Why Does Journaling About Gratitude Matter for Positive Leaders?

Why is that when we find something that works well for us, we can still find it hard to do? Grrr… I have had a daily gratitude practice for over a decade now, since I did my Master’s in Positive Psychology and found out what a game-changing, mood-changing emotion gratitude is.  Engaging in gratitude journaling is a powerhouse of a process for anyone interested in wellbeing. But, like any good habit, it needs cultivating to keep it going. I’ve worked out that I can keep it fresh by switching up and mixing different ways and methods of journaling. I surprised myself this year however, by going digital rather than analogue with it.

I have discovered an online journal app which has a 5-minute ‘AM’ template which prompts you to reflect on the following:
I am grateful for…
What would make today great?
Daily intention…

Anyone who knows me, will know I’ve always been a fountain pen journaler and my guilty pleasure is writing in beautiful journals.

I cannot enter the day feeling centred without this contemplative practice, so it surprised me that this online app has appealed and stuck. It’s an add-on, though, to my journaling by pen – a quick mood enhancer to put a spring in my step. It’s very quick and easy to use and I like to add pictures, so it is also a powerful visual log of what I’ve been up to and allows me a quick hit of gratitude as I scroll back over the “journal”.

You can create your own ‘end of day’ template which I have done, although I don’t always use this one daily.  This one is the clearing-the-decks-before-sleep one:
What went well?
What’s left still to do?
What ideas am I thinking about?
Who can I appreciate or thank tomorrow?

The benefits of “savouring”
There’s been another journaling practice I’ve embraced for the first time last year and that is weekly reflection. I was given a beautiful journal which gives you prompts for a weekly reflection. This has allowed me to savour some really special moments, which would have passed by, missed in the melee of everyday life. The re-living, reflecting and capturing has added exquisite sweetness to them, and really grounds me in gratitude for the life I am living, even in lockdown. In positive psychology, we call this savouring – a concept linked to wellbeing.

The gratitude journal allows you to self-manage and improve your own mood, and gratitude in the workplace has been shown to have a very positive effect on culture.

According to psychologist Robert Emmons, in his book Thanks, the feeling of gratitude involves two stages:

First, comes the acknowledgment of goodness in one’s life. In a state of gratitude, we say yes to life. We affirm that all-in-all, life is good, and has elements that make it worth living and rich in texture. This positive emotion in a leader is contagious. This level of hope that abounds in these uncertain times is uplifting. Gratitude of ‘what is’ provides an antidote to the fear of ‘what may be’. It keeps us grounded and humbled.

Second, gratitude is recognising that some of the sources of this goodness lie outside the self. We can be grateful to other people, to animals, and to the world.  At this stage, we recognise the goodness in our lives and who to thank for it, i.e. who made contributions and sacrifices so that we could be happy?

When we feel grateful and appreciative to people we lead, and we SHOW it, we see how people expand. It is a rich area of leadership to show appreciation. As Brits, we are often dire at giving and receiving appreciation, but it increases our sense of pride in ourselves and our work. Our energy lifts when we feel appreciated. We all need that right now.

So a gentle invitation – who can you show appreciation for this month? Take a little time to tell them or write to them. And remember – the more specific you can be, the more it helps them feel truly witnessed and appreciated. Watch their energy and motivation rise.

In Leading with Gratitude, authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton highlight that when  gratitude is authentic and specific, is it the “easiest, fastest, and cheapest way that managers can boost performance and employee engagement”.

But… a little health warning about the gratitude journaling practice. It is great when it works… until it doesn’t.

It has been proven that doing a gratitude journal (i.e. counting your blessings) is linked with wellbeing…until it isn’t. This is when it becomes a chore or a bore and we find it mundane. For many, this is around the three-week mark.

So if this happens – stop.

You need to go back and find your own rhythm and methodology with it. It doesn’t have to be daily, or weekly, it might be that often, or it might be less. For some, it’s once a week, for others, it’s reflecting on those three or four points at the beginning or end of a day. There is no right or wrong to it, just be led by your own feelings and motivation.

Perhaps it isn’t even as regular as a journal entry, perhaps you find it more useful to send a ‘Gratitude Letter’ to someone in your team, or a client, or someone who has helped your career. Take the time to say thank you to them.

This is known to be a powerful positive psychology experiment in terms of impact for both sender and receiver.

So let’s start this spring – it is almost spring isn’t it? (she says hopefully)…So let’s start this spring on a high with some gratitude texts, What’s Apps, cards, letters or emails to our friends, teams and supporters – those who have most helped and lifted us throughout these more challenging times and who we would love to give a great big, fat thank you to.

This won’t just be a lovely message for them to receive, it will be uplifting for both them and you. Enjoy the positivity of giving something you know will be appreciated and continue to spread that positive feeling. It increases happiness, productivity and wellbeing.

I’d love to hear if you already do or take up any of these ideas, and if so, how they’re working for you… email me at fiona@leadershipcoaching.co.uk.

 Profile image of Fiona Parashar From Spring Leadership

By Fiona Parashar

Fiona set up Leadership Coaching in 2000, driven to use her corporate experience and academic background to make a positive difference to leaders, executives and women in business. Here, she shares her coaching journey, her favourite type of client, and even a few of her guilty pleasures...

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