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By: Stephan Spencer

Introduction

There’s been a lot of focus in the media about how the pandemic has strained relationships with people suddenly on lockdown together at home, but my guest on today’s episode, Chester Elton, brings a different perspective about how this is also a chance for us to be grateful for each other and to work on our relationships. Chester has been called the “apostle of appreciation” by Canada’s Globe and Mail. He is co-author of multiple award-winning New York Times & Wall Street Journal bestselling books, All In, The Carrot Principle, and Leading with Gratitude

Chester Elton
“Living a fulfilled life is all about the why of what you do more than the how.”
Chester Elton

In this episode, we talked about ways to be supportive of each other and how we can be present for ourselves and the people we care about. I love the imagery of the Adirondack chair that Chester sits on–in the actual Adirondacks–and how he gets in touch with his senses, taking in all that he can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in those small moments that ground him in peace and gratitude. My interview with him was like a breath of fresh air, offering rituals and strategies for us to decompress in mindful, rather than mindless ways. So without any further ado, here is the man in orange, Chester Elton!

In this Episode

    • [00:39]Stephan introduces Chester Elton. He has spent two decades helping clients engage with their employees to execute strategy, vision, and values. He has been called the “apostle of appreciation,” “creative and refreshing‚” and a “must-read for modern managers.” by major media outlets.
    • [05:39]Chester shares the inspiration behind writing the book, Leading with Gratitude, together with Adrian Gostick.
    • [10:39]Stephan and Chester discuss the essence of being fully present for your family and loved ones.
    • [15:00]Stephan explains Dr. John Gottman’s research on what keeps couples together the longest and what breaks them apart.
    • [21:44]Chester talks about Dave Kirpan, a friend of his, their family practice of gratitude during dinner to develop a bond by speaking and sharing about their day,
    • [27:10]Chester shares some of his mindfulness activities and daily routines to start his day in a grateful mindset.
    • [33:38]Chester expresses his fascination for Winston Churchill as his inspiration for writing in his daily journal of gratitude and various stories about his day.
    • [38:50]Stephan and Chester discuss Louise Hay’s Mirror Work and Chester’s grandfather’s favorite poem.
    • [43:23]What does the color orange mean for Chester?
    • [50:20]Visit Chester Elton’s website at TheCultureWorks.com to work with him and to go check out his book, Leading with Gratitude: Eight Leadership Practices for Extraordinary Business Results.

Jump to Links and Resources

Transcript

All In by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Chester, it’s so great to have you on the show.

I’m delighted to be invited. Thanks for having me.

First of all, let’s talk about gratitude. Why an entire book about gratitude?

Great question. Adrian Gostick is my co-author. We’ve been writing together now for 20 years. Our work started in recognition, and we wrote a series of Carrot books, when you mentioned The Carrot Principle. It was more focused on the workplace and the staff. I do something creative, there’s a formal recognition ceremony, all of which I think are important. As our work expanded, we got into culture, leadership, and so on, there was always this continuous thread of the great leaders that were appreciative and grateful for the people that work for them. Whether it was the culture, the team, or the individual. We wanted to take a deeper dive into that emotional connection to work. The why of what you do, instead of the what and how. 

As we took a deeper dive into this massive database that we’ve gathered over the years, we found that it wasn’t just a better way to lead. It was a better way to live. And as you know better than anyone, we are in a digital age, there is no more 9-to-5, it’s 24/7. Work is life, life is work. And those philosophies and those core values that you develop as people, as leaders, transcend any kind of clock during the day. And that’s what drove us. We got to interview some amazing leaders that had phenomenal results. They are gratifying not to put a plan where it’s gratitude. But one of the gratifying things was they all took it home as well. And that’s what fascinated us and why we wrote the book. 

The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Did it start with a bunch of research, a big study across a lot of people? Or did it start with a kind of intuition?

It started with the research, dating back to The Carrot Principle. We had access from Willis Towers Watson to this massive global engagement survey that they had done. They had 8 million. You’ve probably taken one of those at some point, the engagement survey that says, “Do you trust your leader?” “Are you likely to be here a year from now?” “Would you recommend the job to friends and family?” And as we started to take a deep dive into that, for The Carrot Principle, that became an ongoing rolling database for us. So that became very interesting to see, the word that my co-author, Adrian Gostick, likes to use his “pecuniary insights.” I always loved that word. Then, as we delved into more leadership, we wrote a book called All In on culture. We started to interview these extraordinary leaders. That theme kept coming up, the way they engage their people, the way they appreciate their people, we became part of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches, Pay It Forward. 

We’re able to be with Alan Mulally, the guy that saved the Ford Motor Company, his philosophy of leading, which was, it’s all about your people, love ’em up. Garry Ridge from WD-40. I never leave home without my can of WD-40. The way that he treats his people as far as innovation, we don’t make mistakes, we have learning moments, and on and on and on, and it keeps coming up again and again and again. So gratitude, the idea of moving from the physical ceremony to the emotional engagement. To be candid with you, the idea for the book was Marshall Goldsmith. He called us up and said, “Hey, I’m the world’s greatest executive coach. You’re the ‘Apostles of Appreciation.’ We should write a book on gratitude together.” As it turned out, because of previous commitments he had, he couldn’t be one of the co-authors. So he allowed us graciously to run with it. And Harper Business picked it up, and it’s been great fun. Long answer to a short question. I hope that was helpful. 

Leading with Gratitude by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

That’s great. So learning moments, that’s a profound thought or idea that either you’re winning or you’re learning, and you’re not ever losing. And to take that on board and not just use it as a truism or a bumper sticker, but to embody that in your life. How do you live up to that kind of life principle?

It’s such a great question. Because it’s almost like a “physician heals thyself.” Like, you think, “Well, I’ve written this book, and so I must have this perfectly in my life,” which, of course, is never true. Great advice, as we were writing the book, particularly as you go through difficult times. Now, when we finished the book, we had no idea a pandemic was coming. This idea of when you go through hard times, to ask the right questions, instead of “Why does this happen to me?” Ask yourself, “What am I supposed to learn? How will this make me better?” And you’ve had this experience as well, and I’m sure with all the many people you’ve interviewed on your podcast, you ask people to tell them about their careers, what meant the most to them. They almost always go to the hard times. Like when they were this close to going bankrupt, or they pawned their wife’s engagement ring to make payroll. Why do they do that? Because that’s when they grew. That’s when they found out who they are. Back to WD-40, it’s really interesting. Did you know what WD-40 stands for, by the way?

I didn’t until just recently, and I forgot it. I should have used one of the memory palace concepts or something to retain that, but I didn’t feel like I needed that. So I let it go. But I think it was the same METal meeting where you spoke, and that was brought up. 

Yeah, it could have been. Its water displacement 40th formula.

Right. 

The whole idea around it being the 40th formula helps them inculcate this idea of, we don’t make mistakes, we have learning moments. Garry Ridge, the CEO, said this, “Did we have 39 mistakes, and then get to the 40 formula? Absolutely not. We have 39 learning moments to get to that 40th formula.” So the errors that you make, rather than punish those, you celebrate those as steps along the way to get where you want to be. For me, it does come down to, “Hey, that didn’t go the way we’d hoped. What did we learn? Let’s progress.” And as you well know, in innovation, just because it didn’t work today doesn’t mean it won’t work tomorrow. There are market influences, there’s timing, there’s funding, there’s all kinds of things, the right people in the right positions. And so I do and have embraced that quite a bit rather than, “Gosh, this is just misery.” Instead of that, “What am I learning? How am I progressing?”

Living a fulfilled life is all about the why of what you do more than the how. Click To Tweet

Right. What would be something that’s been a recent breakthrough for you? Let’s say, during the pandemic, what has been pivotable, maybe even a transformational moment for you or something shifted?

Oh, Stephan, you always ask deep questions. I think during the pandemic, a pivotal thing for me, most of our business is writing, researching, and speaking at conferences. Of course, that was completely shut down. We went virtual and digital. All of a sudden, I found myself spending a lot more time at home. One of the transformational things for me was to become a much better listener. It’s funny when you’re on stage all the time, and you’re speaking, it’s very easy to fall in love with the sound of your voice. And so I’m the speaker, people are listening to me, and therefore, I should continue to speak a lot. I think one of the real breakthroughs for me, especially in my personal life, is to listen and not to worry about what I was about to say. Really listen to what people were saying. It calms down things for me. Like most people, I got very anxious very quickly when what was going to be a banner year, all of a sudden, disappeared in a matter of two weeks. So that was pivotal for me and a really good moment to reconnect with my family, a son that graduated from Pittsburgh with a dual master’s and has a really tough time finding the work that he is educated to do. So being patient, listening, and present for my family has been great. It’s been really great.

That’s awesome. So listening and presence are really intertwined or almost synonymous with each other, aren’t they?

Really listen to what people were saying.

They are. And I have to remind myself of it every day. By the way, it’s easy to slip back into what I’m doing is the most important thing, you wait at the door, I’ll get to you when I get to you. So yeah, it’s a constant reminder.

Yeah, in fact, for me, I made a reminder for myself. I was at the Abundance 360 Conference and the folks who make these bracelets that you can choose a word. They’re like intention bracelets. Whatever word you choose, that’s something that you want to become more of, or you want to be reminded of, or just helps you to center around that. For me, I chose the word “presence.” The reason for me wasn’t because I’m always present, it’s because I am not always present and I want to be more present. I want to be 100% present for my wife, for my baby, for my family and friends, and not distracted, not somewhere else thinking about something later on in the day. We oftentimes, at least speaking for myself, will be physically present in a space or with loved ones, but then my mind will be elsewhere, thinking about work, for example. And when I’m at work, I won’t be fully present. Fully immersed in work, I’ll be thinking about, “Oh, what’s next?” Or “I wish I could be out with my family on that walk that they were just taking.”

Everyone you meet, every moment you witness, whether good or bad, imparts a lesson that helps complete your understanding of what it is to be human.

You know, I married very well. We’ve been happily married for 37 years now.

Wow, congratulations! That’s amazing.

Thank you very much. The best sale I ever made me. It’s interesting because I’ll go for a walk with my wife and I will get distracted thinking about when I get back, “What do I have to do?” My wife’s very good about calling me out. She’ll say, “You know, Chester, when I talk to you and you don’t respond, it makes me feel like you don’t value our time together.” And those moments snap you back. Because you say, “Gosh, if there’s one person in my life that I want to make sure is always valued, it’s you.” But let me ask you a question. You have a baby. How old is your baby?

15 months.

When you hold your baby, does that make you very present? 

Absolutely. Yeah. 

Isn’t it interesting how our children are our greatest educators? I have four children, and I remember those moments like they were yesterday. When you look into that child’s eyes, you can’t help but be present, isn’t that right?

When you look into that child’s eyes, you can’t help but be present.

Yeah. And his gaze is like piercing into my soul, or anybody that he looks at. He just has this wisdom about him. He’s an old soul. It’s pretty amazing.

Well, I’m so happy for you. One of the things I remember about my children, and I think it’s true of every baby, is now crystal clear their eyes are. Like you say, you can gaze into eternity through your child’s eyes. I’m delighted for you, really happy for you and congratulations.

Thank you. When you were talking about your wife on the walk and saying, “When you don’t respond to me, I feel not valued or ignored,” or whatever. That reminds me of the idea of bids. And when your partner says “beautiful day outside” or “listen to the sound of those birds,” that’s a bid. And if you don’t return the bid, that reduces the emotional bank account in the relationship.

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. That’s an exchange. It’s common courtesy, right? When someone asks you a question or talks to you that you respond, and isn’t it interesting. And I think this is part of our digital lives, that when somebody texts you or emails you or whatever, you can respond whenever. You don’t have to respond immediately. I think sometimes that believes over into our personal lives, you go, “Well, I kind of heard you, I’m just not going to respond now.” Whereas when you are physically present with someone, of course, it’s important to respond right now. They’re talking to you right now. I think we overthink our lives sometimes. We translate digital to corporal, and it’s not good.

Yeah. It was in Dr. John Gottman‘s research that the thing that kept couples together the longest was the bids and returning those bids. And the thing that broke those couples apart, you can tell just by looking at their micro-expressions, and within a couple of minutes, you could tell with 95% accuracy if they were going to end up divorced in the next five years. And it was through the four horsemen that you destroy a relationship, which is criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

We don't make mistakes. We have learning moments. Click To Tweet

You know, the Gottman Research, we cite that quite a bit as well. He did a study with couples doing puzzles. He recorded their positive and negative interaction. And to your point, if the positive to negative was about one to one, he could predict a divorce. If it were at least four to one, five to one, then that was a healthy relationship. And we teach that very much in our Leading With Gratitude. We had a wonderful leader that we were introduced to in the Avis Budget system, a manager in Dallas, Texas. And the way that he kept his ratio in a healthy dynamic was to put ten coins in his left pocket every morning to have ten positive interactions with his people every day. And he tracked it by moving a penny from his left pocket to his right pocket. It was really interesting as we were interviewing for the book. 

We were having lunch with them, and he said, “Excuse me, it’s already twelve-thirty, and I still have eight coins in my left pocket. I’m not doing my job. That intentionality and that discipline were wonderful to see. So as he showed up as a leader, as he showed up as the guy, that his people were very receptive to him because he was not just looking for things to correct and pointing out all the mistakes. He was also very quick to point out all the good things that were happening and build up that bag, to your point, those bits. So that when he had to have tough conversations, people were very open to his coaching. Because he wasn’t just the guy saying, “Hey, this is what you’re doing wrong.” “Hey, you could have done that better.” So I love this idea of being very intentional and being very disciplined around the whole study. What is my ratio? Am I always the one that’s criticizing? Or am I the one that’s also building people up?

Remember that even in these extraordinarily difficult times that there’s much to be grateful for.

Yeah. One thing that I thought of when you were describing this, this guy who has 10 pennies in his pocket, not only did he have the intentionality and the desire to do this, but he also had a simple prompt or cue that helped him to stay accountable to himself throughout the day. Because every time he reached into his pocket, he said, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I have those pennies in there,” or maybe even felt the pennies jiggling around in his pocket as he walked around. So he’d get these constant reminders that would help him to trigger the behavior that he was after. Pretty cool.

Yeah, I love that word “trigger.” What are the triggers? One of the triggers that my wife and I have at the end of the day, and we’re pretty good about doing it almost every day, is we say, “What are three things you’re grateful for today?” It’s a wonderful practice to end your day on a positive note. We’re grateful that we’re back home. We just were out in California with family for a little while. Now we’re sequestering him back in New Jersey as the pandemic is blowing up. But the idea that it was an easy trip that people around us were careful, that the airline and the attendants were disciplined in keeping themselves and everyone else safe, that it was great to be back home with our family, and that it didn’t snow. The weather was cold but clear. And that’s a wonderful trigger and a wonderful discipline to end your day on a positive note. And research has shown that it relaxes your mind and relaxes your blood pressure, you sleep a little better, and deepen relationships. For my wife and I, it’s just a wonderful trigger to deepen our relationship. To remember that even in these extraordinarily difficult times that there’s much to be grateful for.

Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix

Yeah, it gets you into your parasympathetic nervous system instead of the sympathetic, which is the fight or flight, which is helpful. Are those three things of gratitude, usually for you and your wife, about external environmental things? Or is it more about your relationship or the other person? I’m curious because I do three appreciations almost every night, not every night with my wife. And there are about appreciations of each other. And I learned this from Harville Hendrix, who wrote Getting the Love You Want and who’s the creator of Imago Couples Therapy, an amazing human. He was a guest on this podcast. He described how he and his wife had been doing this practice of at least three appreciations of each other at the end of the day. Last thing they do before going to sleep, for 18 years, without missing a single day.

Wow. Well, ours is a bit of a combination, although I will say it’s mostly external. It’s what were we grateful for today? And usually, it’s about other people. But you know what, that’s a great tip. I’m going to incorporate that. “What do I appreciate about you today? What did I love about you today?” I can see it to be very powerful.

Yeah, it feeds the relationship bank account. And it’s so simple. It also crowds out the complaints and the practicalities of “Oh, can you pick up the milk tomorrow?” or whatever. It’s like ending on a high note with that person. It helps you to ground yourself and see the positive because even when you argue or you have a fight, you got a life partner that you’re with, and you owe it to that person to be your best.

Exactly. It’s interesting in the way we concluded the book, Leaving With Gratitude. It was all about living a grateful life. I mentioned that the leaders that we interviewed all had personal practices of gratitude, which was affirming. Dave Kirpan, a good friend of ours, who has a digital advertising agency in New York, talked about how he eats with his family at dinner, was able to put together this kind of discipline, this trigger, he said, “We try to have dinner as a family as often as we can. As your son gets older and you have more children, you’ll have this experience without question. They come to the table, and you’ll say, ‘Hey, how was school?’ and they say, ‘Fine.’ And you say, ‘What did you learn?’ ‘Nothing.'” These one-word answers, right? So he said, “We decided we would change the dynamic, and everyone had to come to the table with the ability to answer three key questions.” 

Take challenges with a grain of salt and treat them as learning moments, not mistakes.

It’s a little bit of a combination of what we’ve just talked about. The first one is, “Tell me about the best part of your day. What was the best part of your day?” So you get to brag about something great that happened. The second is “Tell me about someone you’re grateful for who’s not at the table?” Maybe a teacher or a coach or a friend. And then the third one, again, when you get more personal, “Tell me something you’re grateful for about someone at the table who hasn’t been thanked yet?” And he said, “Initially, the kids are like, ‘Come on, Dad, you’re always doing these crazy things.'” He says, “I knew it caught on when they would invite a friend to dinner, and I could hear them talking. ‘So now, we have to answer three questions. Okay? Don’t embarrass me, have good answers.’ And that’s the external and the internal about my day, about someone that influenced my life, and someone in the family for whom you’re grateful. And it was just a lovely practice that we included, and then we have a baker’s dozen of them.” Different things that different leaders shared with us as their best practices at home, and it was lovely.

That’s great. Have you taken any of those practices on board and implemented them in your life?

Having some boundaries around when you’re not at work is important to everybody’s mental health and happiness.

Absolutely. One that I love that I think is becoming even more important, my co-author Adrian Gostick and I were also executive coaches, we do a fair amount of executive coaching. And one of the things that can become very prevalent, particularly with hard-charging, and high potential leaders, is this idea that they leave their best selves at work. That they’re so engaged, and they’re so career-driven, they forget that when they come home, the reason they’re doing all of this is to create a better home life. And they come home exhausted, and they’ve got nothing left to give. Well, with the pandemic, and so many people working from home, you don’t even have the commute time to decompress. Your commute is when you open the door. 

One of the best practices there was at the end of the day, or you’re taking a break, and you see someone in your family, be happy to see them—that simple thing. Just say, “Hey, it’s great to see you,” “Hey, it’s a great night, my day is over, I shut down my computer. Tell me about your day.” And it’s such a simple thing and yet such a powerful thing. Instead of, “My days over, look, can you just give me an hour to decompress? I’m just going to go binge-watch something on Netflix or something.” This idea of to be present. And I find that I need to work on that quite a bit. Because you’ve had like 15 zoom conferences in a day, it’s easy to say, “Oh, my gosh, now I just want some peace and quiet.” Instead of “Now I need to reengage.” So that was a wonderful trip that I’m getting better at. I’m still a work in progress.

Right. Well, I like what you said about shutting the laptop, and it’s almost like there’s a boundary there. Even though most of us are working from home, I’ve been working from home for a long time. I have a virtual business. So having some boundaries around when you’re not at work or not in the work zone is, I think, really important to everybody’s mental health and happiness.

Well, yes, simple practice, like when you go down to dinner to leave your phone on your desk. Because we’re just so wired that when it pings or when it buzzes, you pick it up, and it can be in the middle of a meal in the middle of a conversation.

We can start the day with a critical mindset or a grateful mindset. It's always best to be kind, be grateful, and be of service. Click To Tweet

Even putting it facedown on the table, even if you don’t look at it or touch it the entire time, changes the quality of the conversation.

You know, pre-pandemic, there was a wonderful game that people were playing in New York, you’d go out to dinner, and everybody would put their phones in the middle of the table. And the first person that grabbed their phone had to pay for dinner. Every night everybody’s going, “If you grabbed your phone, then it was on you,” and it was a wonderful game.

Oh, that’s funny. And also when you’re talking about binge-watching on Netflix or just kind of zoning out to decompress from the day. What strikes me with that is that it’s a kind of mindless activity instead of a mindful activity. So mindful would be to, let’s say, meditate, do a sitting or walking meditation or something that is getting you more grounded and refreshes your body, mind, and soul and something mindless like watching some silly show on Netflix is just like eating Twinkie or Doritos.

Yeah, there was a great tweet that kind of went viral. A guy said, “Hey, this pandemic has been great. I’ve finished Netflix. Now, what?” And you’re right, and sometimes I’ll reflect and say, “Well, there was a particular series that I was interested in,” and also now looking at it like, “Oh, gosh, I spent 10 hours watching it. What could I have done within 10 hours? I could have learned how to play the guitar, or whatever.” It’s so easy to fall into that trap, and I still do. When I was flying quite a bit, it was very easy to download two or three movies. It’s because it’ll make time go by quicker instead of engaging in a good book. And I think we all need that reminder, as you say, instead of mindless to be mindful. I really like that.

What are your mindfulness activities? Do you meditate? Do you do yoga? Like, what sort of things do you do in your life?

Life is full of possibilities and opportunities, but they only show up when one is actively searching for them.

Yeah, I do a little bit of all of that. I have a list of nine things that I do every day. I’m still a little bit old school, I keep a business diary, and I keep a paper journal. And so I said, “I want to start today. I want to pray and take my vitamins and have a protein shake and stretch,” that’s my yoga thing. I’m not a yogi or a yoga expert. It’s just really five-six minutes of stretching at the beginning of the day and the end of the day. And then read my scriptures and meditate and write in my journal. I have a little spreadsheet where I ask myself, “Did I do my best today to set clear goals to make progress towards those goals, to make my wife feel valued?” And there’s 23 that I just kind of check off, and it’s either green, yellow, or red. And I’ve kept it for some months now, and it’s kind of interesting to see the trend. What am I consistently good at, and what am I consistently bad at?

And you’re keeping this in a physical journal, or you’re keeping it in an app or what?

That one is just an Excel spreadsheet. And it’s been really interesting to watch that. “Did I do my best to be in motion today?” Sometimes with the pandemic, I feel like it’s all you can do. Some days you’re busy, and some days you’re not. What’s your motivation to get out of bed? I also have a little meditation trigger, it’s as soon as my feet touch the floor and I start my day, I have this mantra that, “Be kind, be grateful, be of service,” and try to take that edge off. We can start the day in a critical mindset, or we can start our day in a grateful mindset. I think gratefulness is better.

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg

Yeah, I would imagine so since you wrote a book all about it. Now, that reminds me of what you described, like a first thing in the morning practice for you. It reminds me of that Maui Habit that I learned from BJ Fogg. And he’s the world’s greatest behavioral scientist, author of Tiny Habits, just a brilliant, brilliant guy. And his Maui Habit is, “Today is going to be a great day.” And even if you don’t believe it, to just say to yourself out loud, ideally, when your feet touch the floor from getting out of bed, today is gonna be a great day. Somehow, if you need that last piece to feel okay, that’s a possibility; even though I know what’s coming. It makes a difference. It really does.

I love all those triggers. I think as you grow and develop, you find those triggers that make sense for you, how you start your day, how you end your day, how you interrupt your day to take that time to meditate. I’ve been reading Jay Shetty’s book, Think Like a Monk. It’s been really profound. One of the practices that he espouses is to meditate and put yourself in the place where you feel the most fulfilled, like your happy place. And we have a little place up in the Adirondacks. I don’t know if you’re familiar with upstate New York at all, but it’s this 6-million acre park. Now there are little towns and whatnot in there. And we have a little place on a little lake that doesn’t allow motorboats. It’s that small, right? And we have our dock, and up in the Adirondacks, it’s your dock life. Everybody’s got a couple of Adirondack chairs at the end of the dock. And it’s right there you go and sit. And he talks about doing some breathing and relaxation, and for me, it’s I’m sitting in that Adirondack chair. And he says engage all five senses. What are five things you can see? What are four things you can touch? What are three things that you can hear? What are two things you can smell? And what’s one thing you can taste? And for me, it’s sitting on that dock. I can see the shoreline and the water and hear the loons, feel the light rate on my face. The taste part for me was kind of interesting, well, what can I taste?

Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty

You’re not putting your tongue on the dock or anything, I hope.

Like licking the chairs, there’s a microbrewery in Utica, New York, which is an hour away. And they make the most wonderful root beer. And every time we go up, I treat myself to a Saranac root beer. And so that’s how I end, with that taste of Saranac root beer. I think all those practices, and we find which ones work for us. Not everybody’s gonna have the gratitude practice at the end of the day, or meditation practice, or a stretch practice. So whatever it is, put those things together and find out what works for you. And again, I think the two keywords are to be intentional about it and be disciplined. Set up those triggers, those little reminders, whether it’s ten coins in your pocket, or it’s a checklist at the end of every day or a phone call. I think all those things help lead a more fulfilling life and in a more engaging and more meaningful life.

Beautifully said. Now you have a journal. Is that a gratitude journal? Or is it just a journal for keeping all sorts of ideas and thoughts and on what happened during the day, good and bad?

I love history and studying interesting people. Of course, I grew up in Canada, and being part of the Commonwealth and the Great British Empire, Winston Churchill is much celebrated. I was always fascinated with his life. He kept a very detailed journal, and he would write in it every day, his reflections at the end of the day in his interactions with world leaders. So I have a little gratitude journal that I keep in my daily physical diary for business. And then I’ve added a series, this is the journal that I’m currently writing, and I mix it up with different formats and whatnot. This is a different one, it’s shorter pages, and I don’t tend to write as much. And they’re a combination of kind of my thoughts and engagements with people and scrapbooks. You all put tickets to a hockey game. 

I grew up in Canada, so hockey is one of my religions. It’s not life or death. It’s much more important than that, right? And little photos, my brother John gave me this little pocket printer, and it’s almost like a little miniature Polaroid. And so, we’ll take pictures during the day, and I’ll print them out and stick them in my journal. And I don’t know who will ever read them. I mean, I’m not Winston Churchill, I don’t think my journals will ever be studied, or they’ll build a library around them. And I’m thinking that my kids, at some point, might go back and read them. And so as an incentive, every now and again, I’ll put cash in between the pages, I’ll put a $5 bill or, well, if nothing else, they’re going to treasure hunt and look for the cash. And maybe, as they pull the bell out, they might read something. 

That’s funny. So it would be something that you wrote yesterday to your journal?

Well, my journaling, it’s just a reflection on the day; who did I interact with what was meaningful? Sometimes it’s just as simple as the, and I’ll start with the weather. It was clear and cold. Today, we just got back from California, as I mentioned, and in Rancho Mirage, where we have a little place, it’s near the mountains. It always amazed me that sundown was like at four-forty. All of a sudden, five-thirty was pitch black, and you think, well, wait a minute, we’re in the desert, and so on. And so comments on that, and just time with friends and family, and those relationships and just reflections. I think the most meaningful journals are when you reflect on who am I writing this to? And for me, I’m writing it to my kids. What would be interesting then? What did I learn today? What are some reflections? What did I do? Well, where can I improve? And sometimes it’s just what happened, and I had a great meal with some old friends. And old friends are the best friends. It’s always important to nurture those friendships: so random reflections and whatnot. I’m not sure if anyone will ever read this, but I know it’s just important for me to write it today.

Love, hope, and gratitude: this is the better way to live. Click To Tweet

What if your journal got scanned and digitized and fed into an AI, and then a version of you after you passed away could interact with the loved ones that are still around? Would that be a good thing, or would that be kind of weird and creepy?

Well, I think the important thing that you just described there is that I would be dead and gone. So whatever would happen, I wouldn’t be there to be embarrassed. I think those practices of holding up a mirror are frightening. Who am I really? I mean, I know who I think I am, and I know who I want to be, aspirationally. Who am I? And that would be interesting if my journals came to life, what kind of person would emerge from there. I’ve never really thought about that—hopefully, a relatively happy guy. And yet, we all have our dark times. 

One of the things that I remember from Winston Churchill’s journals is he suffered from depression often. He would talk about the black dog, the black dog was back today, and how he had to beat off the black dog. And I felt like that often, as you go through hard times in relationships, as your son gets older, I guarantee you will have those moments where you just reflect and think, “Oh, my gosh. I could have done this so much better. I should have been so much better.” And I’ve often written in my journal, and the black dog is back today. And what can I do to make sure that that’s not the legacy of today? That the black dog won. It’s that old, Native American tale about that we’re all born with a good wolf and a bad wolf, the white wolf and the black wolf. And the young warrior asked the chief, “Well, which wolf wins?” and the chief said, “Whichever one you feed.”

Mirror Work by Louise Hay

Yeah. So when you’re talking about looking in the mirror, I was reminded of Louise Hay’s Mirror Work, and how she would teach people to look in the mirror and tell the person in the mirror that they’re looking at that, that I love you. Have you ever tried any of those sorts of exercises?

I worked my way through college, paid my tuition and everything, and the way I did it was I sold books door-to-door for three summers. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. You want to learn about persistence and grit, go sell door-to-door. It was the Southwestern book company in Nashville, Tennessee, and we sold bibles door-to-door. And now this is a Canadian kid working in the states down in the Bible Belt, knocking on doors, talking about bibles. And we’d have a ritual in the morning, these positive affirmations. You talk about the mirror exercise, the thing that we used to do and I still do this from time to time is, if you go to the mirror, look into the mirror, see yourself and say, “You handsome devil, don’t you ever die.” My grandfather, David Horton Elton, was a wonderful man and passed that on to my father. He passed it on to his five kids. And he was quite the poet. He would write down different poems and so on. We put a compilation of his poetry together. Originally, we thought that he’d written all of them. This is well before Google. And then we realized that in his travels, he would hear a poem, and he would write it down. So while they’re not all his, they were a compilation. And speaking of mirrors, there was a poem that my father made us all memorize as kids that we attribute to my grandfather, David Horton Elton, called The Man In The Glass. Have you ever heard this poem?

I have not.

Well, it goes like this. 

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself

And see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father, or mother, or wife

Whose judgment upon you must pass

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back from the glass.

He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest

For he’s with you, clear to the end

And you’ve passed your most difficult, dangerous test

If the man in the glass is your friend.

You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years

And get pats on the back as you pass

But your final reward will be heartache and tears

If you’ve cheated the man in the glass. 

Ain’t that beautiful?

That is. Wow. And clearly, you have that memorized by heart. So it’s an important poem to you.

Yes. It’s an important part of our family tradition. That’s self-reflection. My father was a wonderful teacher, and I learned that when I was probably six years old and then remembered it. And he would go through, and he’d teach us what it all meant, walk us through the phrasing, and so on.

We are now in the digital age. There is no more 9 to 5; it has been 24/7. Life is work, and work is life. Click To Tweet

Wow, that’s profound for a small child to get that kind of insight on themselves and human nature, on the meaning of life, to know that you have this inner being that you have to be true to and that that’s your responsibility alone. That’s profound.

Yeah, I’m one of those really lucky guys that grew up in a ridiculously happy household. My dad was our biggest cheerleader, our best friend, and he had a wonderful ability to make you feel great about yourself. It’s the old story about being at a cocktail party, and then this man and his wife were there. This is another one of my father’s stories, by the way, and they’re separated, and they come back together. And the husband says to his wife, “I noticed you were talking to Jack; what did you think?” And she said, “After talking to Jack, I felt like he was the most interesting person in the world.” And he says, “Well, that’s wonderful.” “Sure.” “Talking to Stephan, what did you think of that?” And she said, “You know what, after talking to him, I felt like I was the most interesting person in the world.” Be the latter.

Very cool. So I’m curious. Just to switch gears a little bit. Why the orange? You got the orange shirt on. I have been to your website, and I see lots of orange on the website. And there are some photos with you wearing an orange tie and so forth. I’m curious. What’s with the orange?

Managing With Carrots by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

Well, it evolved early on, Adrian and I wrote a lot of books around corporate recognition. We wrote the Managing With Carrots, The 24-Carrot Manager, The Carrot Principle, A Carrot A Day, The Invisible Employee, how carrots bring out the best in all of us. The carrot became our mascot. And carrots, as you know, are generally orange. We even have a carrot mascot that we give to people as we’d speak. If you answer this question, you win the carrot. And I’ll say it was really funny. So people started sending me orange things, and orange socks became quite a thing. And I’ll never forget, I went to church one Sunday, and I had these bright orange socks, and a friend of mine, and got this, they had seven girls. And the next Sunday, I didn’t wear them, and my friend came to me, he said, “My daughters were disappointed in you today.” And I said, “What do you mean? Like what did I do? Did I say something?” and he goes, “Because you didn’t wear your orange socks.” At that moment, I went, “I’m trapped” in a wonderful way. 

And so yes, I wear orange every day. Whether it’s my shoes, my socks tie, a pocket square, a general shirt. I have like seven of these. People say, “Do you ever wash your shirt?” “Look, I have more than one.” And a good friend of ours, Martin Lindstrom, who’s this marketing genius, said, “You have some breakables.” He was talking about things that you will always be known for. And he talks about breakables, like the Coke bottle, you can smash a coke bottle and pick up a shard, and you know it’s a Coke bottle. And he said, “Chester, for you and Adrian, you have three breakables. One is your name. You’re known as Gostick & Elton. Two is the color orange.” And people would say all the time, “I saw this orange tuxedo, and I immediately thought of you.” And he goes, “The third is a carrot.” So it’s really interesting as we’ve gone through various iterations, we’re rebranding ourselves as Gostick & Elton, orange with a carrot. It’s that simple. So yeah, we like orange. And by the way, I think it’s a very happy color. A very positive color.

The 24-Carrot Manager by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

And it’s memorable. It stands out. It’s remarkable. It’s worthy of remark.

Yes, it’s really funny. I was on a plane a few years ago, and there was this interesting couple sitting next to me, and they were clearly a couple, and I was starting to work, and I’ve got an orange case for my laptop, and I was wearing an orange and tie, and they were kinda looking at me. Like I have orange laces for my dress shoes, and I crossed my legs. And the guy goes, “Okay, we’ve got to ask. What’s with the orange?” “Well, he’s well put together. He’s got an orange pocket square when you crossed your legs, and we saw the orange laces and the orange shoes we go there’s a story here. And we have to know what it is.” It was great.

Yeah. In the pickup artists community, they call it peacocking. It makes it easy for the other sex to come up and approach you and start a conversation with you because you’ve got something that intrigues them and makes them want to ask you about it. That’s cool. And when you’re mentioning Martin Lindstrom, by the way, I remember that I think he has a book by the title of Smashing Your Brand. And he describes that thing of smashing the coke bottle and being able to still tell it’s a Coke bottle just from the shards.

The Ministry of Common Sense by Martin Lindstrom

Yeah, he’s brilliant. He’s got a new book coming out next year. I’ve got it here somewhere. He gave me an advanced copy. He’s gonna kill me because I can’t find it. Here it is. I love this. You should get him on your show. I’m not exactly sure when this comes out. It was supposed to come out this year. I think it will come out early next year. It’s The Ministry of Common Sense

Oh, I like that. Great title. 

Yeah. It’s really good. “How to Eliminate Bureaucratic Red Tape, Bad Excuses, and Corporate Bullsh*t,” and then it’s copied, Martin Lindstrom. Yes. I love Martin, we’ve become good friends. Whenever Martin talks, I listen.

I met him years and years ago, and he wouldn’t remember me, because I was just in the audience. But that was probably in the early 2000s in New Zealand, where I was living at the time.

Yeah. Gosh, time has just flown by. I know you’ve got a lot of commitments at the top of the hour. And so I just want to tell you, thank you so much for reaching out. I know we were trying to get together last week, and I messed up on the calendars. So thank you for being so forgiving. And I enjoyed our time together.

Yes, well, thank you for sharing your light in the world and writing about important topics, and speaking on stages about things that matter and not just how to make more money. That’s awesome.

Well, thank you. I often like to include whatever we’re talking about with a couple of things. One feels free to follow me on LinkedIn, we publish a lot of things for free, and I would love for you to buy our book Leading With Gratitude. I think it’s just got some great tips. But more than anything, though, we’re passionate about creating great places to work, and Leading With Gratitude does that. Where people believe what they do matters, they make a difference. And when they make a difference, you notice it, and you celebrate it. The conclusion to our book is my favorite part where you say, look, it’s a great way to lead. And we’ve got all the data to prove it and the case studies and the tips and the triggers to help you do that. It is a better way to live. 

The people that are grateful for those around them that are grateful for their circumstances, whether they be good or bad, and what they can learn. Those are people you want to surround yourself with that build you up and lift you up. And so I love your work with your podcasts, and so on. You’re bringing so much positivity to people. You listen to your podcast, and you’re uplifted. And I think particularly in a world that seems more and more divided, particularly here in the United States, we need people that will bring people together and celebrate each other in their diversity and their differences rather than pick at those scabs and be divisive. I always say, “Look, surround yourself with people that are loving and hopeful, as opposed to those people that rage, and those people that instill fear.” Love and hope and gratitude, a better way to live.

That’s beautiful. All right. Well, thank you, Chester. And for those who want to buy your book or to book a speaking engagement, keynote for you to do, or hire you for executive coaching, where should we send them to?

TheCultureWorks.com is our training company. And shortly, we’ll be GostickandElton.com. Look us up on LinkedIn and connect with us at TheCultureWorks.com. And our book is available on Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere. Harper Business, our wonderful publisher that published the book, and they’ve made sure that we’ve got a great distribution on Kindle. Adrian and I read the book on Audible. I always joke if you’re having a tough time going to sleep, go to my chapters. My voice is very soothing, and it’ll put you right out.

Awesome. Thank you so much, Chester. And thank you, listeners.

Important Links

Checklist of Actionable Takeaways


?Treat life as a learning experience. Everyone I meet, every moment I experience, whether good or bad, imparts a lesson that helps complete my understanding of what it is to be human.


?Accept that failures will always be part of my journey. Take challenges with a grain of salt and treat them as learning moments, not mistakes.


?When I’m stuck, try looking at the situation from another angle. It’s all about perspective. Understand that life is full of possibilities and opportunities, but they only show up when one is actively seeking them.


?Become a much better listener. Be more present and fully immersed in the moment with everyone I interact with. Say hello in a more sincere way. Ask people how they are and truly listen to what they are saying.


?Appreciate the little things. Focus on what brings me joy and peace. Remain grateful and refrain from taking things for granted.


?Create a better home life. What happens at home affects my happiness. Promote peace and harmony within my house and establish a space of security for my loved ones and myself.


?Keep things simple and lead an uncomplicated life. Don’t clutter my space with things I don’t need. Cut out people in my life who aren’t good for my mental health. Last but not least, watch what I consume: the food, information, and thoughts I let in.


?Make sure to stretch daily. A good stretch first thing in the morning has a lot of health benefits, physically and mentally.


?Do activities that promote mindfulness, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, journaling, reading, and personal reflection through writing.


?Visit Chester Elton’s website to learn more about how to maintain a highly attuned, highly engaged lifestyle.

About Chester Elton

Chester has spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision, and values.

He has been called the “apostle of appreciation” by Canada’s Globe and Mail, “creative and refreshing‚” by the New York Times, and a “must-read for modern managers” by CNN. Elton is co-author of multiple award-winning New York Times & Wall Street Journal bestselling books, All In, The Carrot Principle, and Leading with Gratitude.

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