How Dr. Aaliya Yaqub Uses Gratitude to Deepen Connections

Thrive's Chief Medical Officer on creating community at work.

At Thrive, we really do practice what we preach and personally, I’m a Microstep lover. One Microstep I use is putting my phone in a different room, which I do every night. I’ve actually been doing this for years so I don’t have notifications or screens bugging me while I’m sleeping. The other part of this is that I actually try not to carry my phone with me everywhere that I go. So I’ll have points throughout the day when I don’t have my phone next to me. On the weekends specifically I do not like to keep my phone next to me and I try not to consume a lot of social media. Our phones can make time fly by very quickly, so if I’m trying to slow down and be in the moment, there’s really no space for my phone.

Another Microstep I love is to get outside for five minutes in between meetings or whenever I need that mental break. Sitting in front of a screen all day can get really tiresome, so going for a quick little walk or doing some deep breathing is really helpful. Research tells us that taking short breaks throughout the day can actually make us more productive, and it also keeps us from being so sedentary during the day. In particular, going outside or deep breathing are great ways to recharge because you’re not simply switching from one screen to another.

I started my phone Microstep pre-pandemic, as I mentioned I’ve been consciously unplugging for years, but walking in the middle of the day definitely started during the pandemic. Once we became these computer-dependent creatures that work from home, I started feeling like I needed to build breaks into my day. The boundaries between work and home life become blurred, so you have to find downtime when you can so that you can show up as your best self in all aspects of your life. So far it’s been a really healthy and happy addition to my day.

As a relatively new addition to the Thrive team, I’ve been so struck by the company culture. I feel more connected to the Thrive team than I’ve felt to anybody in any workplace that I’ve been part of. Of course I’ve had really great relationships with my old colleagues and people that I’ve worked with previously, but there’s something really different about what we practice at Thrive. Bringing your whole self to work is a really incredible concept that is not practiced everywhere all the time. Being able to do a group meditation or share a Reset in our weekly meetings is really impactful, and it builds a sense of community that we can all participate in.

While I’m on the topic of connection, something I’ve been doing for years to better connect with people is trying to express gratitude or offer a compliment. I try to make it a really genuine compliment when I notice that someone did something special or acted in a certain way or went above and beyond. I try to connect with them and offer my gratitude because it’s so impactful for that person. I’ve been on the receiving end of that type of really amazing gratitude and it just fills you up. It boosts you, and if you’re having a bad day or you’re stressed about something, it really puts a smile on your face. I think it’s a very meaningful way to deepen connections with the people that you work with, or with anyone in your life.

One of the reasons that I joined Thrive is their mission to end the burnout epidemic. As a healthcare professional I’ve definitely gone through burnout before, and it’s essential that anyone going through this stress has the proper tools and habits to get through it. I think one of the things that helps is to figure out what your limits are and what your boundaries are. Then actually stick to them. Also know that having boundaries is actually a good thing and not a bad thing. I really love our suggested Microstep of declaring an end to your day. I’ve been actively trying to set that boundary recently, because if I don’t I’ll go from working to feeding my kids dinner to working again. I’ll also constantly check my email until the moment I go to sleep, and it really isn’t the best way to do things.

Fully feeling moments of joy and wonder is also a great tactic for reducing stress. I have so many joy triggers in my life: having my kids, looking at pictures of them, smelling flowers, the fall leaves. Natural beauty outside brings me so much happiness, I love it. I also really enjoy listening to music. An album I’m listening to right now is Taylor Swift’s Red, which I love. I really enjoy things that appeal to my senses, whether that’s smell or sight or sound or taste — like having a little piece of chocolate — those are joy triggers for me.

Although I often lead Thrive’s webinars and discussions myself, I find that just as often as I teach our curriculum, I also learn from it. My biggest takeaway from Thriving Mind and our other Thrive programs is reframing negative thoughts. Understanding that we as humans have this default mode where our brain sometimes goes into negative thinking when we’re reflecting, that negative thinking can be very cyclical, that it can spiral and take us into a place where we question our talents and the good things about ourselves has all been very resonant for me. Finding yourself when you’re in that moment, to stop that thought process and reframe, is really helpful.

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