Tracking one’s behavior enjoyed brief popularity recently and has waned a bit since then. It is the concept of keeping track of your time, activities, etc. I was first introduced to this concept by the owner of a yoga studio who maintained an “Exemplary Behavior” sheet where he kept track of healthy behaviors he did each day. He created his own activities, which included things like doing yoga twice a day, eating 5 servings of vegetables, giving someone a compliment, etc. I thought this was fantastic.
Years later, I had a job that rewarded you for engaging in self-set healthy behaviors. One of them was expressing gratitude. You didn’t need to tell anyone, but the goal was to reflect on what you had or experienced and express appreciation for that. I filled out a daily ‘gratitude log’ and found it to be a wonderful exercise.
Gratitude and appreciation are poorly expressed in our culture. But they are tremendously powerful and can make you happier and healthier. I think cultivating gratitude is a valuable professional skill to develop. Employees express that they want appreciation at work more than job security and good wages. The most effective leaders I have worked with are excellent at showing appreciation.
Appreciation is also essential to personal relationships. Early in my relationship with my (now) wife, our couples’ counselor suggested we do an ‘appreciation exercise’. At the end of each day, take a minute to tell each other something we appreciated that the other did. We did this and it was fantastic. We felt closer, more loved, and more caring towards each other. We continued it for months and it evolved in a very organic process where now we regularly express appreciation to each other throughout the day.
Here is my challenge to you to improve your skills at giving appreciation: practice doing it every day. Be intentional. Look for opportunities to express appreciation. And I don’t mean a simple “thanks”. I mean something like, “I really appreciate you taking care of that for me.” Some statement of how you feel which the receiver understands as you making special note of their actions.
It may feel awkward and weird at first. “But isn’t it their JOB to do that thing?” Maybe. But they like knowing that their efforts are appreciated anyways. If you’re busy and a tech offers to clean a cage for you, come back later that day and say, “Thank you for cleaning that cage for me, it was a really big help to my day.” If a classmate set up for an event, go up to them and say, “Thank you so much for organizing this, it’s great that you took the time and energy to put this together.” If a professor holds a special out-of-hours review session for you, offer a quick, “Thanks for taking the time to do this after hours!”
Look for opportunities to express appreciation EVERY DAY. You may be surprised at how this makes YOU feel. People like being appreciated, and they’ll often have a positive bump in their mood. You perceive this and that makes YOU feel good. I think it is similar to charitable giving. Yes, you do it to make that person’s life better but, in doing so, it makes YOUR life better. Reminding yourself about nice things people do for you will help you have a more positive perspective on life.
At the end of the day, reflect back. Did you hit your target? If so, great! Keep it up and it will eventually become a habit and automatic. If not, think about tomorrow and what opportunities you might have. We have dozens or hundreds of encounters with others every day. In at least one of those, someone went slightly out of their way to improve our lives. Shouldn’t they know that you noticed?