Grace, Gratitude, and Growth - An End-of-Year Thankfulness Challenge

Thanksgiving is not only a time for being thankful for what we have, it’s also a time that we can reflect on WHY being thankful is so important. That’s why we’re coming to you with a thankfulness challenge this year. 

Our own experience in fencing is centered around being thankful for our community. While we are constantly aware that fencing brings us positive support and helps us become better people, it’s also true that being grateful for all of that brings us closer to our goals. We want you all to become the best possible fencers you can be, and by extension the best possible version of yourselves you can be. 

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we thought it would be a good moment to look at how showing grace and finding gratitude can help us to grow and how we can practically use thankfulness to enrich our lives between now and the end of 2022. 

Broaden-and-build

There’s a fantastic article I recently ran upon on the way that gratitude works from a psychological standpoint. It does more than just make you feel good in the moment, so it lasts a lot longer than just this one day of sitting around a table and telling each other what we’re thankful for. 

Reflecting with gratitude has tangible benefits according to this research. Benefits like coping, “greater appreciation for family and friends,” “valuing each day more,” and more. The authors talk about the concept of broaden-and-build, which feels particularly applicable to fencing. 

Basically, broaden-and-build is the theory that a wide range of positive feelings helps us to grow more effectively. The more you are able to reach outside of yourself and embrace the things that are good in your life, specifically by naming them and reflecting on them, the easier it is for you to build your life higher towards your goals. You actually feel bigger and more confident when you’re leaning into positive emotions.

It’s almost easier to understand this from the flip side. Negative emotions are constricting, making us smaller and making it harder for us to grow. Think about those days that you feel overwhelmed and don’t want to get up off the couch to go practice or that you just want to sit out of class and watch the other fencers. 

Simply thinking about what we’re thankful for has a really positive impact on how open we are to new things and to learning. This is exactly what we need in fencing, and really in all things in life. Feeling good emotionally is important! It’s not just important for ourselves, but it’s also important for others. When you show gratitude, it also has the effect of making the person you’re connecting with feel appreciated and more positive. This has the same broaden-and-build effect on them. 

What’s beautiful here is the way this all plays together. For family, for fencing, for school – everywhere. When we are privately thankful or publicly thankful, it builds our communities in positive ways. If you are thankful, it lifts everyone around you up as well as lifting yourself up.

Gratitude and success are a circle

Basically, gratitude and success work in a circle. When you work hard and have support, then find success, when you stand up on that mountain (or podium) and look back down with gratitude at everything that helped you get there, it amplifies the happy feeling from the success. This then helps to propel you to even further success because you have the store of positivity to draw on. Think of it as a launching point from which you leap further forward.

We talk a lot about goal setting in fencing, how important it is and how much it supports growth in fencing. When we fold gratitude into that goal setting process, it amplifies the ability to both envision goals and also to reach them. 

Practicing gratitude brings us increased enthusiasm for the things that we do, along with optimism, excitement, energy, and overall satisfaction. Gratitude makes us happy! That in and of itself is incredibly important.

Gratitude > Resilience > Community > Goals > Success > Gratitude

This is the beautiful circle that gratitude offers us. It lays the foundation for us to be resilient in challenging times, especially when those goals don’t necessarily come out the way that we want them to. In times of loss, gratitude is even more important because it builds that broad foundation that we need to be resilient in the face of struggle. 

Perhaps you didn’t win the spot on the podium, but you did get the chance to compete. When you feel grateful for the competition itself, it builds you up to feel strong for the next competition. If you go the other way and allow yourself to fall into negativity, then it only makes you smaller and less resilient. Reaching those goals will be all the more challenging if you’re fighting negative feelings of entitlement or frustration. Intentionally seeking out ways to be grateful pulls you onto that cycle of success!

The thankfulness challenge

How can you harness that, though? It starts by looking back with gratitude consistently, whenever you can. Thanksgiving is a good place to start, and so is the whole holiday season. We spend this time of year thinking about the good things in our life anyway, so why not use it as a jumping off point?

This is where our challenge comes in. Whenever you read this blog, from now until the end of 2022, we challenge you to find something to be grateful for in your fencing until New Year’s Day (or 45 days from when you read this blog). Don’t just think about it, but write it down somewhere every day. It could be a note in an app on your phone, or it could be something you write down in a notebook or journal. This doesn’t have to be much in terms of writing, just a word or a few is plenty. 

  • My coach who continues to support me
  • Fencing teammates – great sparring partners
  • Parents who drive me to practice
  • Myself, for the stamina to continue to go

Notice that these are small things. You can repeat things that you are grateful for. For example, you might have a great relationship with your coach and are thankful for them more than once. That’s fine! Remember, it doesn’t matter so much what you are creating some new way to be thankful each time – it just matters that you are expressing it!

Telling someone makes a difference. Think about that way that you feel when you sit around the Thanksgiving table and say what you are thankful for, the warm and comforting feeling. The same is true when you say it even yourself. That broad base of gratitude that you are building pushes you towards your own success in an organic way. 

Gratitude is important, not just because it’s nice to thank those important people in our lives, but also because it helps us to grow! This is true in life, but it’s also true in sports and in fencing. In the next six weeks, we hope you will be encouraged to ground yourself in the power of positive thinking through gratitude. 

To start off with, let us say that we are thankful for you, our readers!