Cooper’s hawks commonly take wing outside our windows. They are majestic birds, soaring effortlessly over the wooded terrain. Occasionally, one or two find an updraft and soar in an ascending spiral, the uplifting thermal keeping them airborne and rising.
Gratitude is like that thermal. It lifts us, both as givers and receivers of thankfulness, and it fuels our continued growth. The learning mindset recognizes this and allows itself time, space, and opportunity to contemplate and communicate gratitude. It appreciates history, nurtures a “get to” perspective, and pursues chances to express gratefulness.
Appreciation of history
The learning mindset recognizes that it stands “on the shoulders of giants,” that its current understandings result from its past interactions with influential individuals. The learning mindset appreciates its personal history, and this gratefulness provides the foundation for the humility that enables a continuing chronicle.
The learning mindset also appreciates the history of the organizations it serves. Every school, corporation, and small business has a history—a story that provided its present state and informs its future. Knowing that history and valuing the organization’s story helps the learning mind to find its place, its home, in the institution’s continuing chronicle.
Such knowledge also helps the learning mind guard those practices that truly define the organization, while recognizing where the status quo has strayed from the organization’s vision and mission. And, when refinement (or revolution) is necessary, knowing and valuing history guides the change agent to better and smoother implementation of new ideas and practices. The learning mindset appreciates that the organization was not and will not be built around him, but by finding his home in its history, the learning mind can contribute to the organization’s continued growth.
A “get to” outlook
For me, it was always amusement parks. In those childhood moments when some adult would ask me why I was excited about an upcoming trip, my answer was usually, “Because we get to go to (insert amusement park name here)!”
That little verb get is telling. It contrasts with the verb have, as in the phrase have to. Do I have to exercise today? or do I get to exercise today? Do I have to teach today? or do I get to teach today? Do I have to go to that meeting? or do I get to go to that meeting?
We all have things that we have to do, things that would not make it to our ideal to-do list. However, when have to becomes more common than get to, the learning mindset is hurtling toward burnout. Avoiding the flames of ineffectiveness can be as simple (and powerful) as changing verbs, switching from the negative have to the positive get.
I love teaching, but there are days when I’d rather hang out in a coffee shop and let my introspective impulses dictate my direction. When I start to sense those longings influencing my thoughts about teaching, I look at the activities I’ve planned for my learners. It may be that I need to change what I am doing as a teacher to shift my perspective. But more often, in reviewing my plans I find something I can’t wait for my students to experience, know, understand, or do. Immediately my verb shifts from have to get.
When such review and revision do not work, researchers suggest that just forcing a change in our language can shift our perspectives. In other words, just telling myself that I get to monitor the playground, attend the committee meeting, or develop the budget can help me find a bit of intrinsic motivation for the task. The learning mindset, guided by gratitude, gets to.
Gratitude unexpressed only benefits the grateful one; gratitude expressed strengthens both the beholden and benefactor. What difference does expressed gratitude make? Imagine a place (a home, a school, a business, a community) where people reflected on what they had received from others and expressed their thankfulness for those blessings. It is difficult to imagine a more uplifting environment, or a place more conducive to individual and organizational growth.
A couple years ago, I determined to find some of my most influential teachers and convey my thanks to them for equipping me to be content and successful in what I do today. The responses I received gushed with gratitude for my expressed gratefulness. Expressed gratitude is so rare that when it is received, spirits soar, carrying with them more motivation for continued good work.
Envy can get in the way. When we witness another doing something that works, we can grow annoyed by the achievement and attention such success brings. At our worst, we may hope for failure to find its way into our friend’s or colleague’s endeavors. Sadly, this response often becomes our own downfall.
Rather than envy, the learning mindset responds with gratitude. When others succeed, they reveal what is possible. New successes create new boundaries, and new boundaries give us a reason to move. Knowing what is possible can spark our own growth as we strive to expand our own abilities within the enlarged territory.
A year ago, a friend and I were at the same level of running achievement. Our race results were within seconds of each other, and our training paces were exactly the same. Then injury and illness swept me off the roads and race routes for a few months. Coming back has been my challenge, and though I’ve worked faithfully, I’m slower than my friend. He has accomplished some of the goals I have for myself. It would be easy to be jealous, to make excuses, and to begrudge him his achievements. What good does that response do? It’s better to think, “Wow, he has shown me that it is possible! With a little more work, I think I can get there, too.” Being grateful that the boundary has shifted is so much more enlarging than wishing it would shrink around our “competitors.”
The learning mindset reflects on what it has received from history and from the direct influence of others. Fueled by the gratitude this summons, it faces its days with a get-to perspective. As a result, the individual and those around her find thermals that allow all of us to soar.
Now, let’s go find someone to thank!