This week on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve been talking about conflict and self care. Today, as promised on Wednesday, we bring you a related Weekend Homework Assignment written by Dr. John Gottman himself. We encourage you to try it out in this coming week, and share his reasoning for its importance:

“Regularly expressing praise and appreciation can change the whole emotional climate of your home, your workplace, and your various circles of family and friends. People grow closer in the knowledge that they can count on one another for support in good times and in bad. The subsequent exercise can help you to transform a crabby, critical habit of mind to one that praises and appreciates.”

Exercise: Thanksgiving Every Day

A steady diet of gratitude is one of the best-known cures for a crabby habit of mind. Here’s how the diet works.

1.  Each day for one week, keep track of the times you felt like criticizing somebody important in your life, such as your spouse, a relative, a friend, or a close coworker. Try to come up with at least five incidents each day, and write them down.

2.  After you’ve described the critical feelings and the incident that preceded it, find a way to counter that criticism with praise and appreciation. You may feel some resistance to doing this, especially if you feel that your criticism was justified. But try to ignore the resistance. Just set aside the faults you perceive in that person and look instead for reasons to value him or her. The list of qualities provided may be helpful as you consider these reasons.

3.  Each day, make a point to share those five bits of praise or appreciation with the people who earned it.

4.  Notice what effects these offerings have on your relationships, and write about them in your log.

Examples:

  • Criticism: You’re sitting there thinking that Jack the bartender’s habit of whistling drives you up the wall.
  • Praise or appreciation: You notice that the customers really seem to like Jack’s sense of humor, and that’s good for business. You tell Jack what you’re thinking.
  • Effects of praising him: Jack laughs and seems to be in a good mood all night. You think maybe it’s made him whistle more, but folks are hanging around and he’s selling lots of drinks.
  • Criticism: Your daughter forgot to fold the laundry as you asker her to do. You think, “She’s so thoughtless,” but you say nothing. You start looking around for something about her to appreciate. 
  • Praise or appreciation: You see why she forgot about the laundry: She has so much homework to do. At least she’s diligent about her studies. She gets good grades, and she’s learning so much. You decide to praise her for being so good about her homework.
  • Effects of praising her: She seems calm and peaceful, content to keep studying. You realize how proud of her you are.
  • Criticism: Your brother is so opinionated. He acts like such a know-it-all. You don’t say anything. Instead you try to think of qualities you like about him.
  • Praise or appreciation: You realize that he takes such good care of your mom. He’s so conscientious and responsible. You don’t know what your family would do without him. You’ve never told him how much you value this about him. You decide to do so now.
  • Effects of praising him: He seems to understand how genuinely grateful you are. You notice that he becomes a little easier to be around. It seems that he’s not trying so hard to prove himself. Maybe he just needed a little appreciation.

We see what we want to see. Give this exercise a shot this week, and see how much things can change. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole!”


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Weekend Homework Assignment: Thanksgiving Every Day

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.