A Coaching Power Tool Created by Shannon Norman
(Inclusion of Women in Leadership Coach, UNITED STATES)
We each have the choice to be grateful or have self-pity. Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation, where self-pity is a feeling of being self-absorbed and unhappy.
A gratitude mindset is a step in the direction where new perspectives and increased awareness can grow. Throughout our days, we each make many choices about how we view our world and process situations we experience.
Grateful living is focusing on what you appreciate and not taking things for granted. This includes paying attention to what may be described as the small things in life or even the things that keep showing up each day.
Living in self-pity might take the form of taking things for granted or having a feeling of entitlement. A pattern of these behaviors likely leads to unhappiness when what we took for granted is gone or what we thought was owed to us does not become ours.
To be grateful is not to believe life is perfect. To be grateful is not an act. To be grateful is a genuine state of mind that focuses on appreciation.
Being grateful is a defense against self-pity. If self-pity creeps into thoughts, thoughts of gratitude can push them out by looking for things to be grateful for. Start with the things that keep showing up, like, a glass of water, a bed to sleep in, good health, your kind neighbor, your vehicle, your hands or eyesight. Stop and notice how your feelings begin to change.
Think about a time when you showed an act of kindness and it went unrecognized, whether it was holding a door open for someone or letting someone with fewer items than you step in front of you to check out first. That lack of recognition may have ignited self-pity.
Gratitude is contagious. One person can make a difference and build positive momentum for others. Imagine going through a drive-thru restaurant. The person in front of you pays for your order. It prompts you to pay for the order of the person behind you, causing a ripple effect. Try this. Share with someone why you are grateful for them. Notice their response and how it makes you feel. Showing appreciation to others is often many times more rewarding to you than to the person it is given.
Self-pity places cause us to create invisible self-limits. It provides a comfortable space to feed blame and allow for excuses. These emotions hold a person back more than anyone else could. Invisible self-limits must be uncovered and discarded to promote healthy growth.
We each hold an enormous amount of power through our ability to control what we think and how we respond to others. It is our actions that create a ripple effect on our thinking, leading to how we feel.
Imagine getting out of bed to start your day. You have the power to either be grateful for another day on earth or be full of self-pity, upset because you wanted more sleep. The self-pitying thought begins the pendulum leading to the next thought, which sets a negative tone for your day, discounting yourself or blaming others, and continuing the cycle of self-pity.
The flip side of self-pity is starting the day filled with a sense of gratitude. It doesn’t matter why you are grateful, that positive thought will lead to another positive thought, and another, and another leading to joy and happiness.
According to an article published by Harvard Medical School,
gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.
The connection between being grateful and part of something larger than oneself is powerful. The feeling of not being alone and part of something important prompts other thoughts and emotions leading to happiness. Generally, a strong sense of purpose and belonging to a community or a group fosters an abundance of positive feelings leading to gratitude. That gratitude is more likely to be sustained over time than if someone was missing this sense of belonging.
There are many stories of hostages held against their will for long periods of time with little hope for survival. The ones overtook by self-pity typically did not survive, as they lost their will to live. Hostages who remain focused on gratitude find a will to fight, many times leading to their freedom.
Where does the will to be grateful come from? Gratitude begins with a person looking inside themselves rather than everything around them. You may know someone who says “life will be good when I have – fill in the blank”. Typically, once they have whatever it is, they say the same thing, but fill in the blank with something else and it becomes a never-ending cycle. This demonstrates why happiness must come from inside a person and not their external world. A grateful person looks deep within themself and finds happiness, and then they share it with others. They own their emotions and responses to life.
Becoming more grateful begins with awareness and commitment. Once a person is aware of opportunities to be more grateful, they must commit to taking action. Gratitude will happen naturally through continued focus and practice. It may not come easily at first. It is best to start with small daily changes. These changes will lead to new feelings and those feelings will foster new beliefs that will encourage additional daily changes.
Daily journal – Build time into your daily routine to write down what you are grateful for. Begin with one thing and write as many as you can. If you get stumped, reflect on the air you breathe, your ability to hear your favorite band, or enjoy an evening of stargazing.
Share with others – Express your appreciation to others by verbally thanking them, writing a thank you card, or recognizing them in front of others.
Meditation or mindful thinking – Focus on one thing you are grateful for and spend 5-10 minutes thinking about it and how much you appreciate it.
Volunteer – Identify a non-profit you are passionate about and volunteer.
Schedule time – Set a timer on your phone or schedule time on your calendar to regularly stop and appreciate moments throughout your day.
Visual triggers – Mindfully place visual triggers in your personal space. When you look at them, it will evoke a sense of gratitude. The visuals should be personal and have meaning to you.
Random acts of kindness – showing kindness to others, even strangers, encourages grateful emotions. The randomness adds fun energy.
Join a group – There are several social media groups that share quotes and inspirational messages to promote gratitude. ActionForHappiness.org includes an app that sends a message daily and easily allows you to share with others.
No matter how good a person may become at being grateful, life is sure to be full of setbacks. A tragic, unplanned event may catch us by surprise, leading to self-pity. It is best for a person to consider obstacles and develop a plan to remain focused on being grateful while they are in a grateful state of mind rather than to wait and have to muster the strength during a difficult time.
In addition to some of the above self-application tools, get an accountability partner — someone you trust and communicate with on a consistent basis; someone willing to ask the difficult questions and be honest even if it is hard for you to hear; an unofficial coach in your life who offers encouragement and truth.
Everyone experiences self-pity from time to time. The concern begins when self-pity takes control and prevents gratitude. People drowning in self-pity may not easily recognize they have the ability to change their thinking and shift their thoughts to foster grateful feelings. By helping the client gain new perspectives and increased awareness you are opening a door for them to begin this shift. The more a person concentrates on being grateful, the less they will think about feeling sorry for themselves.
There are many benefits to living a life full of gratitude. A white paper titled “The Science of Gratitude” (2018) describes those benefits.
For the individual:
- increased happiness and positive mood
- more satisfaction with life
- less materialistic
- less likely to experience burnout
- better physical health
- better sleep
- less fatigue
- lower levels of cellular inflammation
- greater resiliency
- encourages the development of patience, humility, and wisdom
- increases prosocial behaviors
- strengthens relationships
- may help employees’ effectiveness
- may increase job satisfaction
The white paper also concluded, there is
considerable evidence that gratitude builds social resources by strengthening relationships and promoting prosocial actions.
Below are two exercises shared by PositivePsychology.com you can use to realize the benefits of gratitude.
The Naikan Reflection Exercise
The Naikan Reflection is a self-reflection method initially developed in Japan. The entire exercise takes about 10 minutes to complete. Naikan means “looking within.” Anyone, with or without religious affiliations, can do this activity. The process involves reflecting on the following three questions while focusing one’s attention on a particular person and time.
- What did this person give to me? (giving)
- What did I return to this person? (receiving)
- What trouble did I cause this person? (hurting)
Doing this reflection helps to grow feelings of gratitude and appreciation for others. It also allows people to discover how much they take verses to give in personal relationships.
The Silent Gratitude Mapping Exercise
In the workplace, groups can use Silent Gratitude Mapping to connect and create stronger bonds. This exercise takes about 15 minutes. Participants divide into small groups of 3-5. A large sheet of paper and colored markers are provided for each group. Alternatively, a whiteboard can be used.
First, group members reflect on things in their life for which they are grateful. Then, they write them on the sheet placing a circle around the item. Next, each person draws a line from the circled items and writes a reason why they are grateful for it. For example, if someone writes, ‘my home,’ she will draw a line connected to it that reads, ‘I can relax.’ Then, participants take a few minutes to read the various responses and add their lines and reasons.
For example, if a participant also feels grateful for his home, then he would draw a line from that circle to his own reason. During the evaluation phase, the instructor asks the smaller groups to discuss what was learned, and then share with the larger group.
The clients’ new perspectives will allow them to gain insight into some of the above-mentioned benefits. The benefits will be motivators to overcome potential barriers they identify and allow gratefulness to overrule self-pity. The new way of thinking will help the client look at daily situations differently along with looking at their internal self to find happiness.
- What are the three things you are most grateful for?
- What are two immediate actions to put in place to foster ongoing gratitude?
- How will you benefit from living a life full of gratitude?
- Why do you need to let go of self-pity to be grateful?
- How will you encourage others to be grateful?
- What action will you take should self-pity begin to creep into your thoughts?