Thoughtfulness is a habit, like exercising, eating “right,” brushing your teeth, or navigating your way to work every morning. (Read it again. Let it sink in.)
You may have read that and had a reaction on the spectrum between “I never thought about it that way” to “you’re completely wrong.” I am writing this to place a different perspective on thoughtfulness, outline the benefits of thoughtfulness, and show you how anyone can develop thoughtfulness as a habit.
Thoughtfulness Does Not Have to Be Spontaneous
There is a stigma around thoughtfulness. At times, it is assumed to be thoughtful, one must be spontaneously thoughtful. When performing market research prior to launching Relax & Revel, our team saw this in both survey responses and interviews. Some people believed that getting help with being thoughtful or having to be reminded to be thoughtful took away the very quality that made the act thoughtful. It is a stigma we work to change every day.
Replace thoughtfulness with exercise. Is it not exercise if I have a personal trainer who I work with daily or weekly? Is it not exercise if I have to set a time and remind myself to exercise?
Replace thoughtfulness with eating “right.” Is it any less eating “right” if I plan ahead with the right foods? Am I not eating “right” if a nutritionist gives me ideas as to how I can improve my diet?
You may be thinking “those things do not have to come from the heart” or a similar thought emotionally tied to a romantic notion of spontaneity.
The belief that thoughtfulness must be spontaneous is damaging, for a number of reasons:
• It puts excessive pressure on ourselves and potential for a feeling of failure for not being thoughtful when we never really tried in the first place.
• It puts unnecessary pressure on our relationships. How many girlfriends have you seen out there, wishing their boyfriends wrote them love notes or brought home flowers “just because?” It sets us up for disappointment and an expectation of “mind reading” in our relationships.
• It plays upon a fixed mindset: a person is either thoughtful or he / she is not. It does not leave room for developing, changing, and improving in this area. You continue to harbor jealousy for those who appear to be more thoughtful than you or those who have spouses / friends / family that are seemingly more thoughtful than yours.
So far this sounds really heavy, and here’s where it gets light. Thoughtfulness, like any other skill in life, can be improved. If you make one, small mindset change and begin to view thoughtfulness as a habit, and not as a quality you either have or do not have, you and those around you will reap amazing benefits. Thoughtfulness is a skill and you can improve it.
Immediate Isn’t Always Important and Important Isn’t Always Immediate
Thoughtfulness is not the default for human beings. Our primal brains, at times, default to the view of competition in a zero-sum game. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. We have proven that we are capable of so much more than this. We have built societies where people value helping others and where people take time, the scarcest of all resources, to help those less fortunate. Especially in today’s hyperconnected world, the issue lies in time, priority, and perceived importance.
At the beginning of my career, I was terrible at managing important things versus immediate things. I spent a lot of time doing whatever anyone at work told me to do (much of it was “pushing paper”), while being a miserable or nonexistent person to those who tried to care for me. Ironically, in my heart of hearts, I did not believe each day at work was more important than my family and friends. It was simply a matter of what was important versus what demanded my immediate attention.
The boss at work demands my immediate attention. 90%+ of the time, what he or she needs in a given day is not that important.
Life is short. Family and friends are important. 90%+ of them will not call you every day to demand your immediate attention (the exceptions being kids, ill family members, and maybe significant others).
What is important is often not immediate. What is immediate is often not important.
(Again, read it again. Let it sink in.)
This is where we run into trouble. It is very easy to put off the perceived emergencies – those things at work fighting for our attention – and forget to nurture what is truly important.
This is not:
• a sales pitch from one of those life coaches trying to tell you to quit your job, live your dream, blogging or trying to run some “automatic, 5-7 figure business.” Good luck if you can. I personally believe those who have been successful still put in the time, effort, and develop expertise to be successful.
• a treatise saying you should quit your job or that your career is not important. Careers keep many people fulfilled and often your family and friends are busy during the day anyway. Also, who would produce and run stuff that allows us to enjoy family and friends, like airplanes, electricity, hospitals, etc.
• a guilt trip. This is not meant to make you feel bad. We ALL get wrapped up in life. I spent years of my life myself being the worst to the people who were the best to me. This actually inspired me to start this company so that I can help a lot of people be the best to those they love.
This is meant to be a reminder to some and a wake-up call to others. It is easy to show up to work every day, perform to your 100% because that’s who you are, answer 3,382 unread emails, and answer 98 questions from Sam, the new person down the cubicle row who cannot seem to function without your help.
The challenge is remembering at the end of the day what is important, both at work and in your personal life. We’re here to help you on the personal life end, so you can be the best you at both work and at home. As I said, I am and have been far from perfect at being a friend and family member for a long time, so I wanted to share my personal journey toward becoming more thoughtful.
My Personal Journey to Becoming More Thoughtful
Prior to founding Relax & Revel, I have personally worked hard for years to be more present and thoughtful in my own life. Having moved multiple times with corporate jobs in my adult life, and landing in a place far from most of my family and friends, I knew keeping up those relationships would be more challenging than if everyone was just around the corner or even a one hour drive away.
I was painfully aware that I may only see some of the dearest people in my life once every few years. We were simply scattered across too many states, countries, and continents. I did not want to lose relationships simply because of distance. I was not disillusioned; I know relationships change over time, as people enter and exit new life phases and live in new places. I also knew that I was in control of one half of the relationship equation, and for those I wanted to keep in my life, I could work to be thoughtful.
During one of my many corporate positions, I had a boss and mentor, Tami, who was always very thoughtful. To this day, I haven’t seen her in person in about 6-7 years, yet every year on our wedding anniversary, Mike and I receive a card from her. She once revealed to me in a conversation that she had someone in her life who was really good about remembering those special occasions, and it inspired her to do the same. In turn, she was one of the many people who inspired me to be more thoughtful.
A few years ago, as I was in the midst of my 5th or 6th move in 5 years, I realized that I was letting “busy” get in the way of connecting with people in my life, especially those who were far away. I wanted people to know I cared about them and was thinking of them, even if I did not see them regularly or had not seen them in years.
Being the nerdy engineer and supply chain consultant that I am, I got my calendar in order and set up processes in my life to help me be more thoughtful. I made it a priority to regularly sending cards and gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, and other life events to let people in my life know that I do care, even if we do not speak often, and that I truly want to connect. I’ve also started planning more celebrations to honor life events and hosting more casual get-togethers to reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while and get to know new friends a bit better.
From all of this, I am enjoying benefits I never imagined from all of this:
• I find myself thinking of my friends and family more than I used to, since I am prompted to remember special occasions and life events.
• I am more spontaneously thoughtful. If a friend off-hand mentions a new baby, job promotion, or another life event, I am more prepared to react with an acknowledgment, whether it be a simple phone call or text, whipping up a lavish celebration, or something in between.
• I have been honored to hear loved ones in my life comment on how special it feels to have their life events remembered and honored.
• Thoughtfulness has become part of my identity. I want to continue to celebrate others in life because it brings us closer together.
Through all of this, I was inspired to create Relax & Revel to help others experience the same benefits. I truly want everyone to benefit from being more thoughtful, as it makes both you and others feel better. Maybe this would help reduce the current divisiveness a bit. Maybe it will not, but it will help people find a bright spot in each day.
Advice for Developing the Habit of Thoughtfulness
I wanted to leave you with something actionable, something you can DO. Here are some ways to help be more thoughtful every day that are not intrusive. They do not require multiple hours every day. Some may require a few minutes every week. Others may require multiple hours in one session. All of them will help you feel a little brighter, I promise.
• Set a goal to say “thank you.” I personally set aside and write at least one “thank you” note per week. It takes between 5-15 minutes. I try to handwrite and mail most of them, although some of them feel more appropriate by email. By the end of the year, you will have thanked 52 people. Even better, I usually hear from many of those people, so it becomes a great way to reconnect and spark a conversation.
• Organize your important life events. Take a few hours one evening or part of a weekend day and straighten out your personal calendar. Between Google and Facebook, you have access to many of the special dates in the lives of your loved ones. I’m sure your mom, significant other, or friends are also willing to help you out. This will help you acknowledge important life events more frequently.
• Make a lunch date. I aim to have at least one lunch date per month with someone I haven’t caught up with in a while. Sometimes, it was a coworker who I see every day but did not have personal conversations with. Other times, it was a local friend who I just haven’t seen in 6 months because life gets in the way.
• Have a reminder in your calendar for something you need to remember to help you be more thoughtful. It could be a reminder that says, “What is important isn’t always immediate, and what is immediate isn’t always important” or some other saying that reminds you of what you want out of life. With so much going on, often times you simply just need a reminder.
• Be kind to yourself. Beating yourself up over not being the most thoughtful person ever doesn’t help you be thoughtful or win you any awards. With any goal in life, like weight loss or learning to play an instrument, thoughtfulness takes practice and failure in order to get to improvement.
Thoughtfulness is a skill and a habit. You can become better at it by setting a goal and putting in some effort. You do not need to feel like a thoughtless person, because you are not. Some people, like any skill, are naturally more gifted, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you. If you do decide you would like a little help, you can always find us at firstname.lastname@example.org.