posted on: February 21, 2018
author: Brian Lomax
I know what you’re thinking. “Please, not another blog post about gratitude!” I’m with you. The topic has been discussed ad nauseam over the last several years and perhaps you have gratitude fatigue. With that being said, I want to address gratitude from a perspective of how it can help you think more positively which can in turn help you perform better in your sport.
In her book, Positivity, Barbara Frederickson discusses the relationship between positivity (positive emotions, thoughts and interactions) and performance. Not surprisingly, the more positive a person is the better his or her performance. Positivity leads to clearer thinking, more creativity, and more options to pursue. Negativity actually does the opposite. It constrains our thinking to a narrower band of options and blinds us to potentially better decisions. Generally, human beings don’t make good decisions when they are experiencing strong negative emotions.
However, negative thoughts and emotions do serve a purpose. They keep us grounded. Being overly positive can also be a problem as it can lead to living in a dream world, so Frederickson sought to find the minimum ratio of positive thoughts to negative ones in order to flourish and be successful. That ratio turned out to be 3 positive thoughts to 1 negative. The majority of the US population is at 2 to 1 or worse, and therefore is not flourishing, but languishing instead. By the way, the 3 to 1 ratio was also the minimum for successful teams.
As high performing athletes, we have an opportunity to improve in this area. While the minimum ratio of positive to negative is 3 to 1, I’d like to see you get to 5 to 1. Over 8 to 1 would be considered living in that dream world I mentioned earlier, and we don’t want that. So how do you become more positive? You guessed it: Gratitude.
A few years ago, I was working with an 18 year-old tennis player who had a lot of negative self-talk and negativity in general. This negativity had a detrimental effect on his performances and led to a lack of confidence. After a couple of meetings with him, I suggested that he start a Gratitude Journal as a means of reviewing his day in a more positive light. My hope was that he would become more positive through this process. Before he went to bed each night, he was to write down 3 things that he was grateful for in his journal. Normally, the 3 things should be events that occurred during the day, but they could also include general items like health and family.
After about 3 weeks, I received an email from his mother inquiring what was going on. She told me that her son was more polite at home and even asked her, “how are you?” She was shocked. He seemed much more positive at home and on the tennis court, so she wanted to know what she could do to keep it going. His tennis results improved and he competed much better in high level events. Gratitude helped make this happen.
Research supports the use of a gratitude journal to become happier and more positive. In The How of Happiness by Sonya Lyubomirsky (I highly recommend this book), the author presents evidence based interventions to increase happiness levels, and keeping a gratitude journal is one of them. It’s such a simple thing, but it can make a huge difference in how you feel because you are looking at the events of your day through a more positive lens.
Another way to express gratitude is through Thank You cards. Sending out a Thank You card to someone once a month (or once a week if you are particularly ambitious) can be a very positive experience for both you and the recipient. Not many people send Thank You cards these days which is too bad. They are a wonderful way to build a positive relationship with someone, and perhaps you can inspire that person to do the same with someone else. I am sure there a few people in your life that you could thank with a nice card and a handwritten note. Trust me, they’ll really appreciate it.
What are your experiences with gratitude? I’d love to hear about them in the comments or via email.
Brian Lomax founded PerformanceXtra™ in 2009 with a mission of helping athletes achieve their goals and their top performances more consistently through a progression of mental skills that enables them to focus on what is truly important.
Learn more about the author: https://performancextra.com/brian-lomax/