Navigating an unfamiliar challenge that is largely out of our control (two apt descriptions for the COVID-19 pandemic) tests our ability to use the intellectual, emotional and physical resources at our disposal most effectively. Interestingly, taking just a moment to focus on gratitude is one of the most effective ways to increase your ability to cope with a major challenge.
Gratitude is the single best predictor of personal resilience and well-being, according to research by Columbia University psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman published in Scientific American. Although humans may be hard-wired to search for danger and identify obstacles, developing the capacity to search for success
and identify progress
is also a fundamental skill we can add to our toolkit to thrive in difficult times.
“Our negativity bias is a great protection mechanism, but it can also undermine us,” explains Anne Grady, an expert on emotional intelligence and resilience and President & Founder of the Anne Grady Group. “We can offset that habit by choosing how we interpret challenging situations, searching for even small wins in difficult times and cultivating positive emotions through gratitude.”
Leaders look up
Positive emotions are more than just a nice feeling; they actually transform how our minds and bodies function and affect our ability to face and recover from difficulty.
“Practicing a more empowered mindset can catapult you into higher levels of leadership because you learn how to navigate the bumps and see setbacks and failures as helpful input and not the end of the road,” Grady adds. “The earlier you can learn these skills and habits, the more ingrained they become in everything you and do and they serve as your foundation for becoming a leader.” The current environment provides plenty of opportunity to try it out.
Positive emotions expand your view
A leading researcher of positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, cites two core truths she has discovered related to her study of positive emotions.
- Positive emotions open our awareness and increase the expanse of our peripheral vision. They literally help us see more possibilities and more interconnections.
- Positive emotions transform us in ways that bring out the best in us. They change what is happening on a cellular level, improve relationships and increase resilience.
Instructing people to “be positive” though is not the answer and actually backfires. Instead, cultivate a sense of openness, appreciation, curiosity, kindness and sincerity in yourself, team members and family.
Capture it in writing
Additional research published in Clinical Psychology Review
shows that gratitude arises from a habitual focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life. A well-proven road to cultivating gratitude (and reaping the rewards of resilience and well-being) is a daily gratitude list. Most approaches share several common elements including:
Write down three to five specific things
you feel grateful for today. Even in these highly challenging days, naming specific things you are grateful for helps engage your best thinking. Perhaps a team member stepped up with a new idea for serving customers during this crisis. Or your kids are showing a surprising degree of commitment to their new online school experience.
Sit quietly for several minutes
to feel your sense of gratitude, relax your mind and start your day with a clear and focused positive intention. Or take a brief time-out when you feel overwhelmed, frightened or out of ideas.
Send positive thoughts to difficult people
in your life. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, this tactic can help reduce unwanted emotional responses and increase positive emotions.
Express your gratitude.
Test subjects have shown strong increases in feelings of happiness after sharing their gratitude with those they appreciate. Thinking grateful thoughts once in a while is fine, but making them a daily practice and sharing them with others increases their impact. This is exactly the time to tell a colleague how much you appreciate their specific skills. It might even be the right time to appreciate your challenging teenager for helping you master your new remote work set up.
“Developing skills of gratitude is an incredibly effective way to deal with stress, increase your ability to handle tougher challenges successfully and release yourself from living and working reactively,” Grady says. “People who master those skills make excellent leaders.”