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Personal Development

How to Say Thanks and Show Appreciation

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.–– William Arthur Ward

Celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week has me thinking about the power of expressing sincere gratitude to others in business, and in life.

Signs are all around us on the need for personal, genuine thanks to others:

  • In a digital world, where attention is a nano-second, thank you’s seem to come as after thoughts in brief texts (thx!) and hurried voice mails.

  • Employee engagement is at an all-time low.A Gallup poll found that only 13% of people worldwide are actively engaged at work. (Here in the U.S., the number was 29%, nothing to brag about.)

  • Our national dialogue, from hate-spewing politics to bleep-coated TV, has become a coarse joke.

People have become so busy paying attention to the constant noise that appreciation of personal relationships seems to have taken second place.

Harvard Research
The need is so clear that Ivy league schools are doing serious research to understand the power of thank you.

A Harvard professor’s recent book explores the science of gratitude. Her research highlights how leaders expressing gratitude motivates people.

The professor mentions that her husband is working at a startup. One day, after her husband had been up all night working on a project, the professor received a card and flowers from the company’s founder, thanking her for her patience. It was pleasant for her and a motivator for him.

I worked with a CEO who was the best I’d ever seen at saying thank you to people. There were times I would ask myself if it was too much, but I had to say no. The thanks were always delivered sincerely and with the appropriate tonality for the situation.

Sincere Appreciation
What can we do to bring sincere appreciation back to life? Think about these expressions as a starting point:

  • Sending a handwritten thank you card to a person’s home with a small, relevant gift related to one of their passions. (One leader recently confided to me that a quick, handwritten thank-you note he'd given an employee was still pinned to her cubicle wall three years later.)

  • Making a public statement, whether at a team meeting or family event, with clear, sincere thanks to one or more people. It lifts the morale of everyone.

  • A face-to-face, show up with no agenda, but to say thank you.


Of course, there’s also that opportunity around the dinner table this Thursday, or those moments this holiday season when you are one-on-one with someone you rarely see.

What better time to say, “I appreciate you?”

Also, readers, thank you for sharing your time with me this year.

Best wishes for the holidays,
  

John
 

P.S. –– To talk with me, please visit our contact page.

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How to Develop Grit in Your Work and Your Life

Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. –– Tim Notke
 
 
A close family member of mine is a former U.S. Navy SEAL. He helped me overcome a fear of heights by teaching me to rappel on the cliffs in San Diego near his base, but that’s a story for another day.
 
Over the years, he’s described the extremely challenging physical and mental nature of his training, including seven days of constant physical activity with a total of some three hours of sleep the entire week. This is why they call it “Hell Week.”
 
Not surprisingly, the most recent Navy statistics say that on average 80 percent of SEAL trainees will fail to complete the first phase of training, including Hell Week. That means that in a class of 150 enrollees, only thirty candidates will remain after the first eight weeks of training. 
 
Candidates might include triathletes, former Olympians, huge bodybuilders like The Rock, and others. Surprisingly, these gifted athletes are often among the first to “ring the bell,” which signifies that they have given up. Instead,those who survive the constant cold, wet, sandy, harassment-filled beach experience have one consistent quality: mental toughness. They have the goal of becoming a Navy SEAL and nothing will dissuade them. They are relentless.
 
Navy SEALs have grit
The term “grit” has become popular in the business world since researcher and psychologist Angela Duckworth in 2016 released her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She set out to explore the biggest predictor for successful people – to determine if it was talent or if it was effort?
 
Spoiler alert: through her research, Duckworth concluded that effort beats talent. In determining success, perseverance continually triumphs over natural talent. Grit is what characterizes achievement, over and over again.

Sometimes success means just don’t quit, keep showing up.
 
So what is grit and, more importantly, is it possible to increase grit in yourself or others?
 
First, Duckworth defines grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” 
 
Second, can you develop and grow grit? I know this is a question many leaders have both at work, and in raising children who they might suspect have had too little opportunity to experience adversity and develop grit.
 
The good news, according to Duckworth, is that grit can be developed. To grow grit, she identifies four psychological assets:
 
Interest: develop a fascination
While most would love to follow their passion in selecting a career, many eighteen-year-olds have little idea as to what their passion might be. Duckworth’s advice is to foster a passion. Many find the advice of “following your passion” to be foolish, but there seems to be practical value in developing a passion.
 
As Duckworth explains, “nobody works doggedly on something they don’t find intrinsically interesting.” It’s hard to have grit when you’re just not interested in something.
 
If you want a child to practice and persevere in something, they must have some kind of interest in it. Most successful people are interested in what they do. 
 
Practice: strive for daily improvement
You are no doubt familiar with the “ten-thousand-hour rule,” popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers: The Story of Success.This rule explains that to master a sport or instrument, one must spend ten thousand hours practicing.
 
However, this has been misconstrued by people who believe the fallacy that if they just do something for ten thousand hours,they will be masters.  The fact is that masters practice in a challenging, focused way.
 
The cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson developed the concept of deliberate practice. Experts practice by concentrating on improving specific weak spots and continue until they fix them. Then they set out to identify and improve their next weakness. 
 
This explains why people with grit are committed to continuous improvement. Journalist Hester Lacey interviewed many successful people and saw that all were determined to get better, even when they were already performing at a high level. “It’s a persistent desire to do better,” Lacey explained. “It’s the opposite of being complacent.”
 
As Duckworth notes, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” 
 
Purpose: remind yourself of the higher purpose
A sense of purpose also helps fuel passion. Duckworth defines purpose as “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” While many believe purpose is fixed, it can be cultivated through deliberate steps.
 
Duckworth uses the parable of the bricklayers to illustrate her point:
 
Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’
The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’
The second says, ‘I am building a church.’
And the third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’
 
The first has a job, the second has a career, and the third bricklayer has a calling. Finding purpose in your work has a lot to do with perspective.
 
One such exercise is something psychologists call “job crafting.” It’s about finding little but meaningful ways of tweaking your current position to improve connection to your values. No matter what you do, there’s always some way to personalize your job. 
 
Hope: adopt a growth mindset
Hope is based on the idea that things will improve and life will be better. For those with grit, hope is about continually trying to make tomorrow better instead of just wishing it to be better. Duckworth uses this Japanese phrase to show what gritty hope is: “fall seven, rise eight.” 
 
One way to equip ourselves is to develop a growth mindset instead of a fixed one. A growth mindset allows us to believe that things can change and we have a direct impact on our lives and the world; we’re not helpless. 
 
With a growth mindset, you believe people can change. They can learn more and do better if they believe it and are given the opportunity and resources to do so. 
 
With interest, practice, purpose, and hope, grit is attainable. It’s putting in the effort and staying with something over a long period of time. 
 
What about you?
 
How have you seen grit in action?
 
How will you help to develop grit in yourself? In your team members? Or in your family?
 
To share your thoughts and stories with me, please use my contact page to reach me directly.


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How to Stop Overthinking Things

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” — Tina Fey
 
Working with a group of data scientists a few months ago, I started a workshop with a simple icebreaker exercise that had them name their favorite film and tell a brief line or story from the movie. This is always fun and gets a lot of laughs and insights into people.
 
But on this day, we were about three people in when it broke down. I started getting questions and analysis: “What do movies have to do with data? Shouldn’t we be timing each person? Are you judging these?” and the like. Finally, I said, “Hey, we’re just having fun. You guys are overthinking this.” One guy said, “Duh, that’s we do!” That got a good laugh.
 
While it’s true that scientists are professional deepthinkers, I find overthinking is a common problem for many of my clients. 
 
With a world of information at our fingertips and constant demands for our attention, a lot of people get wrapped up in their own heads and become paralyzed by too many choices and fear of making the wrong decision. 
 
Overthinking often impairs your judgment, making it even harder to come to a decision. If you’re a golfer, you know that the longer you think about a short putt, the less likely it is to go in the cup.
 
In our business and personal lives, overthinking often leads to procrastination, frustration, delay, and poor results. 
 


Whether it’s giving a speech, having a difficult conversation with a colleague or making a personal decision, it can be tough to avoid overthinking. With that in mind, here are a few of the best ways to combat overthinking: 
 
Keep it simple
We can frequently overwhelm ourselves by creating too many options or through finding complex solutions to problems. The best solution is most often the simplest one. 
 
Apple is well known for its sleek and elegant design. Steve Jobs explained: “The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”
 
In an era of excess, Jobs’ minimalist approach was radical. He returned to Apple in 1997, when the company was trailing behind Microsoft and sales were down by 30 percent. Jobs reduced Apple’s product lineup by 70 percent, including a focus on building only four Mac computers: a desktop and a laptop, two for consumers and two for professionals.
 
The greater simplicity increased focus and quality, as well as profitability that has led Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. It was a return to Apple’s roots, as its first marketing brochure said in 1977: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
 
Like Apple, think of producing with a minimalist mindset. Find the simplest solution. 
 
Done is better than perfect
“Perfect is the enemy of good,” wrote Voltaire. In our quest for perfection, we can often stop doing something or drop a project because it’s “not good enough.” Perfectionism is a never-ending quest since there is no such thing as “perfect.”
 
When developing a project, it can be tempting to wait to release it or show others until it’s completely“ done.” But unreasonable standards can make it impossible to ever complete.
 
Set a hard deadline
One of author Seth Godin’s famous mantras is “ship it.” It means to set an unwavering deadline for a project and at that point release it out into the world, no matter what. If people come up with additions and other ideas during the process, those are parked in a holding pen for Product 2.0, your next iteration.
 
As Godin writes in Linchpin: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” It’s helpful to remember that few things are final and changes can always be made down the road. 
 
Imagine the best-case scenario
For many of us, fear is the root of overthinking. It holds us in place like a frozen rabbit, as if staying still will keep something bad from happening. 
 
I have a CEO client who likes to say that when people look into the open door of a dark room, they never imagine it’s filled with angels. Our imagination of the future usually paints a negative picture. But most of the terrible things we imagine never happen. Instead of always preparing for the worst-case scenario, we should try to imagine the best possible outcome. What good could happen? 
 
Stay in the moment
Overthinking can cause us to dwell too much in the future, or to rehash the past, instead of staying rooted in the present. By thinking of everything that could happen tomorrow, you take away the opportunity to enjoy today and take action now. 
 
Mindfulness and meditation have become increasingly popular and an accepted antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. A study using MRI scans showed that after a two-month practice of mindfulness, the power of the amygdala, also known as the “fight or flight” center, starts to diminish. 
 
Harvard Business Review explains: “Through repeated mindfulness practice, brain activity is redirected from ancient, reactionary parts of the brain, including the limbic system, to the newest, rational part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex.” If you’re intrigued by meditation, two popular apps to try are Headspace and Calm.
 
Adopt a beginner’s mind 
A fresh perspective can help to prevent overthinking. The beginner’s mind or shoshin is a concept that comes from Zen Buddhism. It teaches, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
 
A beginner’s mindset helps us to be more innovative and embrace new ideas while cultivating curiosity. For example, a beginner is more likely to identify a simple solution that “experts” don’t see because our minds are too full. 
 
There is a famous Zen story adapted by John Suler that illustrates this concept:
 
A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about all of his theories about Zen Buddhism. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. ‘It's full! No more will go in!’ the professor blurted. ‘This is you,’ the master replied, ‘How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?’
 
Likewise, adopting a beginner’s mind, we can become open to simple ideas less burdened by our thoughts and old beliefs.  

Take action
The best antidote to fear and overthinking is action. Take action. Do something. What’s the next action you can take to move closer to your goal?
 
A small step forward is enough to create momentum in a project without triggering perfectionist tendencies. Starting is the hardest part and can cause stress and worry. By taking that first step, you can allow yourself to let go of worries and embrace the journey ahead. Soon momentum kicks in and you're making consistent progress.
 
Again, done is better than perfect and one small step is preferable to standing still. 

What about you? 
 
Are you an overthinker?
 
How do you control overthinking?
 
Is there a way to find a simpler solution to a problem you are facing?
 
I really enjoy hearing your stories. If you want to share your thoughts with me, please hit “reply" and we can talk.

How to Control Your Smartphone Addiction

Ah, vacation…finally.
 
You’ve spent all year looking forward to your beach getaway to spend quality time with your family and disconnect from the rest of the world. You recorded your vacation voice mail; you let your team know you’re really letting go of the office this time; and you set your “out of office” reminder on your email.
 
Here you are, sitting in your lounge chair with your feet in the sand and sun on your face, and the sound of ocean waves in the distance. But instead of reading the book you brought, you find yourself reading an office email about a problem that bothers you, and you’re annoyed.
 
How did this happen? You had good intentions. You weren’t going to check your email; you promised your family you wouldn’t be tethered to your work phone, for once.
 
You’re not alone. Like millions of Americans, you’ve fallen victim to the addictive device.

A recent study by Asurion found that Americans, on average, check their phone once every 12 minutes, or five times an hour, while on vacation. Some Americans check their phone nearly 300 times a day.
 
Taking a vacation from email
While much of this phone focus might be on social media, news, or game apps, many employees check their email while on vacation, for fear of missing out (FOMO) or returning to a flood of emails.
 
Some have real fear of losing status in companies that create 24/7 online cultures. Sure, the company rhetoric talks about “work-life balance” but in reality your boss still expects a reply in the middle of the night, or on vacation. “I know you’re on vacation, but…”
 
In some countries, companies are starting to establish policies in order to help their employees actually enjoy the benefits of work-life balance relating to email.
 
German automaker Daimler instituted the “Mail on Holiday” email policy, allowing employees to auto-delete any emails they receive while they’re away. The auto response gives three options to those who send you emails: it notifies them that their emails will be deleted; if it’s truly important, they can email a colleague you’ve identified; or they can email you again, after you have returned from vacation. The email policy allows employees to actually have time away from the office and unplug from the digital world worry free.

But checking work email during vacation is only a symptom of the larger problem: whether on vacation or not, we have become addicted to our devices, especially our phones.
 
And this is understandable because the content on your phone is scientifically designed to be addictive.
 
You’ve probably heard of dopamine. It’s the powerful neurochemical that gives you that positive rush when it pings into the pleasure center of your brain. It happens every time you do that thing that is most pleasurable to you, from eating chocolate to achieving a goal to, well, whatever you find so pleasurable.
 
Dopamine is at the heart of any addiction of human beings, including drugs, alcohol, and gambling. So it’s understandable that social media companies including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat have hired teams of scientists to develop the most highly addictive programs possible.
 
Phone addiction
This was confirmed by media-buying firm RadiumOne’s study of Australian consumers and found that dopamine is also released when we use social media. The study concluded that, “Every time we post, share, ‘like,’ comment, or send an invitation online, we are creating an expectation. We feel a sense of belonging and advance our concept of self through sharing.”
 
The retweets, likes, and shares also provide a positive reinforcement and reward. Sometimes you don’t even have to physically touch your phone in order to receive positive feelings.
 
Mauricio Delgado, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, shares:
 
Often, if you have the earliest predictor of a reward—a sign of a social media alert, like your phone buzzing—you get a rush of dopamine from that condition stimulus. That might trigger you to go check out the outcome, to see what it is.
 
Responsibility of companies
Even the social media platforms themselves have been forced to admit their time-wasting impact. In a Facebook post earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said a big goal for 2018 was “making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.”
 
And Apple says tools in its new iPhone operating system will “help customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices.”
 
There will be new ways to manage how notifications are delivered and Do Not Disturb will have new modes. The most promising feature is Screen Time, which will provide a detailed report of the total amount of time spent in each application and show how often devices are picked up.
 
These are much-needed changes as the research finds the average American checks the phone 80 times a day.
 
Solutions to Unplug
 
Here are a few other tips for you to consider in getting your phone-use habits under control during vacation or throughout your life:
 
Be aware
Besides monitoring your usage with apps, it’s important to be mindful of how and why you’re using social media. It’s important to be intentional with your time and energy. Choose platforms that connect you with others and foster positivity in your life; this can look different from person to person.
 
Set limits
While completely refraining from social media during vacation is a great goal, it may not be for everyone. Some might set aside a certain amount of time each day to engage on social media, while others may want to limit themselves to just one or two platforms.
 
There’s an app for that
While it may seem counterintuitive, you can use an app to help you stop looking at other apps. The Forest app helps you stay focused by showing a seed being planted in a forest, gradually growing into a tree. The longer you leave your phone untouched, the longer the tree will keep growing. But if you leave the app, your tree will die. The growing tree is your reward for staying away from your phone.
 
The app Mute keeps track of how often you check your phone and your daily screen time. You can set goals in the app to help you use your phone less often. It’s a great way to keep yourself accountable.
 
Turn it off
Many people struggle with using social media in moderation and should consider truly unplugging from it. This can range from turning your notifications off to deleting the social media apps from your phone entirely for a given period of time.
 
Digital detox
In order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media, many advocate regular breaks from it. A new trend is to practice media-free weekends, using the time to rest and recharge offline.
 
Kick your phone out of the bedroom
Whether they’re on vacation or not, many Americans have difficulty falling asleep – and staying asleep. In my speeches, I’ll ask for a show of hands on whether people look at their phone last thing at night, first thing in the morning, and in the middle of the night. The vast majority of the audience cops to the first two and a lot of hands go up for the third.
 
Did you know that the blue light and the stimulation of the content can prevent a restful night’s sleep?.
 
In fact, a study of young adults in the United States by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that the strongest indicator of disturbed sleep is social media use during the 30 minutes right before bed. (By the way, another study by NIH found a clear link with social media and increased depression among young adults.)
 
Try charging your phone in another room so that you’re not tempted to look at it. Consider replacing social media with another activity like reading or journaling, in order to unwind before bed.
 
This year the Iphone, which started the smartphone revolution, turned 11. While the phone’s use brings tremendous benefits, it’s up to each of us to understand its toll and take control.
 
Please contact me to let me know any stories you have about the effects of smartphones on you or other people.

Don't forget to sign up for our my newsletter to get a fresh perspective every Sunday Morning.

John

How to Use Visualization to Achieve Goals and Success

If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.

— Zig Ziglar

  
Our brains are the most complex machines on the face of the earth. Human beings are only beginning to understand the vast power of our minds.
 
That’s why investments in research to explore the brain’s capabilities are increasing with initiatives such as the national BRAIN Initiative, funded with $150 million recently by the National Institutes of Health.
 
One remarkable and unique ability of our brain is to imagine future scenarios in rich detail, like our own virtual reality, to improve our performance under stress.
 
Paint a mental picture
You’ve probably heard the term “visualization.” It’s the process we can use to paint a mental picture of a future activity or event.
 
Athletes, business leaders, scientists and others have discovered that creating a rich, detailed picture of success in our minds can improve our performance.
 
Vivid mental experience
That’s why golf legend Jack Nicklaus said he would visualize every shot in his mind before he took them. Arnold Schwarzenegger would visualize his muscles growing before his workouts. Schwarzenegger said he also envisioned himself as a successful actor and politician for years before entering those professions. He says that in his mind, he had already achieved those goals.
 
Researchers say there are at least two phenomena driving this:

First, these mental pictures stimulate our neural networks, the nerve cells connecting our bodies and minds. When a vivid mental experience is created in our minds, our subconscious doesn’t make a clear distinction between this virtual reality and the actual event.
 
Second, researchers find that this mental rehearsal can calm our amygdala, the fight-or-flight center of fear in our brains. This can result in lower stress symptoms, such as stress hormones and increased heart rate. This gives us greater confidence in our abilities to complete the task at hand under pressure.
 
“Everyone can use imagery to prepare for all kinds of situations, including public presentations and difficult interactions,” says Daniel Kadish, Ph.D., a psychologist. “Mentally rehearsing maintaining a steady assertiveness while the other person is ignoring or distracting you can help you attain your goal.”

Strong and confident
This applies directly to improving your leadership and communications skills as well. When you have an important presentation, meeting or conversation, you can take the time to see yourself as strong and confident in achieving the outcome that you want.
 
If you paint a rich enough picture and try to actually experience the event, your subconscious will think that it has already taken place in the way you viewed it. This will help you to feel more comfortable and confident.
 
Performance coach Tony Robbins uses a ten-minute morning routine to "prime" his mental and emotional state for the day ahead. The last three minutes are dedicated to the visualization of completing a specific goal he is pursuing. "Don't think about making it happen, see it as done," Robbins says.

He imagines a celebration of completion, not only for himself, but he feels gratitude for how that goal will positively affect others.
 
Here’s a classic visualization exercise from The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane (Amazon affiliate link), a book well worth reading on many levels.

If you try this exercise relating to a presentation or other situation you face, take the time to sit quietly and feel as if you are in the room where your communication will take place. See the people. Paint a rich, detailed picture of you achieving success.
 
Try it yourself: visualization exercise
The following visualization is a great tool to increase the amount of power you want to convey. You can try this exercise at home on the couch, at work sitting at your desk, or even in an elevator––whenever you have the opportunity to close your eyes for a minute.

  • Close your eyes and relax.
  • Remember a past experience when you felt absolutely triumphant––for example, the day you won a contest for an award.
  • Hear the sounds in the room—the murmurs of approval, the swell of applause.
  • See peoples’ smiles and expressions of warmth and admiration.
     
  • Feel your feet on the ground and the congratulatory handshakes.
  • Above all, experience your feelings, the warm glow of confidence rising within you.

Give this a try before you face a challenging communication situation. You’ll still need to do the work to prepare and rehearse, but you’ll find added confidence and better performance by visualizing your success.

Just visit our contact page to let me know if you have questions or stories about visualizing your success.

Many thanks to those of you who've been sharing these messages with your friends and colleagues. If you found value in this message, please do me a favor and click a button below to share with people who might benefit.

John
 

6 Easy Ways to Become More Optimistic

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
                                                       –– Winston Churchill


We all know people who remain upbeat and positive about the future, even in the midst of hardships or tragedies.
 
And all of us are familiar with the opposite: people who seem to have every advantage in life, yet take the negative view of every situation.
 
Research has shown that both of these approaches – positivity and negativity - have the potential of going viral by infecting the larger team and organizational cultures with positivity or negativity. With either emotion, we can spiral – downward or upward. It's a choice.
 
Pessimism is easy
Let’s face it. We live in a world filled with negativity. Pessimism is easy. Optimism is hard – it takes work, and we have to regulate our emotions.
 
None of us have a choice of what events we encounter, but we all have a choice about how we respond. And we are not only choosing for ourselves; our decisions affect our teams, families, friends and others.
 
There are good, practical reasons to maintain an optimistic view, including the simple notion that optimism can fuel us with the energy to pursue positive outcomes, despite the odds in sales, in business, in relationships, and in life.
 
Optimism may also help in the reduction of stress and its negative effects on the body caused by the release of cortisol and other hormones from the fight-or-flight response.
 
Optimism predicts resiliency
Research shows that optimism can also be a powerful force in our mental resiliency. Dr. Dennis Charney, the dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, studied some 750 Vietnam veterans who had been held as prisoners of war for six to eight years. Even though they suffered torture and were isolated in solitary confinement, they remained resilient.
 
Despite enduring inhumane stress, the research found that these POWs did not develop post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, as others had. Their secret? Charney identified 10 traits that set them apart from others, including having meaning in life – something to live for – and a sense of humor. But the number one trait was optimism.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl shared similar findings from his experiences in Nazi death camps, documented in his profound book, Man's Search for Meaning
 
Here are some tips to help you build and maintain optimism in your life and your work:
 
1. Practice gratitude. It's impossible to express gratitude and pessimism at the same time. At the end of my phone voicemail, I ask callers to tell me something they are grateful for. When I listen to their messages, sometimes there's a pause, with a flustered reply, such as "my family," and other times people give heartfelt, profound answers.
 
They might tell me about loved ones with a serious illness or a recent death in the family. The people who respond with these dramatic answers often have the greatest sense of optimism in their voices saying, “I know we will get through this” and “God is great.”
 
My practice upon waking is to immediately think of three things I’m grateful for in life, and why. For me, these can range from the critical: my family, friends, and health; the blessings of freedom in life and business; the opportunity to change people’s lives; to the mundane: a favorite meal, workout or coffee. These thoughts often end up making me smile; a great way to start the day.

2. Develop awareness. The first step is awareness. Every day, we and others create environments and situations filled with negativity and cynicism. We make pessimistic judgments and tell ourselves negative stories. It’s hard to know we’re wearing dark glasses until we take them off.
 
3. Assume the best. I have a CEO client who likes to say that “when we look into a dark room, we never assume it’s filled with angels.” It’s true. Research finds that we have a bias toward negative information (just turn on the TV news to confirm this) and we make negative assumptions. This might be protective wiring in our DNA, but it can impede our success.
 
Try assuming the best intentions of people and situations for a week and see if it changes your point of view. 

4. Keep your head up. Both literally and figuratively. You’ve heard the phrase "keep your chin up,” which means you should remain optimistic. As I’ve written about body language, how you position yourself can greatly influence your confidence and people’s confidence in you. Keep your head up and your eyes on the prize.
 
5. Try a negativity fast. Once we become aware of the high level of negativity in our lives, we have the opportunity to control the flow. Try going on a diet that limits your exposure to negative people, environments, and media.
 
6. Rewrite your story. Throughout the day we tell stories about our lives and businesses and about who we are. The person we tell stories to the most is ourselves and, particularly among high achievers, we will tell negative stories in comparison to others: “I’m not achieving enough; she is more accomplished; he has a better life.”
 
It’s funny because we’ll apply the negativity to ourselves, but we seem to always apply the positive filter when comparing ourselves to others: The rich and famous have those perfect lives; all of our friends on Facebook are living it up, and here we are caught up in the same old grind.
 
Rewriting the stories we tell ourselves – with a good measure of gratitude – will give us the lift we need for a greater sense of optimism.
 
None of this is easy. In a world of 24/7 social media and negative news, optimism can be a full-time job. But it is a task worth the effort, with remarkable benefits for us and those around us.
 
Develop your awareness and choose optimism.