Why every small-business owner should keep a gratitude diary

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I was contending with numerous issues in 2014. Some were in my control, some I could influence, and some were beyond my control.

Something outside of my control was the political climate in Australia, which was stalling with poor policies, bad decisions and ineffectual leadership. The markets for many businesses were flat, but not so terrible they would slip into a recession. However, factors like the federal government’s lack of vision on matters like energy and climate, the volatile global stage, and austerity measures in Europe, meant many business leaders were stuck in a holding pattern, waiting for direction and not making any significant decisions or investments. Nothing felt quite right, and indecision was rife.

This meant many businesses were not investing in sales strategies, processes or any development of sales teams, which is our core line of work. Business was pretty tough.

However, an already testing year took another dive when a deal worth $300,000 I had secured in late-2013, and which was ready to roll out, was pulled out from under me in April 2014. That was bad enough. But it gets worse. A person within my business, whom I trusted and had placed a lot of faith in, scuppered the deal. Instead of standing side by side in these tough times, this person decided things were too hard and took the easy way out. They negotiated a full-time job with our would-be client and took the $300,000 of work with them.

I was shocked and devastated. For a small consulting business, replacing $300,000 in lost revenue overnight is not easy.

On top of that, my 80-year-old father had collapsed from heart failure a few weeks before this event and died two weeks later. My father’s death was not a big surprise as he had been ill for some time. However, it doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are, it is still traumatic when someone close to you dies.

My stoic mother, siblings, family and I were left to farewell my father and mourn his passing.

Except I never got to mourn because I had a business to save, a team to lead, clients to serve, and a family to love and support.

I was numb. I was hanging in there and going through the motions. All I can remember is going into autopilot and trying to focus on what was in front of me and holding it all together.

The hardest thing for me to deal with was a sense of betrayal. Not just because of the money lost — I could sort that out, eventually. There’s always the risk of losing money in business. No, it was about the loss of trust.

But their departure and betrayal was not all that happened. After that first blow came a series of events over the following few weeks — all showing this person’s lack of respect, consideration and esteem for me, my team and my business. We had all been pawns in their game, which ended only when a legal mediation took place.

I am not the first person, nor will I be the last, to suffer such a betrayal. I have had other relationships end, but for whatever reason, this one hit me hard, because I genuinely believed they cared as much as I did about what we were doing, together. And I was wrong. I felt like an idiot. I reprimanded myself. I beat myself up. I was so hard on myself, and focusing on all that I thought was wrong with me, until one day one of my team members, Astrid, showed me a post on social media that said this: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or anxiety, make sure first you are not surrounded by assholes.”

No one else in my team deserted ranks. My team rallied around me and are still with me today. They are amazing. I am so grateful for their loving and caring support, then and now.

It turned out the betrayal by this person was initially the worst but then the best thing that happened to me, my team and my family in 2014.

It became a major catalyst for positive change which has led to much greater successes. It forced my team and me to really stand on our own and find our true purpose and pathway forward. It forced me to define and own my truth, my destiny, and learn how to stand firm, even in tough times.

On a personal level, I have undertaken many more initiatives, opened up my creativity and widened my horizons as to what is possible.

I eventually became grateful for the challenging business experience I had with this person because it turned into something amazing for me, my team and my family.

Out of the ashes, the phoenix rises.

I know I am not alone. Many other people have faced similar, if not much worse situations, and survived.

It shows we can get through hard times, and come out better for it, but it doesn’t happen in isolation. We are never alone. We do it supported by those around us.

So when did I get back on track and find the strength to carry on?

I began my gratitude diary in July 2014. I was inspired by a friend, who encouraged others to write three things they were grateful for, for three days. So I joined in — except mine continued for 142 days.

At the time, articles were popping up bemoaning people writing these gratitude diaries, saying how useless and self-absorbed we all were for participating.

I chose to ignore these criticisms and, instead, found the experience very comforting and helpful. I was keen to carry on because, if nothing else, it distracted me from my day-to-day challenges. But it became so much more. I can honestly say that keeping a gratitude diary for 142 days literally transformed me, and now science is backing this activity up.

This practice took up very little time, but the small amount I invested each day in focusing on being grateful for and noticing the lovely people and the beautiful things around me expanded my consciousness. I developed a higher capacity to love, to find inner peace, to look at things from different perspectives, to be more discerning, and an enhanced ability to manage my thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Was I always happy during this period? No.

Did my problems magically disappear? No.

Was I consistently happier and more contented? Yes.

Was I better able to confront and manage the problems in my life? Yes.

Practising gratitude wasn’t the only thing I did to get through that tough year. Exercising daily and eating healthy food have been my trusted companions ever since I was young. I have found working on my physical health is critical in managing stress, staying alert and getting me through life in general, but it comes into its own during tough times. I use exercise to burn off frustration and anger, blasting it out of my system physically. Research consistently shows that regular, vigorous physical activity is excellent at lowering the stress hormone cortisol, which if left unchecked can lead to heart disease and other health issues. I am eternally grateful to my parents for giving me the gift of sport and love of physical fitness from such a young age.

However, practising gratitude daily seemed to have a different effect on myself and those around me. Unlike exercise alone, gratitude stopped me from getting bitter and resentful. Gratitude stopped me from dwelling on the negative and rancorous thoughts I had when thinking about what I was enduring.

Recognising and giving thanks for the good things in my life helped me banish thoughts of self-pity and misery. It focused my thinking on what I could control and influence. Practising gratitude helped — and continues to help me — find agency and the purpose to keep moving forward, with no regrets or bitterness. It has helped me be kinder and more considerate of myself and others. The compound effect of practising gratitude radiated out to others with a positive impact, which in turn helped me. It became a win-win all around.

What I learned about being grateful, amongst many other things, is embodied in this quote by the writer Doe Zantamata: “Being grateful for what you have doesn’t mean you have to resign thinking anything could be even better. Grateful and complacent are two different words. Being grateful while striving to improve will allow you to be happy every step of the way.”

I have no idea what will happen for you, other than if you keep your own gratitude diary for a reasonable period, it’s likely to be good.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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