Gratitude: It’s good for your team AND it’s good for you

Let’s start with a question.

How did you feel the last time someone provided you with a sincere thank you or kudos for something you did?

If I’m a good judge of human nature , I suspect it made you feel pretty good.  Perhaps your body generated a nice surge of dopamine. I would also suspect that it generated some good will towards the person who said the nice thing about you. You felt seen, and valued- two of the things that we know are so important to developing a sense of empowerment and belonging. And, of course, empowerment and belonging result in loyalty.

Gratitude is an important, and sometimes underestimated, leadership skill. Let me be clear about one thing before you decide to just go around saying, “Thank you” to everyone in sight.  That won’t get it.  Appreciation needs to be personalized, and if you can be creative in how you show appreciation, all the better. Personally, one of the best acknowledgements I’ve received recently was from a friend and sorority sister whom I work closely with. Last weekend I couldn’t run my planned half marathon because of illness.  And the text I got from her….well, it knocked my socks off.  It was a well-timed reminder that I can do hard things, I just couldn’t do them last Sunday morning.  And that’s okay.  She is someone with an incredible gift of gratitude and appreciation, and it makes her FUN to work on big projects with.  It also makes her a wonderful friend.

Appreciative Leadership has a summary table of 7 reasons to be generous with appreciation. Taken from Table 6-1  in the book, the list is as follows:

  1. Recognition lets people know they are on the right track
  2. Appreciation communicates and reinforces your values
  3. Compliments foster a positive emotional environment
  4. Gratitude is a verbal immune boost; it is good for your health (we’ll come back to this one shortly)
  5. Praise is good for the health of those you honor
  6. Acknowledgement creates a sense of safety (SO important in teaching and learning environments!)
  7. Gratitude encourages risk-taking and experimentation

The reality is that a culture of gratitude helps to promote high performance by teams.

Here’s the thing: While appreciation is the right thing to do for your team, it’s also the right thing to do for yourself. Many individual-level benefits of practicing gratitude are becoming increasingly clear: it improves both physical and psychological health, enhances empathy, improves sleep, enhances resiliency…the list goes on. If you look at that list closely and if you follow the literature on burnout, you immediately recognize that gratitude might just be one of the cornerstones in combating burnout.  Again, from personal experience I know that on days when I am feeling particularly frustrated and as if I’m tilting at windmills, the best thing I can do is pause and think about something I’m grateful for.  On bad days, it might be that I’m only on call for 4 more hours.  On less bad days, the list is typically much more robust.

Weekend homework, friends. Before you go to bed tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday night, write down (yes, write it down with pen or pencil on paper- it does imprint better that way!) three things you are grateful for.  I’m helping you to kickstart your personal gratitude practice.  Next week see if you can extend sincere appreciation to people you work with.  I’m willing to bet you’ll make someone’s day and make them want to do an even better job the next time you work on something together.

Better together

Yesterday I finally…finally… hit upon the word to describe where I am right now about so many things.


Sure, some of it’s this completely mystifying political landscape we’re part of in the US right now. Some of it’s not.

Maybe I should blame the Supermoon this week, or the first winter storm that’s blowing in tonight.

What I know for sure is that focus has been hard and ideas have been fuzzy. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward at whatever pace, because I simply can’t afford to not do so.

I also know that the greatest moments of the last couple of weeks have happened in community.  I’ve experienced an almost daily reminder of kindness, of basic goodness, of humanity, and sometimes of plain silliness.

In those seemingly little, fleeting moments I am reminded what a gift community is.

And I am quietly reminded of the importance of saying thank you.

(Yes, I’m a week early for Thanksgiving.  It’ll be okay.)



I really mean it this time


It appears that almost three weeks ago I committed to getting back to posting on the blog.

I also appears that I have not been successful in posting for the last three weeks.  I’ve come close many times and just haven’t successfully overcome the “backside in chair” phenomenon that is required to generate blog posts or manuscripts or anything along those lines.

I could make up some excuses, but they would be just that.  And they would likely be silly.  I’ve had a fair amount of the ever-important time to think, I haven’t been that overwhelmed with work, and I haven’t been thrown any curveballs that messed up my game.

Instead, I’ll simply come back to writing, sharing the two foci of that recent time to think.

#1 On the concept of “preventing too many activities” (Item #3 of the 7 Characteristics of the Dharmic Person): Maybe this is my “excuse” for the blogging break. I’ve been really conscious lately of saying no to things that really don’t align with my goals and priorities.  I’ve also been spending time thinking about those things that don’t light me up like they used to and finding ways to effect change there. And, perhaps most importantly, I’ve been focused on not having too many things going on at a given time (and yes, that includes my tendency to multitask).  This idea of being really intentional and staying out of overwhelm is one that just makes sense to me where I am right now.  I do still care about the blog…I’ve just put other things higher on the list the last few weeks.

#2 On being grateful: I’ve spent the largest portion of my time lately considering how incredibly grateful I am. Part of this has been driven by travels in which I have consistently been surrounded by friends; from Baton Rouge to Austin to Bozeman in the last 5 weeks I have eaten very few meals alone, and I have been able to treasure time with amazing people who have become part of my life in a rich variety of ways. I’m fortunate to have the opportunities that I do to travel to beautiful places.  I’m fortunate to be able to run and do yoga and play outdoors. I’m fortunate to have clinical and administrative jobs that excite me and constantly challenge me, and to work with people in those roles who “get it.”  I have managed to revel in the little joys of friendship and adventure, and I’m grateful that I’m able to recognize how fortunate I am.

So, with that, I’m back.  And I mean it this time.

Thanksgiving, 2015 edition

(Slightly edited and cross-posted from the November 2015 AWS Connections)

I started an active gratitude “practice” a few years ago in which every week I sit down and document at least one thing for which I am grateful.  Granted, there are some weeks that gratitude is easier and more obvious than others, but that practice really does help keep me focused on the good things that are present in my life.  I also find that it helps me turn challenges and frustrations on their head.

So, what am I grateful for in November 2015?  Plenty of things.

  • I have a home that I love in a city that I love that I share with amazing rescue animals who I love.
Home is where the wild animals are
Home is where the wild animals are…
  • Good coffee.
  • My Mom lives 1½ miles away from me and is always here when I need a hand or an ear…or a hot meal that I didn’t have to cook.
  • Yoga.
Superhero Malas at Cowgirl Yoga camp
Superhero Malas at Cowgirl Yoga camp
  • I have this tribe of people in my life who have huge hearts and huge vision and huge hopes for the future.  Those kindred spirits are who pull us through the tough days, aren’t they?
3-Day Family
3-Day Family
  • Dark chocolate.
  • My professional life has reached this beautiful point where I am able to spend a great deal of time focusing on mentoring and giving people a hand up.
One of my mentors, and two of my mentees
One of my mentors, and two of my mentees
  • Running (especially running with friends).
Running friends!
Running friends!
My BRF (Best Running Friend)
My BRF (Best Running Friend)
  • My personal life has reached this beautiful point where I am able to spend a great deal of time focusing on giving back, both financially and personally.
We Believe in Alpha Delta Pi
We Believe in Alpha Delta Pi
  • Winter retreat plans in Montana.
Montana, not in Winter
Montana, not in Winter
  • Because of my academic activities and my role as the AWS President and within the ACS this year, I have incredible opportunities to reach out regarding the continued relevance of diversity in surgery and healthcare.
Amazing women surgeon colleagues
Amazing women surgeon colleagues
  • Summer vacation plans in the wilderness in Alaska.
ANWR, 10 years ago.  It's time to go back!
ANWR, 10 years ago. It’s time to go back!
  • Have I mentioned my Burn Unit Family/ team/ tribe?  Because I can’t step back without mentioning these amazing people.  We love BIG.  We do hard things.  We take care of the people.  (And I don’t have a recent photo of us…so the one below is the best exhibit I can give.  We apparently need to get a new family photo.)
Burn Team, 2013 edition
Burn Team, 2013 edition

Even if times are hard for you right now, it’s my deepest wish for you that you will be able to find something, no matter how small, as a source of gratitude today. And tomorrow.  And each day following.



‘Tis the season, right?  Besides, we know that gratitude is a key way to mitigate burnout and improve job satisfaction.  There’s also a clear link between joy and gratitude.:

I do have an ongoing gratitude practice.  Sometimes I manage to write down two or three things at the end of the day, sometimes I’ll pause in the midst of a stressful moment and find something I’m thankful for about in spite of the present events, sometimes I just make sure to think of a thing or two as a crawl- completely exhausted- into bed (that was last night).  A couple of years ago I started the week-ending practice of “TGI” every week on my personal blog, which stands for Trust- Gratitude- Inspiration.  When times are tough it’s always good to back up and focus on those things.  Please note that I referred to it as a “practice”, much like I refer to my yoga time- I will never have a gratitude recital or a yoga recital (thank heavens!), but they are things I immerse myself in and strive to make part of my routine because I know that they make me feel good.

So, where am I finding gratitude as we come to the end of 2014?

  • I’m grateful for friends, family, and colleagues, who support me in my endeavors…even when they are convinced that I’m pursuing my craziest idea yet.
  • I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to unplug for two weeks this summer with my trip to the Yukon, BC, and Alaska.  It turns out things ran just fine without me.  It also turns out that I’ve been reminded of my love for the outdoors and wilderness, so there will be more of that on a routine basis.
  • I’m grateful for the teams that we’ve built for the varied aspects of my professional life.  I have a burn team, a research team, and an education team here at Utah, all of whom are amazing and wonderful.  I consider myself fortunate to be a part of their communities.
  • I’m grateful for social media and the connections it has brought for me professionally and personally.  Personal learning networks can be digital, and my digital one never ceases to amaze me.
  • I’m grateful for this collection of rescue animals who fill my home with their spirit and their affection.  Olivia is at my feet and made me write that.
  • I’m grateful for those of you who haven’t just stuck with the blog this year, but have actively encouraged it.  I’m also grateful for those who have commented- either publicly or privately- on the many issues I’ve raised about our profession and our lives.  My goal when I started writing was to normalize all of our experiences, and it seems I’m doing that (sometimes better than I hope).

With that, I’m headed out to dinner with my Mom- whom I am grateful to have here from South Texas keeping my house running while I’m on service- before the next admission arrives.

“For it is not joy that makes us grateful, but gratitude that makes us joyful.” – David Steindl-Rast