New Year, New exercises for your well lived life.
One of the most impactful category of exercises and practices for me in 2016 were those related to Gratitude. For 2017 I am building on those with a specific practice around “Thank You”. While many Gratitude exercises are internally focused on building your OWN CAPACITY FOR GRATITUDE, the Thank You practice turns gratitude outward and includes the objects of your gratitude in the practice. In some ways externalizing gratitude is a “next step” or “advanced” gratitude practice as you are taking a risk putting yourself out there to other people. While there is very little downside to this (and lots of potential upside!) I would not recommend the Thank You practice as a first step gratitude practice. This is best done from a place of quite confidence built on a solid Gratitude foundation.
Every day for 30 days I send an asynchronous “Thank You” note to someone who has done something for which you are thankful as part of your morning routine.
Try to be specific. Thank them for something specific. Like “remember the time you came and brought flowers to the hospital when my daughter was born? Thank you.” You can go general, but the more personal the connection, the more authentic. Do NOT include anything else with the thank you. Focus on sincerely expressing the gratitude. You can catch up in the follow up. And remember to leave out the weasel words.
In my case, I wanted this to take less than 5 minutes each day from beginning to end, so I allowed the Thank You to be either a text, email, phone message, thank you card in the mail, Slack message, Facebook message, Instagram comment, or any other form of asynchronous communication. No phone calls. Why Asynchronous? Because I didn’t want to blow the 5 minute budget catching up or getting off topic.
Pro TIP: Because I am a nerd, I actually brainstormed a list of almost 100 people and created a google spreadsheet of the 30 I was going to do this exercise with before hand. I listed what I am going to thank them for and I am tracking the reactions also. I put them into three categories, Family, Close friends, Acquaintances with 10 in each. I wanted to have a balance of close, near and far to see if there is any material difference in the reactions or the feeling of different categories. You don’t have to plan it out that much if you are more spontaneous (and less of a data nerd). You should be intentional about it though. Think through who you are going to include and why. Try to reach a bit to people who you should have thanked long ago, but have not talked to in quite a long time. The oldest “thank You” in my list is 40 years ago.
My hypothesis is that the exercise will:
- Build gratitude and overall happiness of myself with my life and friend network through the regular recognition of thanks to other people. I hope that engaging with the network will reinforce the internal feelings of overall gratitude in life (and replace the negative monkey).
- Re-ignite conversations with some network nodes (ok friends/acquaintances yes I am a nerd) that have been dormant. (excuse for connection). I am interested in the long term network effects here. How many people will get “infected” and do something similar? How many dormant connections will be reconnected?
- Make each day happier by starting off with memories of someone I am thankful for and acting on that thanks.
- I also believe this exercise has a chance to reinforce resilience. Or build some resilience. When the day shovels me a pile of shit I can remember that just earlier that day I had something to be thankful for. That should make the pile of shit easier to dig through.
Not complete yet, will post in Feb.
Initial results (after five days) include:
- My daughter Finn (16) cautioned: “You should probably tell people why you are sending the notes up front so they don’t think you are going to kill yourself.” A highschool student in our town had sent a series of “thank you” texts just hours before committing suicide earlier in the year. Result: This post and linking to it in my messages as explainer.
- Since I planned the whole thing in advance and had a list much longer than 30 people to thank, the exercise of planning was very interesting as well, figuring out the categories of people, who to include and who to drop. Who would make your list? Who will you cut? Why? I prioritized the top 30 as the “greatest” appreciation I had for the event. Sure it i subjective. And not all the things I am most thankful for in life have gotten thank you cards in this exercise, it is more related to finding 30 people who I am most thankful for.
- I read a good blog post and added the guy to my list for that day, dropping him a email just saying “thank you for writing that post”. Not asking for anything. He sent back a nice note as well. Small connection. Authentic appreciation. Maybe I will email him again about something else, but the start was not an “ask” it was authentic thankfulness, gratitude.
Gratitude is a well documented good life enhancement. Externalizing this with outbound thank you notes is an advanced practice with interesting potential network effects.
More coming in Feb.
Harvard wrote about this
There is a 26 study round up here.
Berkeley is doing good work here.
There is a Coach.me 30 day thank you exercise here (slightly different as they tell you what to be thankful for each day).
There is of course lots of Pintrist boards on this (also typically giving ideas of what to be thankful for each day rather than focusing on people).