here’s what happened. I couldn’t ask this question at first, but after a few days I asked myself the question, “What does this make possible?” Well, as it turned out, it made a ton possible. I got some much-needed rest, for example. I got an extended period of time with Mom just to hang with her. This was a really busy season of my life, and I couldn’t do anything different from that.
That’s when I started blogging. This was back in 2004. I had the time, because there I was laid up at home, and once I got through email and everything and there were no meetings to attend, I decided, “I’m going to start this blog.” That changed everything in my life. Plus one of the really cool things… I’ll tell you what it made possible. I got to get on airplanes first.
Megan: We don’t like waiting very much, so that’s a big benefit.
Michael: That was kind of a cool thing. I got to get seated before the madness began.
Megan: That’s fantastic. Besides that example, have you ever had a situation where gratitude has snapped you out of a bad mood or a negative emotional cycle?
Michael: Totally. I shared earlier about the one this morning. It probably happens one or two times a day. We talked about the practice of journaling in the morning. The other thing Mom and I do at the end of the day is to lie in bed holding hands together and talk about our three wins and what we’re grateful for about the day, and it kind of does the same thing.
It’s like the beginning of the day is great because it sets you up, but then the end of the day is great because it helps you…no pun intended…put those things to bed so you can go to sleep without these open loops in your mind. You can give thanks for what happened and you know that tomorrow is a better day.
Megan: Haven’t you found, too, that intentionally practicing gratitude is kind of like the antidote to anxiety?
Michael: Yes, totally.
Megan: On the one hand it’s the antidote to negativity or a sense of scarcity, but I don’t know about you, but with my experience anxiety is a real struggle sometimes. The uncertainty of life. “What’s going to happen? What if this happens?” I’m so futuristic I run through all of the possibilities in my mind. We’re in the middle of selling one house and buying another one right now, and there are so many open loops, as you just said, that it’s enough to almost drive me crazy.
One of the things I have gone back to over and over again is realizing that everything like this that I’ve ever been in a situation with has worked out. God always provides. The right resources always show up when I need them. In my mind I’m like, “What if we sell our house but we can’t find something we really love? Where will we live?” All that kind of stuff, all those looping thoughts that can happen. But gratitude reminds me how often, which is always, things just work out.
Michael: I kind of feel like I have to apologize to you for giving you those genes.
Megan: The worry genes?
Michael: Yeah. I do that the same way. I don’t even know if it’s worry. In fact, I was talking to Mom about this the other day, and I thought, “You know, it’s not really worry. It’s not really that I catastrophize.”
Megan: I do that. I’m going to be honest.
Michael: I used to do that, but instead… It’s a little bit of a nuanced difference, but I go through a lot of if/then sort of scenarios, where I’m thinking… Kind of like you were saying, “What if the house doesn’t happen?” That’s not exactly catastrophizing, but it’s just I want to play out all of the scenarios so I’m prepared. The problem is that when you’re doing that when you’re trying to sleep you won’t be able to sleep.
For those of you who struggle with insomnia (I’m not saying this is the only thing you need to do, but this can help; it sure helped me), be grateful before you try to go to sleep, because, again, it ends the day on the right note and keeps me from worrying about those things I don’t have yet by focusing on the things I’ve already been given.
Megan: The truth is at the root of that anxiety is a sense of self-reliance. We think it’s all dependent on us, so that’s why we run all of those scenarios, but that’s not actually true.
Michael: It’s not. In fact, gratitude relieves us of this sense of self-reliance. In church tradition and in many church traditions today, the Eucharist has been the focal point of Christian worship. We typically think of that as Communion, but it’s really about gratitude. In fact, it comes from a Greek word which means to give thanks. That’s the essence of the word.
One of the things that makes us human, I would contend, is that we have this ability to stop, reflect, and give thanks. It’s one of the things that separates us from every other created thing. As far as I know, humans alone have the capacity to realize that we enter the world with nothing and leave with nothing. Just to put my own spin on that famous Descartes quote, the one that says, “I think, therefore I am,” I really think it’s “I thank, therefore I am.”
Megan: It’s so important to remember that it doesn’t depend on us entirely and that we can just relax in that. We don’t have to run the scenarios. We don’t have to have all of the what/if things figured out, because God is at work in our lives regardless of what we do.
Michael: Yep, and gratitude by definition acknowledges provision from outside ourselves. Even secularists will say, “I’m grateful that happened.” Well, grateful to whom? It makes me a little bit crazy when people are grateful to the impersonal universe or to just nothing in general.
Megan: I totally agree.
Michael: It sort of assumes that if you’re grateful there’s someone to whom you’re grateful.
Megan: Gratitude is actually an act of humility. Practicing gratitude is a recognition of our humanity and, as our friend Reverend Kenny Benge says, our creatureliness, the fact that we’re not the creator, we’re not responsible for all the provision in our lives. It’s an act of humility to recognize the provision we experience comes from outside of ourselves.
Michael: Amen, sister.
Megan: Preach it. Before we continue our conversation on gratitude, I want to pause for just a minute and have you talk about a new resource you’ve created to help guarantee we grow as leaders. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Michael: Yeah. I’m so excited about this new product. It’s called LeaderBox, and it’s essentially leadership development that comes in a box. It’s a monthly curated reading experience designed to maximize your time, grow your leadership, and accelerate your results as a leader. It delivers personal and professional development to your door, helping you get through two books a month in just 30 minutes a day.
Megan: That is so important, because we’re all just so busy. We know that reading is vital to our continued growth as leaders, but there are so many books out there competing for our attention that it can be challenging just to decide what to read, let alone find the time to read the books and then apply those lessons to our businesses. It can be overwhelming fast.
Michael: Exactly. That’s where LeaderBox comes in. My team and I have a combined experience (get this) of over 50 years in the book publishing industry. It’s a lot, and we’re leveraging all that know-how to bring you the most valuable books each month, the ones that are really going to move the needle in your life and business, in a curated, subscription-based service. Two books, custom Activation Guides, and more will arrive on your doorstep each month.
Megan: Just to say it again, you can get through this in 30 minutes a day, which is crazy. That’s a lot of books to read in a year in 30 minutes a day.
Michael: And actually it’s only 21 days of the month. We give you the weekends off.
Megan: That happens in the Activation Guide. So talk a little bit about what is in those.
Michael: This includes a 21-day Reading Plan, executive book summaries, action steps, a list of related resources, plus my proprietary Book Insights framework to help you quickly internalize the key concepts. It’s an easy, complete subscription that allows you to automate your growth in just minutes a day.
Megan: I love this solution, because I think it solves a very real need for leaders who are committed to personal growth and professional growth but need to achieve it as quickly as possible. I mean, come on. We don’t have time to sit around for hours every day like we’re professional students. Plus, unlike so many subscription services, you’re offering the option to cancel at any time.
Michael: Yeah, that was a big decision for us, but we wanted to take all the risk out so that leaders can get the development tools they need without having to worry about being locked in if it’s not right for them.
Megan: For those who are interested, where can they find out more?
Michael: Well, I thought you’d never ask. You can subscribe now at leaderbox.com, and I’ll encourage you to do that today so you don’t miss the cutoff for the next box.
Megan: That’s important, because each box is only available for one month, and there’s no way to get your hands on them after that. Right?
Michael: That’s true. The books in the Activation Guide this month are great, and I don’t want you to miss out, so subscribe now.
Megan: Great. I hope all of you will go check that out. Now let’s dive back into our discussion on the gratitude advantage.
Michael: The second gain is gratitude extends your happiness, and the third gain is gratitude can advance your career. That sounds counterintuitive, but gratitude actually can drive performance.
Megan: Absolutely. Think about it this way. How does it impact company culture when a leader fails to recognize performance?
Michael: Let me tell you a story. Years ago, back when I was in the book publishing business, one of our biggest authors for whom we worked doubly hard… There were so many things we did for this author he was completely unaware of, and we were happy to do it, because we loved him, we loved his message, and all that.
We went down for a quarterly review meeting to talk about and review the activity for the last quarter, what we had done, what the performance was, and all that. Well, he sat there as we were talking about all of the amazing things our team had done… By the way, my team was there. I’m talking about all of these amazing things we had done, and we were kind of bragging a little bit, because we were excited about what we had accomplished on his behalf.
He sat there with his arms crossed, as did his agent, kind of looking at us poker-faced, no expression on his face whatsoever. Didn’t smile, didn’t express gratitude…anything. So we’re all starting to look at each other, like, “What is wrong here?” We went around the room. Everybody is just presenting their part of the project, part of what they had done. Nothing. So we all finished. He didn’t give us anything, and at the end of it, he launched into this diatribe about how we had not done enough.
Michael: Yes. He was totally focusing on what was not just missing but what was wrong. Well, it was like you stuck a pin in my team and watched us all deflate.
Megan: I bet.
Michael: So discouraging.
Megan: And you as a leader in that situation, real time, are trying to do damage control, but you can’t really do it. You couldn’t have prepared them or anything. You’re just watching it burn to the ground.
Michael: I’m thinking to myself, “These are the people you need to succeed, and you’re completely demotivating them. How likely is it that they’re going to want to go back home and work on your project when, in fact, they do have a choice? They don’t have to give their shower time or their walk time or any other time to creatively thinking about how to solve your problems and get more distribution on your books. They’ll think about somebody else who’s more grateful.”
In fact, in the car going back to the airport after this event happened I was doing major damage control, because everybody was so discouraged. They literally wanted to quit. But that’s what I’m talking about. Gratitude drives performance, and the converse is also true. Ingratitude, a lack of gratitude, also impedes performance, and that’s exactly what I experienced that day with my team.
Megan: That is a powerful story. Man, a cautionary tale. On a more positive note, gratitude also increases profitability.
Michael: I love that.
Megan: Me too. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, about half of HR managers say that workplace gratitude improves profitability. The number is probably a lot higher, though. Don’t you think?
Michael: Yeah. There’s this quote from Jeremy Adam Smith of UC Berkeley. He says we don’t just work for money; we also work for respect, for a sense of accomplishment, for a feeling of purpose. In fact, when you look at compensation studies, money is not even at the top of the list. There has to be a basic amount of compensation for people to meet their needs, but people are looking for more than that. The money is sort of the foundation, but there has to be all of these other things too, like a sense of accomplishment and a sense of respect.
Megan: I totally agree. Have you ever had a leader express gratitude to you in a way that made a lasting impression?
Michael: Yes. This is another author story, and it’s a good story. I’ll even name names here because it was so moving to me. Years ago, for his 60th birthday, John Maxwell invited some people who professionally were involved with him… I was his publisher at the time. There were a number of other people, a couple of people who worked with him, and we flew to Ireland and played golf. John didn’t pay our way, but he picked up a lot of the expenses once we got there.
What was the most amazing thing, where I experienced gratitude in a way that really motivated me, was one night after dinner… We’d had a long day of golf, and we were sitting around this table, and John just decided he was going to go around the table… There were I think eight of us there. He went around the table and expressed to each of us what he was grateful for and what we had meant in his life.
John has one of the biggest hearts ever. He wasn’t into it about 30 seconds at each person, he’s crying. He’s talking about how much they meant to him, and it was really heartfelt and deeply moving. Before long we’re all crying. That bonded me to John in a way you can’t imagine, because I felt appreciated.
Now John wasn’t doing that to manipulate me, but when I went back to the office, I can guarantee you he was an author that I’m thinking about, “How can I make him more successful? How can I help my friend John, because he’s already expressed how much I mean to him?” It really did have an impact on my behavior.
Megan: That’s a great story. I’ve experienced that with him in other meetings that you and I have been in together, where he has recognized someone on his staff, introduced somebody to us, or just gone around the room and introduced people, or whatever it may be. He, probably better than almost anybody I know, has a way of bragging on his team in a way that builds them up in public in front of others, and I think that’s a key takeaway from that story you told.
It’s not just that he pulled you aside and said that to you. He did it in front of other people, which as leaders, is a great thing we can use in our own leadership to recognize our teams in front of others rather than just quietly.
Michael: Yeah, just a sidebar on that. I think too often unaware leaders will criticize people in public and then thank them in private and think, “Well, I’m giving them enough appreciation.” No. You should always do the exact opposite of that. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever criticize in public, but appreciate in public. Same thing with email, by the way. Don’t embarrass people with email by all the people you’re copying. Email is appropriate if you’re trying to communicate direct information.
Michael: Yeah, transactional. If you want to appreciate them and brag on them, email is great for that, but if you have something that needs to be more corrective in nature, email is not the place for it. A public venue is not the place for that. Do that in private.
Megan: That’s a good word. The weird thing is that gratitude is often under-utilized at work. I don’t know why, but we kind of forget that this is such an amazing tool in leadership. A study by the John Templeton Foundation found that work is the last place we experience any sort of gratitude. The study found that even though most of us know we should express thanks, only about one in ten of us actually does so on any given day. In fact, about a third of us are afraid to do so.
Michael: This is a big problem.
Megan: Why do you think that is? Afraid?
Michael: I don’t know. I think because they think if they’re grateful or if they express appreciation people will become complacent. It’s kind of a faulty logic, but the idea that if I appreciate you you won’t work so hard… It’s kind of like the parent who withholds praise from their children because they want the children to perform and keep trying to impress the parent by doing the right thing. It actually has the opposite effect.
Megan: Right. I wonder, too, if it’s a little bit of a fear of vulnerability. Gratitude is kind of a vulnerable thing to express. It’s a soft emotion, and there’s still that holdover that soft emotions don’t belong at work.
Michael: Right. It’s kind of that old-school idea that if you’re going to be a good manager you have to be tough. Never show your emotions, never tell people you’re grateful, never be open, keep them guessing, all that, which is completely backward.
Megan: But we spend more time at work than anywhere else, so if we’re not experiencing gratitude there, that is really a problem.
Michael: Right. One of the things that’s important, too, when you do this is to be really detailed. The more detailed you can be, the more authentic it is. For the leader who just walks around the office and says, “Hey, great job,” or “Thanks for all you do for the company,” that doesn’t really cut it. It feels insincere, and it feels like maybe you’re trying to manipulate people. So when you express appreciation, the more detailed you can be the better.
Smith, whom I quoted a few minutes ago, said when you are specific about the benefits of a person, action, or a thing, it increases your own appreciation and tells a person you’re paying attention rather than just going through the motions. Now this is important, because people want to be seen. They want to be acknowledged. They want to know their work matters, but if their supervisor never notices, never really sees them in a way that they feel seen, it really doesn’t matter.
Megan: That’s a big idea, because so often you can be too general about it, and you miss the opportunity to make a big impact on the people you lead. By the way, this isn’t just about leading down; this can be leading up too. You can show appreciation to your boss or your supervisor just as much as you can show appreciation to people laterally or to people who report to you.
Michael: And you know who’s great at that? You.
Megan: Aw, thanks.
Michael: That very much motivates me when you’re grateful to me, so thank you for that.
Megan: An important point about that is if you’re a leader, very often you’re the one who’s expressing gratitude to others, but not that often do people express gratitude to you. So it’s a great way to build rapport with your boss to remember to recognize things they do too.
Michael: Yeah, because they think sometimes (and don’t ask me how I know this) that what they do is not noticed or not appreciated.
Megan: It’s kind of like being a parent in a way.
Michael: Exactly. The thing is gratitude requires intention. For example, I have a lot more thankful thoughts than I actually express, but unexpressed intentions are pretty useless. We have to be on the hunt for opportunities (and this is the key thing) to express gratitude. The thoughts don’t count. You don’t get credit unless you express it.
Megan: That’s right. You’re not responsible for what you mean; you’re responsible for what you communicate. It’s an important idea. One of my favorite stories about this came out of my son Moses’ experience last year at school. He was at a new school, and one of the things they focus on is building confidence, which I love, and they’re very strengths-based in their approach. They have something called “caught in the act,” which as a parent, when I first heard that I was like, “Oh gosh. What does that mean?”
Michael: Like a negative thing.
Megan: Like I’m going to be getting phone calls home from school. But what they do is they charge all of the teachers in the elementary school with noticing when kids do great things. It could be anything, like helping another student, opening a door, being proactive in turning something in, whatever it may be.
Other teachers (so, not the primary teacher of your child) notice great things your child is doing and report that to their teacher, and it’s called “caught in the act.” They get so many “caught in the acts” and they get some kind of a reward. It just makes them feel like instead of people being on the hunt for what they’re doing wrong, people are always looking for what they’re doing that’s right. Man, that just makes kids excited to go to school.
Michael: Just imagine if that were applied in the workplace. I was thinking the other day that when we succeed at something, success itself should serve as a kind of activation trigger. You know from our work with Your Best Year Ever, my online goals course, that this whole idea of activation triggers is something that sets up something else.
Megan: Almost like automates it. Right?
Michael: Almost like automates it or prompts another kind of behavior. Whenever we experience success, look for the people who made the contributions and seek to acknowledge them. Just use that as an activation trigger to thank your team, your fans, your friends, your family, your colleagues, anyone who played a role in it. This could be a cool practice to use at work.
Megan: I love that idea. Are there any other activation triggers we can use to stay consistent in this? It’s easy to let it fall off your radar.
Michael: It is. Or to think, “I thought about that; therefore, I did it.” Again, you don’t get credit unless you express it. One idea would be to set up a weekly reminder to express appreciation to one or more of your teammates. They don’t have to know about it. You can make it look natural, but just do it as a matter of routine. Or ask your assistant to prompt you once a month to send thank you notes or thank you emails.
I just recently had somebody on our team run a list of our top 100 customers. Oh my gosh. It’s unbelievable how much revenue they’re responsible for. One of the things I did with my assistant was say, “I want to send these people a thank you note on a regular basis so they don’t feel like I’m taking them for granted, because I’m not. I’m very grateful.”
Megan: I love that idea. My former coach and friend, Mary Miller from Strategic Coach, has a practice that I love. She told us about it one day in a workshop she was leading. She keeps a stack of note cards on her desk and regularly… All of those little things she notices, like you were just mentioning… She writes notes to her team and sends them home. There’s no rhyme or reason that I’m aware of to that. It’s not like she’s working through a list. She just notices stuff and writes a short note and sends it to their home. I love that. That really inspired me.
Michael: I haven’t tried this, but I’ll bet that’s one of those things that the more you do it, the better you get at it and the less effort it takes to do it.
Megan: Yes. Now I’d like you to hear directly from Mary about why she prioritized this practice and the results it produced.
Mary Miller: A few years ago, one of our team members recommended that we go beyond the weekly sharing of one thing positive each week, and I was frequently reminding the team to encourage our employees (we’ve grown to almost 600 employees over the past number of years) that the number-one thing all people need is appreciation and recognition. That’s just a humanity thing.
One of our team members had this great idea that we actually send thank you notes, so we had some special note cards made up that they have access to at any time to write a note, put the name on the front, and then my assistant would take care of getting the address and mailing it. So it wasn’t just given to them but received at their home, so their family also saw that their spouse or father or mother, whoever it was, was being appreciated by their fellow coworkers.
We can see the confidence grow, and we can see the people becoming more engaged with each other and their teams, because when people are recognized it’s like, “Wait a minute. You see me? You see what I’m doing and you appreciate it?” It gives them permission to become engaged, and it reduces that fear level. When confidence grows and energy grows, amazing things happen.
We have been really fortunate. We still have these note cards available for people to fill out, but now at the weekly meeting with the area managers and monthly celebration they’re not just sharing positives that are going on with their life but they’re sharing what somebody else on the team has done to make their life easier. That has just been huge.
It’s happening more and more throughout the team, and it attracts other great people who want to be part of the team, and it attracts different types of business company that want to do business with you, too, because of the type of culture you create. I really believe that the Dream Manager starts as a program, but it becomes embedded as a culture of appreciation and gratitude, that people really care about each other, and companies with that caring culture change the world.
Michael: The fourth gain is gratitude helps you accomplish your goals. How? Well, because gratitude enhances motivation. In one study, going back to these researchers Robert Emmons and Anjali Mishra… They set out to debunk this prevailing but unproven idea that gratitude can leave people feeling complacent. We talked about this a moment ago, but I want to drill into it a little bit more.
The myth says, “If I have enough, maybe I don’t need to achieve more.” Well, Emmons and Mishra had students list goals they hoped to reach over a two-month period. Ten weeks later, they checked back and found that grateful students were closer than others in the study to reaching their goals. So contrary to the myth, Emmons and Mishra determined that (and these are their words) “gratitude enhances effortful goal striving.” In other words, it makes it easier. But why? Because gratitude improves our patience. In other words, we take the easy way out because we’re impatient.
Megan: That makes sense, because instant gratification is obviously the enemy of achievement. You can’t achieve much if you’re just going for the quick win.
Michael: That’s right. Gratitude has been shown to keep us 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. Well, after writing about it they reported their mood and then made a series of financial decisions. This is where it gets interesting.
If they wanted, they could take a cash reward at the end of the session or receive a larger amount by checking the mail at a later date. The grateful people were happy to wait for the bigger payout. As DeSteno reported, the financial patience of participants increased by about 12 percent just by recalling an event that made them feel grateful. Then he said, imagine if you could increase people’s savings by that much. Wow! That would be cool.
Megan: Those results are remarkable. That’s a fascinating study. Gratitude also makes us feel empowered. It reminds us of all of the resources we already have. This is a huge one, because when you’re in a place of scarcity and you’re focused on what you don’t have, you feel like you don’t have any options, and before you know it you’re hopeless, powerless, and stuck.
Michael: When we’re grateful, and especially when we’re trying to achieve a goal that we’re not quite clear how we’re going to achieve, we really need to feel that sense of abundance and sense of there are resources that maybe we haven’t even identified yet that are going to help us get there.
According to researchers Francesca Gino and Bradley Staats, your brain releases dopamine when you achieve goals. We kind of knew that. Right? Since dopamine improves attention, memory, and motivation, even achieving a small goal can result in a positive feedback loop that makes you more motivated to work harder going forward.
This is why we need to stop and give thanks in the pursuit of a goal. We have to acknowledge the milestones along the way. That winning feeling you get when you stop and reflect on your achievements with gratitude is the very thing that will continue to propel you forward in the achievement of the big goal.
Megan: That’s a great point. So why is stopping to count wins and practice gratitude particularly hard for high-achievers?
Michael: Well, not that I would know this from personal experience, but I just think we like checking stuff off. This is unconscious and involuntary, but when I check stuff off my to-do list I’m kind of on to the next thing. I’m so future focused I’m thinking about the next unaccomplished thing. I don’t take time unless I cultivate… I really do think this is a spiritual discipline: to take time to just stop and celebrate and give thanks. I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older, but it was not natural to me as I was younger.
Megan: So now how do you keep those wins or the things you have to be grateful for in view rather than just blowing past them and going on to the next thing?
Michael: Well, I realize there’s a lot at stake. I may be able to blow past them and keep motivated about the things I still have yet to accomplish, but I think it’s important for the team to stop and for me to acknowledge them… Again, to see them, to acknowledge them, to express appreciation to them, especially if we’re going to continue to be motivated and continue to go on to achieve even bigger things.
Megan: One idea for this that’s kind of practical is you can use your executive assistant or someone else on your team who maybe has a particular gift for this and ask them to plan in advance, following big initiatives you have or accomplishments you foresee in the future, activities or times of recognition or celebrations, where maybe you know you’re not going to be very good at it when you get there, but it’s already on the calendar so you can’t miss it. That way you can ensure that you stop long enough to actually celebrate.
Michael: By the way, that’s kind of an activation trigger also. Do you think you’re particularly good at this?
Megan: I do think I’m pretty good at this.
Michael: I do too.
Megan: I really like celebrating. Probably one of the parts of our business that gives me the most joy is celebrating our people and creating an experience where the contribution of others is acknowledged in a meaningful and public way. I try to be really intentional about doing that. For example, we take a trip every year right around the first of the year, and our whole team plus their spouses join us for that.
Not only are we casting the vision for the coming year but, more importantly, we’re celebrating the wins of the past year, because it’s so easy to almost have amnesia once you get about a month or two out from anything, and you miss those things. Our team has worked so hard to accomplish the goals we’ve set, and we want them to feel recognized and seen.
Michael: It would be easy for me, as a business owner, to just look at that as an expense and say, “Why do I want to pay for that? How does that help me?” Honestly, it helps me a ton. First of all, people deserve that. I think they deserve acknowledgement. The thing I get out of it, just from a purely crass business owner standpoint, is it keeps people motivated. They realize they’re connected to a bigger purpose and connected to a team, and, again, they’re seen, acknowledged, and thanked.
Megan: I don’t think that’s crass. I just think it’s viewing it like an investment rather than a cost. The truth is there is a return on that investment, and that looks like people feeling connected to the mission and being motivated.
All right. Today we’ve covered four gains you can experience by practicing gratitude. First, improved health; second, greater happiness; third, career advancement; and fourth, accomplishing your goals. As you mentioned at the opening of the show, Dad, the Pilgrims received extraordinary help from the Native Americans. When met with a blessing like that, gratitude is always the right response. I’m finding that the more I pause and give thanks, the more reasons I have to be thankful.
Michael: I’ve experienced that too.
Megan: Do you have any final thoughts for us?
Michael: I would just say that thanksgiving is not a season; it’s really a way of life. The more we can cultivate it, the more happy we’re going to be, the more sense of well-being we’re going to have, the more we’re going to motivate everybody else, the more pleasant we’re going to be to be around. So it’s all good. There’s nothing negative that comes from gratitude. It’s all positive, and the more we do it, the better we get at it and the more benefits we’ll receive.
Megan: It’s a really important point as we look ahead to Christmas. It’s important to remember that we can never have enough stuff to make us feel like we’re living in abundance. It’s really a state of mind, as you just said.
As we close, I want to remind you about LeaderBox. It provides automated personal development in a box. Check it out at leaderbox.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, you can get the show notes and a full transcript online at leadto.win.
Michael: Thanks again for joining us on Lead to Win. If you like the show, please tell your friends and colleagues about it, and also please leave a review or, at the very least, rate the show wherever you listen to podcasts.
Megan: This program is copyrighted by Michael Hyatt & Company. All rights reserved. Our producer is Nick Jaworski.
Michael: Our writers are Joel Miller, Mandi Rivieccio, and Jeremy Lott.
Megan: Our recording engineer is Mike Boyer.
Michael: Our production assistants are Mike Burns and Aleshia Curry.
Megan: And our intern is Winston.
Michael: We invite you to join us for our next episode, where we’ll be discussing the science of achievement and sharing four surprising, research-backed tactics you can use to achieve your goals. Until then, lead to win.