Pillar #1: Activate Gratitude

“Practice being more grateful, more frequently.”

Before we get going, let me share a secret with you… The athlete mindset isn’t solely reserved for athletes; it’s something we can all activate. Whether you are an athlete, a business leader, entrepreneur, employee, volunteer, or otherwise; anyone can use an athlete mindset to enhance their life.

Elite athletes consistently achieve peak performances because they are exceptional at overcoming adversity. They look at the world with what seems like unobstructed optimism––as though there are limitless possibilities. There are four pillars, constant in every athlete’s mind, that contribute to their success: activating gratitude, choosing to fail forward, choosing possible vs. impossible, and recognizing why it’s essential to empower your team.

This post is the first of four articles I will be posting. In this post, we are going to focus on the first pillar of the athlete mindset, gratitude. Specifically, we’ll see how appreciation is a robust leadership tool, but keep an open mind, because, like the athlete mindset, gratitude’s application is indeed not limited to leadership.

Gratitude is a fundamental core value for elite athletes, effective leaders, and great humans alike.

Try to think of an interview with a champion in any sport where they don’t give thanks (hint, it’s hard to think of examples). Winning athletes are quick to give praise to their teams, coaches, trainers, families, support staff, sponsors, friends, etc. These athletes generously show their gratitude to anyone who has helped them to win the championship game or land on top of the podium. The best influencers are no different and here are a few reasons why grateful leaders become effective leaders.

  1. Gratitude helps you overcome adversity.

Without contest, the ultimate benefit of a gracious disposition is that it helps you frame setbacks in the grand scheme of things. Both exceptional athletes and leaders utilize this fundamental power of gratitude; its ability to help you overcome challenges.

When you face your next challenge, try keeping in mind what you’re thankful for. It will help you maintain the perspective that, “things just aren’t that bad.” When setbacks occur, it will help you take the next step and continue working towards your vision (or your organization’s vision).

  1. Gratitude makes leaders more approachable.

Grateful leaders are more coachable and more approachable. Gratitude defies arrogance, opening the door to constructive conversations rather than conflict.

To become more approachable, it helps to look outside yourself to understand the fortune of your position. When approached with feedback, it becomes easier to put feedback (that could easily be construed as criticism) into a positive light.

  1. Gratitude makes it easier to live in the moment.

Grateful leaders are more likely to acknowledge that every day is a gift.

A gracious perspective will compel you to look at the big picture and recognize opportunities in the present moment. Positivity and optimism become your default mindset to capitalize on those opportunities with grace as your base.

  1. Gratitude gives you a stronger work ethic.

Grateful leaders are more likely (much more likely) to recognize the gift of opportunity and work harder for it. We all get to choose our attitude and effort every day (it’s a universal right). Adopting an attitude of gratitude sets you on an excellent footing to put in your full effort.

Effort and perspective go hand in hand. We don’t have to look far outside (or inside) ourselves to know that we have a lot to be thankful for. This perspective is the catalyst for hard work: “I’m lucky to be here, I’m lucky to have this opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

  1. Gratitude and generosity.

Grateful leaders have an aptitude for accumulating loyal followers because they are generous with praise and routinely recognize others for their efforts.

Your praise cannot be hollow; it needs to be genuine to be effective. Followers are always more motivated when they receive sincere appreciation and recognition.

Actions speak louder than words

Activating gratitude is something anyone can do. If you become more aware of the appreciation, you feel for the experiences, objects, and people in your life, you’ve already started activating this critical tool. Being proactive with gratitude and using things like gratitude triggers, journaling, mindfulness, reminders, or gratitude letters make it easy to bring gratitude into your day-to-day life.

Practice gratitude frequently and see for yourself how it helps to change your perspective. Try starting your day by writing down three things that you are thankful for. I’m a big proponent of being grateful every day because it’s in our best interest NOTto wait for adversity to strike before calling on gratitude. If gratitude is part of your daily routine, it will become your default, even when the going gets tough.

What are some ways you work at being more grateful? Post your practice in the comments below or reach out to me here.

One final thought… Gratitude helps us to overcome adversity and helps us to “fail-forward,” which just so happens to be the next pillar of the athlete mindset. In the following article, I’ll discuss what it means to fail forward and how it will help enhance the way you lead. Stay tuned!

With gratitude,

Mike Shaw



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