This past weekend, I took my family to watch the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels aerobatic flight demonstration squadron at the State of Maine air show. As the son of a World War II fighter pilot, I grew up an Air Force brat and went to air shows every year. My father loved to talk about the Blue Angels as a model of excellence, and as a college coach I modeled my team’s post-game debriefs after the Blue Angels'.
There’s also a lot an entrepreneur can learn from the Blue Angels too: most important is its members' mindsets. After each exhibition, the pilots and the crew conduct a debriefing of the team's performance. All debriefs begins with a self-assessment by each pilot, who then concludes their comments with the phrase, “Glad to be here.”
Those four words aren’t a simple slogan or cliche, it’s a mindset. If you’re wondering what you could possibly have in common with an aerobatic flight team, it’s that there’s a strong correlation between gratitude and high performance. An attitude of gratitude isn’t simply a thought, it’s an action and a mindset.
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No matter how poor the performance, if you can express your gratitude out loud, you don’t just remind yourself, you are reinforcing that attitude for everyone around you. According to the HeartMath Institute, our feelings of the heart actually radiate beyond our bodies, can be detected by others and affect people up to five feet away.
It’s one thing to think a thought and another to say it out loud. Speaking our beliefs not only facilitates retention by involving more senses, it also enhances the courage of our convictions. Thinking something vs. saying that thought out loud is the difference between potential and reality. Thoughts are fleeting. Words are permanent.
Imagine how the dynamics of your team meetings might transform for the better if each member gave an honest self-assessment, holding him or herself accountable and ended it by expressing gratitude for your team’s mission and his or her ability to play a role in it.
What an attitude of gratitude serves to do is get rid of what’s in our way emotionally: our thinking. Most often what my clients say is getting in their way is the thought that they should be further along in their careers. I call this attitude “destination disease.” You’re not grateful for where you are in the present moment. Don’t look at how far you have left to go, instead be grateful for how far you’ve come.
When we stop feeling like we should be further along in our careers and simply focus on being glad to be here -- wherever here may be -- it frees up a great deal of energy and focus. Energy, ironically, we can actually use to advance our careers.
We need to talk to ourselves and our teammates from a place of gratitude because negativity makes everything worse. When I started thinking about my business differently, keeping a gratitude journal and sharing that gratitude out loud directly with others, it improved my thought patterns and those thought patterns improved my results.
Seeing the Blue Angels this weekend was the kick in the pants I needed to recommit to extending this practice beyond my business into my personal life. We are trying to sell our house and it has felt like a burden, to the point where I haven’t been “glad to be here” and lately have had very little appreciation for the beauty of my present surroundings, opting instead to look towards our destination.
The problem with destination disease is that so often when you want something to happen very badly and it finally happens, you come to the realization that you’re actually still miserable. It’s like the greyhound at the dog track chasing the rabbit. One day the rabbit breaks, comes to a grinding halt and the dog actually catches it, only to realize the rabbit he was so desperately chasing for so long wasn’t really all what it appeared to be from a distance. That dog never races with the same vigor again.
So often I see clients who are just like the greyhound. They want so desperately to “get to the next level” they forget to enjoy the chase. When they reach their destination they still feel frustrated and miserable.
When you’re chasing the destination and think “there” is bound to be better than “here,” it becomes impossible to be glad and you miss the moments along the journey. You won’t magically become happy when you reach the destination, but you can be glad to be right where you are.
An attitude of gratitude is also a reminder for your team that what you’re doing is a privilege, not a right. When I was coaching, my student-athletes were well aware that less than 2 percent of that population earn the privilege of playing a college sport. Sometimes we, and our employees, can take our opportunities for granted. An attitude of gratitude also serves to protect the culture by keeping the energy in the room positive and focused on the opportunity in the face of challenges.
The Blue Angels fly $30-million 22-ton aircrafts upwards of 1,000 mph approximately three feet away from each another. If they take their focus off the journey even for a moment, results are compromised and lives are potentially endangered. In their phrase, “glad to be here,” the keyword is here. We can all stand to learn a lesson or two about being more present in the moment and grateful for the challenges and opportunities on our journeys.
Make no mistake about it, the journey is everything.
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