This column originally published on Nov. 26, 2014.
Thanksgiving comes around once a year, but what if we adopted the mindset that every day was Thanksgiving and were intentional about the people and things in our lives that we’re thankful for?
When I was a kid, my dad started a family tradition at Thanksgiving dinner that I have carried on with my family. After we say grace, we go around the table and share what we are thankful for over the past year. We share appreciation for one another, our health, colleagues, jobs, friends and family, many of whom are at the table. It’s a pep talk of sorts and the afterglow of sharing gratitude visibly does wonders for everyone’s emotional well-being. (Plus, it makes me feel like my dad is still with us in a way.)
Each year a family member or friend shares with me that they needed that little Thanksgiving pep talk. I bet your employees, colleagues, family and friends could use a pep talk too. Give them one. The bonus for you is that it will have a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line. Here is why.
Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino conducted a research study examining a university’s fundraisers (fixed salary employees). She divided the employees into two groups. Group one made fundraising calls seeking alumni donations the same as they had on previous days. Group two, which worked on a different day, was given a brief pep talk, in person, by the director of annual giving where she let them know just how grateful she was for their hard work.
Over the course of the ensuing week the employees in group two who received her thanks made 50 percent more calls than those in group one who didn’t. Just a few words of kindness that took only a couple of minutes and the results were game changing. Consider how that can relate to your people and your business. If you aren’t expressing thanks to your people you’re missing out on the best zero-cost form of workplace motivation on the planet. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every day.
Here’s the kicker: Gratitude isn’t just good for your staff, it’s good for you too.
Two notable researchers on gratitude, Robert Emmons (U.C. Davis) and Michael McCullough (Univ. Miami), conducted a study where they took three groups of people and asked them to write about things that happened to them each week. Group A was told to write down things that happened that they were grateful for. Group B was asked to write down things that frustrated them. Group C wrote about things that affected them without any emphasis on the positive or negative.
At the conclusion of the 10-week study, participants in Group A (the gratitude group) reported to be happier, exercised more and took less trips to the doctor that those in Group B, who documented their frustrations.
If you’re like a lot of folks, you’re probably keeping Group A’s list on Thanksgiving and Group B’s most other days of the year. What should you really be doing?
A few years ago, during my turkey-induced post-dinner food coma, I thought about my dad’s tradition and realized that if I wanted to feel gratitude more often I had to practice it more often. Daily practice is really the only way to make something a habit and research has shown it takes anywhere from 30 to 60 days to install a new habit. As a result, I created The Daily Game Plan, which is an easy way for busy people to keep track of their daily schedules and their daily gratitude.
Think about it, exercise daily and your muscles grow. If you flex your gratitude muscles, they will grow too. It should become as automatic as brushing your teeth every morning. Along with brushing my teeth, my gratitude practice called “5 by 9” is automatically scheduled into my morning routine.
I set the goal of sharing positive feedback, appreciation or thanks to five people before I begin my workday at 9 a.m. each morning. I do not start my workday until I’ve done this. I encourage you to do the same. Thank or share positive feedback with five people before 9 a.m. Here are several strategies you can use.
1. Keep a list of what you’re grateful for and proud of about yourself. You can’t give away something you don’t first possess. In other words, to be grateful for others you must first feel gratitude for yourself.
2. Send a thank-you note or a card. Yes, you can send an ecard, but the added personal touch of snail mail has greater magnitude. (It also helps cultivate relationships and keeps you top of mind.)
3. Smile and dial. Instead of always mailing the thank you’s, call some of the people you chose and tell them what you were going to say in a letter.
4. Schedule a lunch meeting. Take someone to lunch and thank or express your appreciation of that person’s contributions to them face to face.
5. Start keeping a list. When you get good at developing gratitude you won’t have time to thank everyone every day. Choose five people a day. Add all the others to your list for future days.
Telling people you appreciate them is good. Showing them is better. Be specific when explaining what you respect, admire and appreciate about them. We have so much to be thankful for not just on Thanksgiving but every day.
I'm very thankful for you, the Entrepreneur community, for being a part of my life and for allowing me to be a part of yours. I’ll ask you what I’m about to ask my family Thursday afternoon: What and who are you thankful for this year?