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Why Giving Thanks Isn’t Just for Thanksgiving

It’s been a rough semester many of you, so I want to keep this short. Next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. In general, most of us aren’t great at telling others how thankful we are to the people in our lives who do things every day that make our lives easier and better. Thanksgiving is the one time we challenge ourselves to show our thanks. But today, I want to give you an even bigger challenge.


We’ve discussed employee engagement in other articles. As we approach Thanksgiving and this idea of showing thanks, I want to go back and focus on Q04 of Gallup’s Engagement Hierarchy, In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work? In a nutshell, it’s saying that at least once a week, you should be telling the folks around you about their good work. And what is recognition or praise really about? It’s about thanking that person. Take a minute to think about how you’re doing with that. When’s the last time you thanked all the people on your team? When’s the last time you told them what you appreciate about them and their work? If you don’t remember or the last time was a while ago, it’s time.

But I’m guessing there’s one person you almost never thank. No, it’s not that BLEEP Fred. It’s YOU. When’s the last time you thanked yourself?

Whaaa? You say that sounds ridiculous? I mean, why would you do that, especially when you’ve got SO much left on your to-do list and there’s so many things you know you should do to make your life better, but you haven’t done most of them? Why SHOULD you thank yourself? Well, it’s literally the same reason you need to thank other people. Let’s break this down.

Have you ever had a supervisor that either ignored you or only told you what you were doing wrong? Or maybe they didn’t directly tell you what you were doing wrong, but they created an environment that made you feel like you weren’t performing up to their standards. How did that make you feel? Did you enjoy working for that individual? Did it motivate you to work harder? Did that make you feel more or less engaged with your job?

If you did have such a supervisor, hopefully that hasn’t been your only experience. Now, think of a supervisor who let you know what you were doing well and thanked you for your efforts. And again, maybe they weren’t necessarily great at verbalizing their thanks, but they created an environment that made you feel valued. You knew you were performing well, and they were appreciative. How did that make you feel? Did it motivate you to work harder? Did that make you feel more or less engaged at your job?

I’m going to guess that supervisors who did thank you on a regular basis made you feel more motivated and engaged than ones who ignored you or only focused on what you did wrong. And of course, it’s not really a guess because the data backs this up. And the data also says that engaged teams are more productive, innovative, have better relationships, etc. So thanking folks is one way to increase the engagement of the folks on your team. That means it also impacts YOUR engagement.

My coach, Dawn, makes me start every session by talking about what I’m celebrating. Now obviously if I knew everything, I wouldn’t need a coach, right? I’m not there because I want someone to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am. I’m there to grow and fix what isn’t working. But we start by celebrating success, because to grow your brain needs to focus on what’s working and build from there. If I only focused on what wasn’t working, the brain wouldn’t have a solid foundation to build on.

When you only focus on the things you’re not doing well, that means you’re not giving yourself anything to build on. And that could mean judging the things you have done as not good enough or by only focusing on all the things you HAVEN’T done. This is the basis of the Strengths philosophy. Focus on what you already do well and build on that. When you thank yourself, you’re reinforcing the great work you do every day. And let’s be honest, there are simply too many things on everyone’s to-do list for folks to realistically get through everything. So, you add to your own engagement by focusing on what you’ve accomplished, instead of focusing on what’s still left.

In his book, The Upward Spiral, neuroscientist, Dr. Alex Korb, talks about how each of our thoughts can spiral up or down. In the book, he specifically addresses the impact of this on depression, but the theory applicable to everyone. Our thoughts don’t live in isolation, they build on one another. Basically, each thought we have can help pull us up or drag us down.

Let’s say you look at your to do list. What do you focus on? Are you looking at the things you’ve accomplished or what’s still left? And if you’re focused on what you’ve accomplished, how does that make you feel? How does that impact your next thought? For most people, focusing on what you accomplished will make you feel like you’re moving forward, like you’ve accomplished some good things today. You’re more likely to feel good about yourself and your efforts. And feeling like that is going to impact your next thought. It might be something like, “This is great. I’m so much further along with this project. I should be able to knock it out tomorrow.” Thoughts like this make you more engaged. That’s spiraling up.

But if you’re focused on what you HAVEN’T gotten done, how does that make you feel? You’re probably likely to feel overwhelmed or anxious. Where does that type of thought lead you? Maybe it’s how you’ll never catch up. Maybe it’s that you’re not good enough. Regardless of what it is, it’s not going to make you feel good about yourself or your situation, and the following thoughts are going to keep reinforcing how impossible your situation is. That’s spiraling down.

When you thank others, you help them spiral up. They know what’s working and can use it to build on, both in their performance and how they feel about themselves. When you thank yourself, you help yourself spiral up. It will help you be more productive, innovative, and engaged. Just as importantly, it will also make you feel better about yourself and the work you do, even if there’s always more do be done.

My challenge to you is in addition to telling the folks in your life why you’re thankful for them, thank YOURSELF for what you do every day. We’re living in a time where nothing seems good enough, and it’s giving all of us a false sense of our worth. It’s causing us to spiral down and feel worse about ourselves and our situation. That makes us less engaged at work and in our own lives. So, add yourself to the list of folks you need to thank on a weekly basis. It will change the trajectory of your thoughts and your life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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