Thanksgiving is the time of year that most of us busy Americans get to push the Pause button on our lives and relax with friends or family. It’s supposed to be the time we reflect on how fortunate we are for the people around us, the food inside of us, and the “stuff” in front of us, every day. We set aside one November day to be… well, thankful.

For some of us, this comes too infrequently. Once a year is not enough.

When we don’t practice giving thanks on a regular basis, we can get stuck. In fact, we can become anxious, lonely and depressed. Our happiness declines. Pardon my bluntness, but we can become emotionally constipated.

This is never a good thing. Expressions of gratitude are meant to flow out of us on a regular basis. When they do, we are happy and healthy.

The Tangible Results of Gratitude

My guess is—you’ve heard about some of the studies that measure the positive impact an “attitude of gratitude” has on human beings. In 2003, Robert Emmons (from UC Davis) and Michael McCullough (from the University of Miami) partnered to research the affects of gratitude in people. In a summary of their findings, the results were tangible:

  • In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the coming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.
  • A related benefit was observed in the realm of personal goal attainment: Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period, compared to subjects in other experimental conditions. In short, grateful people tend to hit their desired targets or goals.
  • A daily gratitude intervention (self-guided exercises) with young adults resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy, compared to a focus on hassles or a downward social comparison. In short, gratitude helps attitude.
  • Participants in the daily gratitude condition were more likely to report having helped someone with a personal problem or having offered emotional support to another, relative to the hassles or social comparison condition.
  • In a sample of adults with neuromuscular disease, a 21-day gratitude intervention resulted in greater amounts of high-energy positive moods, a greater sense of feeling connected to others, more optimistic ratings of one’s life, and better sleep duration and sleep quality, relative to a control group.

It Goes Both Ways

Just like our bodies are meant to both consume and eliminate, so our souls (our mind, will and emotions) are as well. We take in, and we express. When we consume but don’t express, we get constipated. It’s hard to be happy when you’re constipated.

When we are thankful, lots of good outcomes occur. In fact, Emmon’s and McCullough’s research found four distinct areas in which gratitude had a measurable impact:

  • Well-Being: Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism, and lower levels of depression and stress. The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.
  • Pro-sociality: People with a strong disposition toward gratitude have the capacity to be empathetic and to take the perspective of others. They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.
  • Spirituality: Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer reading religious material score are more likely to be grateful. Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others.
  • Materialism: Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they’re less likely to judge their or others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.

Our Action Step…

May I remind you? This is a choice. It is an alternative lifestyle. It’s a way of fighting an entitled spirit or an angst-filled life. But we must choose it. It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.

So this Thanksgiving, as you’re woofing down the turkey, the dressing, the mashed potatoes and the pie, remember that every time you consume something, you should equally express something in order to stay healthy. Your body needs it. Your soul needs it. You are healthiest when you’re grateful… not annually, but daily. William Arthur Ward once said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

Discover the Secrets to Connecting With Millennials & Gen Z

in the 5th Anniversary Edition of Generation iY!

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Order the New iY Here

This new edition includes bonus chapters, new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z

Today, I’m honored to share a conversation I had with Jon Acuff. Jon is a renowned author and speaker, who spent years working under Dave Ramsey before he decided to work for himself. Recently, we discussed his new book Do Over, where he shares about the transition out of his dream job with Dave Ramsey. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Below are highlights of our discussion.  


Tim Elmore: We could talk about so many of your books, but the one I think would be most relevant for our listeners (because of their interest in the next generation) is Do Over. Can you give us some context for your new book? What really drove you to write it?

Jon Acuff: Well, I went through a job transition recently, where after 15 years in corporate America, I decided to work for myself. While there was definitely some fear and trepidation, I felt very confident though, because I had spent a lot of time building what I call a “Career Savings Account.”

Most people spend 18 years getting ready for college. Then they graduation and the next thing they get ready for is death and retirement. There is this 40-year gap where our culture tells you that your job doesn’t matter. There is reason why we eat at TGI Friday’s, not TGI Monday’s.

But with a “Career Savings Account,” you can invest in your career anyway you want. The four investments you make include relationships, skills, character and hustle. The formula for the “Career Savings Account” is:

(Relationships + Skills + Character) x Hustle = Career Savings Account

I know listeners are thinking, “Oh my gosh, he said relationships matter. Mind blown! I’m so glad Tim had him on the show.” We all know those elements, but most of us have never applied them to our career. So the concept of this book looks at the transition from backpack to briefcase, and asks, “How do you make sure you’re investing in those four areas?” Because they are going to pay you dividends for the rest of your career.

Tim: I totally agree. If any one of those is missing, it diminishes your life. Okay, so I love the title, Do Over. Do you want to comment on how you chose that?

Jon: There is a lot of shame that says you could’ve done it better. My goal with the title is to redeem the idea that a change is just a do over. I wanted to take the sting out of it and say there are positives with a do over.


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Tim: I would like to move deeper into the idea of the next generation. What advice would you give to today’s students?

Jon: You should start by making a list of 10 people in the industry you’re interested in. You should send those people an email that asks them one question: Is there a book that you recommend I read? If they tell you the book, read it. Then, a week later, respond by thanking them and telling them the two things you learned from the book. It’s important to start relationships before you need relationships.

Also, it’s a great time to be a millennial because you can crush the reputation that your generation is lazy. The bar for you is extremely low. You can go into a job atmosphere and prove them all wrong by hustling and showing up an entire stereotype.

If you’re a student, find someone who is 10 years ahead of you and ask him or her a couple questions. Cause they will tell you what they thought was important at your age and what ended up actually being important. If you’re an adult, you need to be in relationships with a student who is 10 or 15 years behind you, too.

Tim: I know you’ve mentioned the four elements of the “Career Savings Account” being relationships, skill, character, and hustle. Could you talk about a specific activity for the other three elements?

Jon: I define hustle as an act of focus. A specific activity would be to get honest about how you spend your time. For skill, one specific example would be to think: How do I add value in a “skill”-way to this company? Most jobs don’t have a way to measure your value. And for character, part of it is generosity—how do you build generosity among the people you serve?

Check out Jon’s book at 

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I recently finished watching video coverage of the last batch of inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame. It prompted me to watch even more footage from the last three years of inductees. I focused my attention on the managers who were given an honor representing the pinnacle of their career. The last three managers inducted into the HOF used what I would call a “new school” style of coaches, rather than “old school.” They embraced a different approach to connecting with athletes. Whether conscious of it or not, they found ways to coach and connect with players from Generation X and the Millennial Generation in another manner than, say, Billy Martin or Leo Durocher did back in the day.

After studying effective coaches, in both professional and NCAA levels, I have come to some intriguing conclusions, at least for me. While “old school” coaching was the norm decades ago, replete with yelling, anger, distant personalities and the focus on improving weaknesses, today’s “new school” coaches motivate young athletes using new methods. What “old school” coaches used to call a “soft” approach is working far better these days. Whether or not we like it, it’s actually getting results.

And now, we can peer into the science behind why this is.

The Science Behind the Switch From Old School to New School

Over the past few decades, neuroscience has leaped forward thanks to improvements in medical imaging technology. We’re now able to see more definitively how the human brain responds to stimuli.

I found an article by Marshall Moore which was posted in a Berkeley publication very intriguing:

“In a study, published in Social Neuroscience, researchers collected data from undergraduates at Case Western Reserve University. After finishing an initial questionnaire measuring their emotional tendencies, students had two interviews within five days. One of the interviews was a positive-based coaching session in which the ‘positive’ interviewer would ask questions such as, ‘If everything worked out ideally in your life, what would you be doing in 10 years?’

“The second, ‘negative’ interviewer took on a more traditional coaching style, with questions designed to have the students assess their performance in terms of ideal standards: ‘What challenges have you encountered or do you expect to encounter in your experience here? How are you doing with your courses? Are you doing all your homework and readings?’

“After both interviews had been completed, 20 of the students went into a functional MRI machine to measure their brain activity as they endured a third interview (conducted by video) with the same ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ interviewers, appearing separately. As the researchers predicted, students indicated that the positive interviewer inspired them and fostered feelings of hope far more effectively than the negative interviewer.

The areas of the brain activated by these two approaches were most telling. Moore continues, “During the encouraging interactions with the positive interviewer, students showed patterns of brain activity that prior research associated with global processing (the ability to see the big picture before seeing small details), visual processing (the ability to see or imagine the future), feelings of empathy and emotional safety (fostering transparency and trust), and motivation (the predisposition to pursue big goals, instead of playing it safe).”

Not surprising, I believe the findings in this study can help coaches lead today’s athletes. Below, I offer you my interpretation of four tools that “new school” coaches utilize:

  1. Strength-based Coaching – Enabling a player to focus on developing their strengths and envision performing well when in his or her “strength zone” should take priority before tweaking a weak area. Moore stated in his article “Brain scans explored the effects of different coaching styles. Based on what’s happening in the brain, this more positive approach helps people visualize a better future for themselves—and provide the social-emotional tools to help them realize their vision.”
  1. Visual-based Coaching – Humans are visual learners. Our brains think in pictures. There are the regions that kick into gear when we imagine a future event or when someone provides imagery to guide our understanding. Based on research from 3M, visuals in a classroom accelerate learning by 400%. Further, they tell us images increase engagement as the eye processes visual information 60,000 times faster than verbal. We’ve all said it: a picture’s worth a thousand words. 65% of American’s are visual learners, and I believe its even more among the emerging generation. Socrates told us 4,000 years ago, “The soul does not think without a picture.”
  1. Trust-based Coaching – This means our style communicates we believe the best about our players. We give them the benefit of the doubt, until they forfeit that right. (And even then, we err on the side of trust). Trust-based coaches have very few rules, but lots of equations. Instead of a long list of rules, you merely state that this kind of behavior results in this benefit, or that kind of behavior results in this consequence. It enables the coach to lead in a quiet yet authoritative manner. For instance, when giving hard feedback, this coach might say: “I’m giving you these comments because I know you’re capable of achieving them. I believe in you and your potential and can see you playing a key role on this team.”
  1. Relationship-based Coaching – This means our style connects with each player relationally, based on their personality and strength. You lead by cultivating personal power, not using positional power. You realize your position gives you authority, but your relationships earn you influence and trust. Players go the “extra mile” and give you more than they would by merely fulfilling a job description. They follow you out of “devotion” not “duty,” and it’s because their coach has initiated a relationship with them. For instance, this coach may ask to spend extra time with an athlete who’s ethnically diverse and say, “Hey, I know we come from different backgrounds—so I’d like to get to know you better and see how much we have in common.”

I’m looking forward to seeing more research in this area. In the meantime, I think we can put what we’ve learned from this study into practice by being open to new styles of coaching and communication.

I recently spoke to a baseball player who used to play for the Kansas City Royals. Although he’d been released, he was writing a thank you note to their management. When I asked him why, he smiled and said, “They treated me like family. I’d do anything for Dayton Moore.”

That’s what “new school” coaches tend to get from athletes.

Want to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life?
Check out Habitudes® for Athletes.

Habitudes for Athletes

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Habitudes for Athletes helps coaches:

  • Transform a group of individual athletes into a unified force.
  • Create teams of student-athletes who build trust with each other and their coaches.
  • Create language to talk about real life issues in a safe and authentic way.
  • Build teams where every athlete thinks and acts like a leader.
  • Build athletes who make wise decisions that keep them in competition and out of trouble.

I recently received a letter from a former student, dating back to 1988. He’s now in mid-life and is a husband and father to three kids. He wrote me, however, because he wanted to say thanks for a conversation we had when he was a college sophomore. I’m sure you’ve received notes like this one. In the end, his message was:

That conversation changed my life.

What’s striking is, I vividly remember this student, but I don’t remember what I said in that conversation. It was one of those passing discussions among many I had that day. For him, however, it changed the trajectory of his life. It was a teachable moment. I wish I were better at recognizing these moments when they come.

This week, I’ve been blogging about a leader’s intuition — what to say to students who are in need. Each of us has had moments where we encounter a troubled kid who needs more than information from us. They need us to leverage our words to impart a thought that inspires and empowers them. I summarized my thoughts in my first post with this:

The right word is about using the right term at the right time with the right team.

Today, I’d like to ask two questions:

  • How do you know when it’s the right moment?
  • How do you know what to say to speak into a student’s life?

Spotting the Right Moment

Teachable moments can surface at any time. As you well know, they don’t always emerge during a class or when you have margin in your day. You can often tell a student needs this extra interaction when you spot the following symptoms:

  • Hostile Attitude (Angry at our lack of approval)
  • Entitled Spirit (Presumptive that they deserve favors)
  • Insecurity (Feeling unsure about the acceptance of others)
  • Inexpressive Demeanor (The withdrawal from others due to a fear of risk)
  • Independent Spirit (Deciding they must fend for themselves)
  • Driven Spirit (Determined to perform, achieve and get noticed)
  • Tendency to Sabotage Self (Undermining growth feeling they’re undeserving)
  • Co-Dependency (Needing to be needed; they rescue or need to be rescued)

What It Means to Speak into Their Life

I love the term “speaking into their life.” It implies that we are speaking personally and intimately to them. It also implies that we are speaking words of direction or perspective that will impact them. It means speaking to a relevant need in their life and empowering them with our words. It may mean speaking words of vision for their future. This act requires us to fully engage with a student.

We see this kind of interaction in tribal cultures, where villages celebrate a “rite of passage” with their young. (Some African cultures still practice this today.) These celebrations involve elders speaking words of affirmation and challenge to a young adolescent.

In ancient cultures, patriarchs had their own version of this. Centuries ago, for instance, it was common for Hebrew fathers to speak words of blessing (affirmation and direction) to their children as they grew into adulthood. It was a “rite of passage” for young men. It was as though these fathers knew the intrinsic need we all have for someone in authority to believe in us and tell us so. Years ago, authors Gary Smalley and John Trent wrote an excellent book called The Blessing. In it, they describe the five elements of this blessing.

The Blessing Consists Of…

  1. Meaningful Touch (An embrace or a hand on the shoulder)
  1. Spoken Word (Specific words of direction or affirmation)
  1. Expression of High Value (Communicating they have what it takes)
  1. Description of a Special Future (Often expressed in word pictures)
  1. Application of Genuine Commitment (Commitment to see them succeed)

We live in an age where people seem more wounded than ever. It is now common for students to grow up in a world involving divorce, abuse, dysfunction, incest, mental illness, addictive behavior or co-dependent relationships. Needy people are everywhere. So, how does this affect our mentoring? Do we simply try to avoid these issues? Do we ignore them or pretend they aren’t there?

Obviously, we can’t do this if we intend to lead well. Instead, we must recover this practice performed by foreign and ancient cultures (patriarchs and leaders) with their people. Because most families don’t practice giving this “blessing” to their sons and daughters, I believe mentors must pick up the slack and do it for their mentees.

It is up to us to let them know they have what it takes.

(The preceding excerpt is from my book Life Giving Mentors.)

Discover the Secrets to Connecting With Millennials & Gen Z

in the 5th Anniversary Edition of Generation iY!

GeniY2.0_Ad2 (1)

Order the New iY Here

This new edition includes bonus chapters, new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z

Yesterday, I blogged about wise leaders who find the right words to say in conversations with students. I suggested a simple formula at the end:

The right word is about using the right term at the right time with the right team.

Today, I’d like to dig deeper on this topic and suggest practical ideas on how to leverage the right words with students. Let’s begin with some foundational facts:

  • At times, students need inspiration more than information from us.
  • At times, students need us to look past their faults and see their needs.
  • At times, students need us to speak to the heart, not just the head.

We’ve all experienced moments of conflict, where a student acts out and says or does something completely inappropriate. Our human instinct is to enforce the rules. After all, our campus or organization needs order. It’s in these moments of disruption that we’re all on alert: emotions are running high, the air is tense, and everyone seems to be watching our every move.

I have learned that this is when a counter-intuitive response can create a teachable moment. What if we saw this as an opportunity for progress, not just due process? What if our words were about growth, not merely about grading; about mentoring, not mere management?

What if we got past the enforcement of rules to think about the empowerment of students?

Variables that are in Their Control

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has written much about utilizing the right words when we affirm a student. She talks about cultivating either a “fixed mindset” or “growth mindset” in kids, based on the words we use to encourage and praise them. She discourages statements like:

  • You are smart.
  • You are gifted.
  • You are the best.

Instead, she suggests using terms like:

  • I love how hard you worked.
  • I love the strategy you used on that problem.
  • I love how you look out for other students.

The first list of terms tends to develop a fixed mindset, one that the receiver either accepts or rejects. But either way, it’s a fixed idea. They begin to think: Either I’m smart, or I’m not; either I’m gifted, or I’m not.

The first represent variables that feel “out of the student’s control.” The second list represent terms that are more about effort—a variable that’s in a student’s control. Dr. Dweck believes if we’re going to empower our students, we must choose words that affirm controllables in their lives.

Speaking into the Context

There’s an old story about Teddy Stollard, a third grade student in Miss Thompson’s class. Teddy was a troublemaker, always causing chaos in the hallways and disrupting the classroom. The noise constantly drew attention to him.

Miss Thompson was at the end of her rope when Christmas break came along in December. She was ready for the holiday. On the final day, she allowed the kids to have a party and do a gift exchange. Some of the students brought a gift to their teacher. Miss Thompson noticed Teddy’s gift for her was crudely wrapped in newspaper. Not wanting to invite a conflict, she opened the gift and smiled at what was inside—even though she was a bit surprised. She pulled out a half-empty bottle of perfume. Then, she pulled out a pearl necklace with most of the pearls missing. Immediately, her students began to snicker. To prevent a further disruption, Miss Thompson quieted the giggles by trying on the necklace and the perfume. She told Teddy how much she liked them and that she was proud to wear them.

When the bell rang, all the kids left, except for Teddy. He remained to say something to Miss Thompson. It was their first serious conversation all year.

“Miss Thompson,” he mumbled. “I’m really glad you like the pearls. Ummm. You look just like my mom used to look.” There was a pause. “And Miss Thompson. I’m glad you like the perfume, too. You smell just like my mom.” Then, he walked out of the room.

She suddenly realized she needed to check Teddy’s files in the office to find out what was going on at home. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen Teddy’s mom all year. When she examined his file, it all made sense. When Teddy was in Kindergarten, his mother had gotten very sick. By the first grade she was bed ridden. She died while he was in the second grade. Now, Teddy was coping with life without a mother.

Miss Thompson recognized she needed to leverage her words. She stopped just addressing Teddy’s conduct—and began addressing his context.

January was a transforming month. As Miss Thompson connected with Teddy, he responded in grand fashion. He stopped rebelling. He wasn’t a distraction anymore. In fact, by the end of the semester, he became a model student. He even helped Miss Thompson after class, erasing the chalkboard. When the school year ended, Teddy almost didn’t want to leave.

Years went by, and Miss Thompson taught many more third grade classes. She did her best to remember the lesson of Teddy Stollard. It became easy about a decade later. Teddy wrote her a note:

Dear Miss Thompson,

I just wanted you to know, I graduate from high school today. I bet you thought I could never do that. Thank you for helping me through the third grade. You are the reason I made it this far.

                                                            Love, Teddy Stollard

Needless to say, she saved the letter. Four years later, she got another one:

Dear Miss Thompson,

I just wanted to write and tell you, I graduated from college today, second in my class. I bet you thought I could never do that. Thank you for helping me through the third grade. I would not have made it without you.

                                                            Love, Teddy Stollard

Five years later, Miss Thompson got her third and final letter from Teddy:

Dear Miss Thompson,

I wanted to write you and tell you I am now Theodore Stollard, M.D. I graduated medical school today, first in my class. I bet you thought I could never do that. I wanted to thank you again for making such a difference in my life, when I was nine years old. You are the reason I made it here.

One other thing, Miss Thompson. This summer, I am getting married. I wondered if you would be willing to come and sit where my mother would have sat, in the ceremony. I can’t think of anyone I would rather have there. Please write and tell me if you can.

                                                            Love, Teddy Stollard

Miss Thompson did take part in Teddy’s wedding. It was a milestone and a reminder of the difference someone can make when they choose to give the blessing to someone else. The one who deserves it least is often the one who needs it the most.

Discover the Secrets to Connecting With Millennials & Gen Z

in the 5th Anniversary Edition of Generation iY!

GeniY2.0_Ad2 (1)

Order the New iY Here

This new edition includes bonus chapters, new research, and recent stories that help adults:

  • Correct crippling parenting styles
  • Repair damage from (unintentional) lies we’ve told kids
  • Guide young adults toward real success instead of superficial “self-esteem”
  • Adopt education strategies that engage an “i” generation
  • Understand the generation following Millennials: Generation Z