Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in college basketball. His players have won over a thousand games and five national championships. And I know his secret.
Before their 2015 tournament, Coach K and his players and coaches wrote the names of people who had helped them on a ball. They took it with them everywhere they went.
“Players started carrying the ball around—to team meals, on the plane, at practices, in the locker room,” Coach K told Success magazine. “Some of the guys even slept with it—had it right there with them in their rooms.”
It kept gratitude at the center of their game. And it helped them win. Why?
There are several reasons, but here’s one we probably don’t think about enough: Positive emotions like gratitude help us become more resilient. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone who wins at very much for very long without resiliency.
What’s the connection? The are at least three ways gratitude encourages resilience. And these apply to athletes, entrepreneurs, parents, leaders … anyone.
- Gratitude keeps us hopeful. Gratitude is a contrast game. We remember something one way, then something else happened to improve it. Suddenly, we have something to be thankful for.
That process teaches us something critical about life. While our circumstances might be bad, they can also be better. And our stories prove it to us again and again. Gratitude keeps us positive, optimistic, and able to keep coming back for more when life throws obstacles in our way.
Gratitude reminds us that we have agency. This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true—and super, super important. It seems counterintuitive because gratitude involves giving thanks for what we couldn’t manage on our own. But you know what they say about unopened gifts.
If we didn’t use our agency to receive and act on what others have done for us, we wouldn’t have benefited.
Coach K and his players highlight this. None of them would have made it to the tournament without the names on that ball, but they still did the blocking, shooting, and rebounding. And because of what they were already doing with the gifts others had given, they knew they could keep blocking, shooting, and rebounding.
Gratitude expands our possible responses. I talk a lot about the difference between abundance and scarcity and how it affects our lives. Gratitude moves us into a place of abundance—a place where we’re more resourceful, creative, generous, optimistic, and kind. When we’re operating from a place of scarcity, it tends to make us reactionary, close-minded, tight-fisted, gloomy, and even mean.
Positive emotions, say researchers, “broaden one’s thought–action repertoire, expanding the range of cognitions and behaviors that come to mind. These broadened mindsets, in turn, build an individual’s physical, intellectual, and social resources.” In other words, make us more resilient.
They call it the “broaden-and-build theory.” But most of us know this from practical experience. We feel better, perform better, and respond to life’s ups and downs better when we’re grateful.
Coach K is one of the best basketball coaches of all time for a lot of reasons. One is gratitude. And his example can and should inspire the rest of us who want to win at work and succeed at life.