Dr. Christine E. Kiesinger of CEK Communication: “Gratitude and Mindset”

Gratitude and Mindset. Remember: the mind cannot hold thoughts of panic, suffering, anger, fear, frustration, negativity, and gratitude at the same time! If you remember anything, remember this! If you doubt me, try to be angry and grateful at the same time. That said, practicing moments of gratitude at least 3–5 times per day can […]

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Gratitude and Mindset. Remember: the mind cannot hold thoughts of panic, suffering, anger, fear, frustration, negativity, and gratitude at the same time! If you remember anything, remember this! If you doubt me, try to be angry and grateful at the same time. That said, practicing moments of gratitude at least 3–5 times per day can have a powerful impact on your mindset over time.


As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”. What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?

One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Christine E. Kiesinger.

Dr. Kiesinger is founder of CEK Communication and regularly creates and facilitates professional development courses in the areas of leadership, communication, team dynamics, workplace cultures that thrive, relational health, conflict resolution, stress, and mindfulness. Christine is a published author, retreat leader, guest blogger, interviewer, and life coach. She most recently co-authored the book, “Narrating Midlife: Crisis, Transition, Transformation.” Her current labor of love is a new book project that highlights emotional and relational vitality.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?

I spent the majority of my career in academia as a university professor in the area of Communication Studies. I derived much fulfillment from my time in the classroom and in academic scholarship. However, over the course of the last ten years or so, I began creating corporate trainings in the areas of leadership, emotional intelligence, and conscious communication. I noticed that this content was highly embraced by leaders and executive teams who wanted to lead and manage in exemplary ways. I left academia to focus more exclusively on sharing my work within corporate environments where communication and relationship training is deeply needed.

Concurrent to my work in academia, I have been a yoga, mindfulness meditation, and wellness educator. These practices have a made a big difference in my life and I love guiding people toward more peaceful lives. That said, I have been able to root much of my corporate work in mindfulness which grants me opportunities to create trainings that are quite innovative. It’s been incredibly fulfilling for me to combine my academic expertise with my expertise in the area of integrative well-being. I am grateful to do work that is firmly rooted in ideas and practices about which I am passionate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are so many interesting stories to share and I am blessed to “live out” incredible storylines in this lifetime. Here is a favorite:

After leaving academia and devoting myself fully to creating and facilitating corporate trainings, I was asked to develop a program in social and emotional intelligence for a school district. This training was offered to students grades 6–12. I found the sixth graders magical, insightful, and in the end — some of my greatest teachers.

I will never forget the moment when, at the end of one of our sessions, I asked the kids to name something that they were going to take with them from the training and into their lives. One student, who was somewhat shy and quiet, raised his hand. In response to my question he said the following about the “emotional intelligence iceberg” model that I shared with them:

“When you taught us about the iceberg, you told us that what most people see is just the tip of the iceberg and that what really matters is all that is underneath. I started thinking that when people see me — they see my grades. They see my achievements and awards. They don’t really see what is underneath.

What I am going to remember about today’s session is that I am more than my grades and awards. And when I look at other people, I am going to remember that they are much more than what I see.”

This — from the mouth of a young sixth grader! Although I had many more lessons to offer these students — I felt that if I never returned, they would have learned all they really needed to know.

We are all more than what we “see.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Since our focus here is on the power of gratitude, I will share a favorite quote related to the grace of gratitude. There are conflicting thoughts about who created this quote but the sentiment is powerful. The quote reads: “If there is only one prayer you could say in your entire life, make it thank you.”

I will share later how this quote can be used as a powerful tool, but for now I wish to convey that when we consider “thank you,” a form of prayer — we connect to the sacredness of gratitude. We tend to pray “for” all sorts of things, but rarely utter the words “thank you” as our prayer. This quote will mean different things for different people, but I am glad that I encountered it. It has expanded my own prayer practice.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?

I have been thinking a great deal about gratitude and the way that it can serve as a “relational balm” of sorts — especially in relationships with those who mean the most to us.

The pandemic created a situation for many that included having to be in the same home space with others 24/7. In the lives of families and for those in marriages and long-term committed relationships — it is rather unprecedented that we would ever spend this sort of time with each other. This has been both a blessing and a phase of great relational strain and challenge for many.

A few years ago I read a book called: “The Art of Communication,” written by Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. This little gem is well worth the read for many reasons — one of which is the introduction to what he calls “the 4 mantras.”

The 4 mantras are gentle guidelines that teach us how to treat one another with a sense of sacredness and reverence. Reading about them almost always makes me cry. I have been thinking that if we all interacted with each other while rooted in the 4 mantras, we would naturally feel acutely aware of how grateful we are to have these special relationships as part of our lives.

When I am authentically grateful for those I love, I am far less apt to be reactive when feeling frustrated, angry, or disappointed. I am far less apt to shut down or go into fight mode during conflict. There can be a softness in my demeanor in relationship to those I love — even during the most challenging situations. This book has always mattered to me but in many ways, it has never mattered more than it does now.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

One of the most exciting projects within which I am currently engaged is in the area of trauma and trauma sensitive care. I have been offering trainings to frontline caregivers that help them to understand the ways that chronic stress becomes toxic. Once stress becomes toxic, it begins to impact the brain and the body much in the same way that trauma does. For example, frontline physicians and nurses who have been providing care during the pandemic are likely challenged by chronic stress. It helps when professional caregivers can name what they are feeling and have tools and practices to move them out of stress response and to restore them back to a sense of their own resiliency.

This has been incredibly meaningful for work for me. In a sense, I am actively “nurturing the nurturers” and I am grateful to have this opportunity. I can think of no greater time in my personal history to be sharing what I know.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been many angels in my midst. When I reflect back, I am the least likely person to have achieved a PhD. As a first generation college student, the realm of academia was foreign terrain. My entry into university life was through a local community college. During my first term, I took a Public Speaking course which was required of all students. As a shy, introverted young woman, the subject of communication both intrigued and terrified me.

My first speech was an Informative Speech on the value of proper skin care. Just 30-seconds into the introduction, I had a panic attack and began to hyperventilate. The professor, SuJanet Mason, calmly suggested that I go take a short walk and come back and try again. I did just that. However, my anxiety level was so high that I had no awareness of my performance.

During the next class, Professor Mason asked me to stay after class. She handed me my speech critique, and then invited me to be on the college’s Forensics Team — a very active competitive speaking team. I had never heard of competitive speech but it sounded interesting and the team traveled extensively, so I knew that this was an opportunity for me to see the county. I said “yes,” and that “yes” set me on a path that led me to where I am now.

To date, I never had the courage to ask Professor Mason why she invited me onto the team. I don’t know if she felt sorry for me or if she saw something in me that I did not see in myself. I prefer to think it is the latter, because I soared in the realm of competitive speaking.

This single conversation and invitation paired with my “yes,” altered the trajectory of my life. I went on to get an MA and a PhD in Communication Studies and have enjoyed a long career working to help others become better public and interpersonal communicators. Just imagine if she had not had this conversation with me? Just imagine if I had said “no.”

Professor Mason’s role in my life story is one that I cherish. This story is a reminder of the power of a single conversation and the transformation that can ensue.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean?

Most of us have a sense of what gratitude is. We tend to feel it, express it, and dive into its healing and nourishing qualities on holidays, or during milestone moments such as a birthday, an anniversary, or when a goal is accomplished, or even when memorializing a loved one at end of life. As such, gratitude tends to be reserved for special occasions that move and inspire us. However, when we expand our notion of gratitude — it becomes potentially life-changing.

For me, gratitude is not just a sentiment or something we “do” or express. Gratitude can be a state — a way of being in the world. The more we can “be” in gratitude — the healthier we are. The more we can be living, breathing, walking, talking expressions of gratitude — the better we serve others.

Gratitude has this sort of sacred, transformational power.

I am rather serious about the importance of gratitude in relationship to our well-being. As such, I feel and believe the following:

Gratitude is an act, a state, a way of being.

Gratitude requires self-awareness and practice.
Gratitude calls us to slow down and to notice what is “here and now.”

Gratitude changes the brain — absolutely.
Gratitude makes me a better person.

Thus, when I am “being” a state of gratitude — everyone around me benefits.

Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?

I think that many of us feel gratitude, but as I mentioned earlier — usually on special occasions or during a big life moment when we are moved or inspired by something or someone that causes us to take a great pause. During such moments, the sensation of gratitude can be akin to a “rush of goodness.”

But gratitude does not have be elusive. With practice — we can have regular access to the healing and nourishing benefits of gratitude.

But this requires practice…yes, I did say that — practice.

I will speak to the practice of gratitude in a moment, but I do want to suggest to readers that before we begin consistently practicing gratitude, it is important for us to create the time to do so. I think the main reason that many of us don’t feel gratitude is because we are living our lives at such a fast speed that we very often miss those moments that might evoke the sensations, feelings, and thoughts that we might define as gratitude.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?

Here is something to experiment with: take a moment and close your eyes. Bring to mind someone or something about which you are truly grateful. Really fill the space of your mind with and image of that person or thing. See it in great detail. Stay with this image until you begin to “feel” the gratitude, the happiness, the joy.

Now — try to feel stress. Negativity. Gloom. Doom. Foreboding.

It is likely that making this shift into the negative will be a big stretch. In fact, it is almost impossible for the brain to be in a state of gratitude and a state of stress at the same time. This alone is one of the most remarkable findings about gratitude. This is a very natural, easy, and effective way to fast-track out of a sense of negativity, high stress, overwhelm or catastrophic thinking. This is just one way that gratitude can really benefit and enhance our lives. If you want to lower your stress level — put yourself in a state of gratitude as often as possible.

Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?

There are three ways that gratitude can improve our mental and emotional wellness.

First, as indicated above, we can move out of an anxious, stressful state of mind by pausing and evoking the feelings associated with gratitude. This can be invaluable to those who struggle with panic, overwhelm, and a mind that seems to be more oriented toward catastrophic thinking.

Second, gratitude, by its very nature is uplifting. The biochemical changes that occur in the mind and the body when we feel grateful can be a natural antidote to feeling blue. For example, I often recommend keeping a gratitude journal to those who struggle with mild and moderate depression. It may sound trite, but taking just a few minutes at the start of each day to jot down 3–5 things about which you are grateful can set a more uplifting tone for you day. Doing the same activity before bed can help ease us into sleep from a mindset that is peaceful, hopeful, and “glad.”

Finally, regular gratitude practices can slowly begin to soften the tone of inner self-talk that might be overly critical, judgmental, and even bullying. If you have a rather loud “inner critic” that often sabotages your efforts, dampens your spirit, and erodes your confidence — try gratitude as a way of softening that harsh inner voice. A quick practice that is quite effective is to quickly counter self-criticism with a rapid “comeback” that is rooted in gratitude. For example instead of:

“I can’t believe that you likely blew it again with your boss by handing in that report five minutes before closing!”

Try this:

“I am really grateful that I made the deadline.”

Or, instead of:

“Who are you to think you can wear a dress like that in your fifties?”

Try:

“I am so grateful that I can wear this dress in my fifties and attend my daughter’s graduation feeling joyous.”

You get the picture. Use your own language and phrase your comeback in a way that feels natural for you. The most important thing is to catch a moment of critical self-talk and counter it immediately with: “I am so grateful that…” This technique works like a charm!

Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Gratitude and Mindset. Remember: the mind cannot hold thoughts of panic, suffering, anger, fear, frustration, negativity, and gratitude at the same time! If you remember anything, remember this! If you doubt me, try to be angry and grateful at the same time. That said, practicing moments of gratitude at least 3–5 times per day can have a powerful impact on your mindset over time.
  2. Fast-track to a Better Mindset with Gratitude. Remember: the brain finds great comfort, rest, and pleasure when in a state of gratitude. Cultivating gratitude is a way we can fast track our way out of stress response. As suggested earlier, the next time you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or about to lose it — take a pause. Bring to mind just 3 things about which you are grateful. These need not be “grand” things. Keep it simple. Use your own body, breath, and environment as natural resources. For example:

“I am grateful for all the places my feet have taken me and all the places we are going!”

“I am grateful for the release that this single exhale is granting me!”

“I am grateful for the warmth of this cup of tea that I am holding in my hands.”

What is great about this practice is that it can be used anywhere and at any time. It takes just a few seconds. With practice, you will begin to see how quickly you can shift yourself out of a stressed state and into a calmer state of mind.

3. Relational Gratitude for Challenging Times: Remember to leverage the power of gratitude during challenging relationship situations. Here is a quick tool: when you are having a moment of anger, frustration or even anxiety related to another person, take a pause. Bring to mind something about this person that you find endearing and admirable. Think about this one quality and say to yourself:

“I may be raging angry at him but I am so grateful that I know that I know, first hand, how truly generous he is.”

I recall going through some difficult and scary moments while divorcing. This is when I came up with and began using this tool. Each time I would hold or harbor angry or anxious thoughts about my husband, I would take that pause and reflect on something about him that I felt grateful to have experienced. This practice never failed to shift me out of a highly triggered state. This is a potent practice.

4. Gratitude and Manifestation. This may be my favorite gratitude practice. When you practice gratitude this way, you begin to set intentions in motion. In other words, you can leverage the power of gratitude to manifest what you want. Here is how I use this practice:

I have a special journal specifically for this practice. At the start of each day, I write the following and I fill in the blank:

“I am so grateful now that __________________.”

It can be something such as:

“I am so grateful now that I received an unexpected call to lead a training later this month.”

Or, “I am so grateful now that this check has arrived.”

Or, “I am so grateful now that I have not only met this writing deadline, but that my article is going to be published.”

I complete 3 sentences in this way. You can choose very simple, practical and immediate goals that you wish to manifest, or you can make them broader and more far reaching. Perhaps you hope to meet someone new and embark upon an incredible relationship journey. The goal is to be as specific as you can, to trust the process, and most of all — to give thanks in advance for what you are wishing for.

This practice is powerful, especially when we approach it from a place of light heartedness, hope, and with the belief that when our intentions are authentic, the universe will step forward and conspire on our behalf. “Thanking” those unseen forces that rush to our aid when we express our thanks in advance is akin to saying to the Universe: “Hey…this is what I want or hope to accomplish and I trust you to aid in this matter if it is for my highest good.”

I look back at my journal at the end of each week and month, and I am always astounded by what has come to be as a result of this practice.

5. Speak the “Thank You” Prayer. As shared earlier, if there is only one prayer you could utter each day or in this lifetime, let it be “thank you.” If you want to start your day from a place of hope, optimism, and positive thoughts, set your alarm five minutes earlier than usual. When the alarm sounds, let your first words be “Thank you.” Don’t set your feet on the floor until you feel flooded by the energies of gratitude. Focus on what you are grateful for upon waking. Perhaps it is the softness of the blanket you are wrapped up in, or the way that the light streams in through your window at dawn. Perhaps you are thankful for the new day that is about to unfold before you. Don’t complicate it. Keep it simple.

When we begin our day with the words, “thank you,” these words become a living prayer of sorts. They help us to ease into our day from a state of graciousness and with a deep reverence for the preciousness of our lives. We are never promised a new day. As such, meet each new day drenched in gratitude.

Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?

A beautiful practice for when you are feeling down, vulnerable, or sensitive is to bestow gratitude upon others. I find that when I am in a blue or sensitive state, turning my awareness and my efforts outward really helps.

One practice that I love is reaching out to someone who would least expect to hear from me and share words of appreciation, applause, and gratitude. I have a stack of beautiful postcards on my coffee table. When I am feeling down, I will often choose someone in my life at random, and write them a quick note of gratitude. In these notes, I am very specific about what this person means to me and how grateful I am that they are in my life. I put a stamp on the card and make sure it gets into the mail. Do you realize the joy that you create when you acknowledge someone in this simple, yet powerful way?

Another version is to send someone a quick text that conveys appreciation and gratitude for who they are and how important they are to you. Also, a quick call that is fueled by the intention to share your appreciation for someone you love is equally effective. These practices are gratitude in action.

Impact:

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?

I strongly recommend the work of Dr. Rick Hanson. His notion of “taking in the good,” is grounded in powerful neuroscience that supports just how good gratitude is for us and for those around us. As human beings, we are hardwired for the negative as it is part of our survival system. When we intentionally seek to “take in the good,” we evoke a host of neurological and biochemical changes in the brain and the body that are the by-product of being grateful. Dr. Hanson’s work is powerful and important.

You can learn about Dr. Hanson’s work at: https://www.rickhanson.net/

Additionally, Dr. Hanson co-hosts a podcast called, “Being Well,” with his son, Forrest Hanson. The podcast is excellent and aims to foster well-being.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see everyone across the globe participate in what I call the “Just 3 Things Daily Practice.” In this practice, we call to mind, just three things or people for whom we are grateful. Ideally, I’d recommend doing this three times per day, but even once per day would be impactful. If we could get the entire globe basking in the energies of gratitude — everyone would benefit.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Social media is the best place to follow my work — especially events, workshops, and simple teachings that I aim to provide each day.

https://www.facebook.com/christine.kiesinger

Instagram: @dr_kiesinger

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-kiesinger-ph-d-4034664/

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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