I recently went to see an excellent play with one of my favourite actors, Kate Mulvany, in the main part. It was called “Every Brilliant Thing” and it caused me to reflect on how powerful it is for our well-being to remind ourselves of things that we are grateful for on a regular basis.

This reflection came to me powerfully the other day when I was in a coaching session with “Jane”, a coachee I’ve been working with for some time. She has several direct reports and works in a complex ever-changing environment which has experienced particularly challenging times following the recent Royal Commission into Banking. Jane arrived at her coaching session looking pale, exhausted and she was clearly stressed. Immediately she started to describe all the difficulties she was encountering in her day to day work. She was having to retrench several staff, move others around and she could hardly sleep for the worry of it all. On top of all this, there were personal issues at home that were particularly challenging – and she said she felt as if she was at ‘bursting point’ and that everything was caving in around her.

I decided to take a risk with Jane and asked her if she’d be prepared to come for a ‘walking session’ with me by Sydney Harbour instead of sitting in the office where we usually do the coaching. She looked hesitant but then started smiling and said she’d be prepared to ‘give it a go’. The change of environment seemed to have an almost immediate positive shift in Jane’s state of mind. As we walked by the water, Jane visibly relaxed and began to think more strategically around her issues. She said she felt more positive about her situation and that “the fog had lifted” in her brain. She was concerned though that this feeling wouldn’t last once she was back again in her usual work environment.

I asked Jane if she could do some reflective “homework” for the next session: at the end of every day, for no more than 2-3 minutes, I wanted her to write down three things that had given her joy or that had gone well that day – and to come and report back to me in our next session. One thing could be something as simple as “the sun shone today and it was a beautiful day”. I explained that what we were doing was bringing some “happy hormone” (serotonin) into Jane’s brain to counteract all the stress that she was experiencing.

Jane came back a couple of weeks later looking so much better. She reported that while the actual challenges at work and at home had not changed significantly, her own ability to cope with them seemed to have increased greatly. She said that she was amazed at the positive difference those few reflective minutes at the end of every day were making to her state of mind.

I find it quite miraculous how after just a very few sessions of asking my clients to do this ‘homework’, their approach to life and their work seems to change so positively. It’s such a small exercise and seems to be really powerful.

It’s a habit that I’ve been using for myself now for some years. I find it incredibly useful, and it’s extraordinary how many wonderful things I find to be grateful for in my day.