Ep 030

How Handwriting 1,825 Thank You Cards in a Year Changed Me


John Israel

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Inside This Episode

Today, I’m talking with John Israel, the founder and Chief Gratitude Officer of Mr. Thank You.

After building a successful sales career, John realized he was struggling to appreciate his life. In an attempt to reconnect with gratitude, he decided to write 5 thank you cards a day for 365 days, and that decision completely transformed his life. What started as an experiment, turned into a coaching business that teaches high-performers how to tap into appreciative leadership.

In this episode, you’ll learn all about the power of gratitude and how to use it to create a culture of connection with your clients and team, strengthen retention, reduce burnout, and achieve extraordinary opportunities in both your business and life.

3 of the biggest insights from John Israel

  • #1 How to use the Values-Outcomes-Weaknesses Framework to understand people at a deeper level so you can serve them better.

  • #2 The difference between active gratitude and passive gratitude — and how active gratitude makes people more likely to engage positively with you.

  • #3 The 3 reasons high-impact performers quit — and how implementing a  gratitude practice can help retain top talent.


  • 00:00 How John discovered life-changing gratitude
  • 09:31 Ways to train your brain to seek gratitude
  • 16:58 The 3 questions that help you connect with anyone
  • 22:00 The gratitude paradox
  • 31:31 The science behind effective gratitude
  • 43:13 How the “Magic Ratio” strengthens relationships
  • 53:04 The cheapest way to touch your target market
  • 1:00:15 Showing gratitude with actions – not just words
  • 1:10:08 The benefits of involving family with your work







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  • If every day you were forced to find five different people doing something right, your automatic filter changes to look for something good.” – John Israel

  • We are always our biggest critics. We’re always beating ourselves up about what we’re not doing right. So, when somebody shows up, and they see the goodness inside of us and they reflect that publicly to us, it’s almost hard to be with but it means so much.” – John Israel 

  • “We all have the capacity to experience deep levels of gratitude, but we haven’t made it a practice in our life to connect with it.” – John Israel 

  • “What is often the case is that people who have the most are the least grateful and the people who have the least are the most grateful. That’s the gratitude paradox.” – John Israel 

  • “What humans really want is to be seen, and to be seen not just for their weakness, but for their greatness.” – John Israel 

  • “When you do the research on why high performers quit, number one reason is overwhelm, number two is lack of acknowledgment and number three is poor workplace culture.” – John Israel 

  • “You can’t talk about gratitude without also simultaneously talking about generosity because generosity is when you give something freely without expecting anything in return.” – John Israel

Brad Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of Do Business Do Life. I have my friend, John Israel, here with us today. Welcome to the show, John.

John Israel: Brad, thanks for having me, man.

Brad Johnson: We’re long overdue for a catch-up. We were just chatting here before we hit the record button, and you’ve had quite the journey since our last episode, which was, man, a number of years ago now. But those that didn’t catch it, I thought it might be helpful just to kind of catch them up on who John Israel: is and kind of our journey and how we went from two random guys that showed up at a dads retreat out in Philly. Our mutual friend, Jon Vroman, that runs Front Row Dads, obviously, that’s how we first connected. And you were at the time part of the Cutco mafia, another Jon in the Cutco mafia. And we connected out there and then actually I didn’t know it at the time, you actually started a little project that became a book, the Mr. Thank You Project. Was that the first thank you that you wrote at that pub in Philly? Was that the first week or…? I don’t remember the context but I remember reading the book and I was like, “I was actually there when this all started to unfold.”

John Israel: Yeah. The first day we met, that was actually day three of the project. So, yeah, that was in Philadelphia. We found that hole in the wall, bar, pub. Some people were watching the World Series. Some of us were just having drinks and getting to know each other but, yeah, that was day three, man.

Brad Johnson: Wow. Well, for those that aren’t familiar with the book, aren’t familiar with your work around gratitude, can you give just a high-level overview of that journey, that year-long journey, and then how it became a book and maybe some of the biggest lessons or takeaways from that?

John Israel: Sure. Yeah. Well, so everything started because I was an overworked, overwhelmed, highly successful businessperson who was so unhappy I was ready to walk away from all of it, you know, everything I had spent my entire career building. So, I had a very long career with Cutco at the time. So, I was one of the top reps in the country. And it didn’t matter how much I was making or what I had achieved or what awards I had won, I was just still deeply unhappy. It was weird, Brad. I mean, I don’t know if you or any of your listeners have experienced this, but there’s a moment when you’re on your pathway to achievement that you realize that achievement isn’t what’s going to actually make you happy. And so, I was really wrestling with that. And there was this crazy moment where I remember coming home from a day of work and I was just beat up and broken down and I walked in and we had just had our first child. So, I remember the visual. My wife is sitting on our couch nursing our infant son in one arm and then handwriting thank you cards in the other hand to the people who had supported her during her pregnancy. And so, she was doing a gratitude project, Brad, which there was no rhyme or reason to it. She was just, you know, “Hey, I’m just going to write thank you cards to everybody that I know that has been supporting me throughout my pregnancy,” and extended past to her friends and family.

And what was crazy, Brad, was if you’ve been around a woman who just gave a baby, you know how stressful that is, right? And all the hormones and all the things that come along with that. But, Brad, she was literally the most joyful and peaceful and kind that I had ever known her in our relationship. And the only thing I could notice was that she was doing this gratitude project. And I just remember this moment looking at her on the couch, nursing her son, really doing what God put her on this earth to do, which at that moment was to be a mom. And she was so peaceful and happy with it. And I thought, “Why can’t I have that? You know, why can’t I just have that peace, that relaxation?” I’m hustling all day, every day. And it was in that moment that I realized I had a problem and I didn’t have a name for it at the time. I do now, but it’s called Perpetual Discontentment, which is the never-ending feeling that what is isn’t enough. And so, I had a business coach that I was working with at the time, and I shared with us this with him because he was very good at helping me get folks in my business and getting results. And I just said, “But, man, I don’t understand. I can’t feel gratitude. It’s just not there.”

So, we just theorized this project of what might it look like for me to do something similar with what my wife was doing. And we came up with this idea that became eventually known as the Mr. Thank You Project. And to summarize it, it was a year-long commitment where I committed to handwrite five thank you cards every day for 365 days in a row. Every card had to be handwritten. Every day, reset at zero. I could write a max of three cards for any one person, so I couldn’t repeat them over and over. And the final rule was I would donate $1,000 to charity for any and every day that I missed writing my five cards. And the underlying theme of the entire project was to explore my capacity to experience and express gratitude. Because it wasn’t easy for me. I am not a naturally grateful person, which is wild that now I have a company called Mr. Thank You but I think that Mr. Thank You really kind of became this identity that I had to learn how to tap into. Like, we all have the capacity to experience deep levels of gratitude, but we haven’t made it a practice in our life to connect with it. It’s a muscle. Gratitude is a muscle. Most of us don’t think of it that way.

So, for me, I didn’t know it was going to happen, but the intention was to explore my capacity to experience and express gratitude. And what that meant was doing things in an unreasonable way, like appreciating people that might be really uncomfortable appreciating, which is kind of where we first got connected, as well as looking at, “Hey, what are areas and times of my life that I don’t want to be grateful, you know, challenging situations, struggles, breakdowns? How can I find a way to bring gratitude to those situations?” That’s where so many things happened during this year-long project. I mean, it completely changed my life. I just started sharing what was happening with friends, right, masterminds like the Front Row Dads and other entrepreneur groups I was in. And it was crazy to see. This is what was wild, Brad. How much it deeply impacted people to simply hear about a guy who is going to intentionally express gratitude every day for a year and someone told it to an editor for a really large women’s blog called POPSUGAR. They heard about it. They’re like, “Hey, we’d love to interview you.” I’m like, “I’m not even done with the project yet. I got to keep going.” And like, “No, we want to do this for like a January 1st, like, hey, start the year with gratitude type of thing.” I was like, “All right.”

So, we do that interview. That turns into massive publicity. Suddenly I’m on ABC News, Fox News, Good Morning America. And, Brad, doesn’t that seem crazy? Since when did being a grateful human being become national news? And so, what I really saw was there was something inside of this that people were connecting with. So, so many stories and experiences happen, which I know you know many of them, I had to capture them. So, I wrote a book to kind of hold all those stories. And then that turned into an offering to give a TED Talk, which I got to give in 2018. And now, all of our clients that we used to have in our gifting business, they became curious. They’re like, “Hey, man, you’re crushing it right now. And everybody is really just grateful to have you in their business. What are you doing?” And so, we built this new keynote called Gratitude as a Competitive Advantage, and I started getting paid to speak to clients that we used to pay to get in front of. And it just exploded our gifting business and I built this new speaking career and then it kind of took on a life of its own, you know? And so, I’m super grateful for the journey. In a lot of ways, it was by accident. It wasn’t like the goal but I think sometimes the best things are done like that, right? They just happen naturally through evolution.

Brad Johnson: It’s really cool because I saw a lot of that played out from afar and it’s funny. When I first met you, you were three days into this project, unknowing to me at the time.

John Israel: Three days?

Brad Johnson: Yeah. You struck me as a really like this was just for context. We were two of, like, probably 40, 50 guys there at that first Front Row Dad’s experience. And I remember like, well, this John Israel: guy, he’s just a nice guy. And like you really did strike me as a grateful person. So, it’s interesting that you were working on, maybe it was already working after three days, I don’t know. But tell the story. There were a few stories out of the book, and I don’t want to rehash our last interview because I know some of our listeners will have heard it, which, by the way, apparently gratitude is kind of a viral thing because your episode in my prior show, The Elite Advisor Blueprint, was one of my most downloaded shows in the history of the show. So, apparently, gratitude struck a chord. But I remember a couple of stories. I remember the story of the waitress that night in Philly with the handwritten thank you. So, I’d love for you to share that because I think that’s a really cool lesson. And then the other one that sticks out is when you’re on the flight. I think you wrote a thank you to the pilot or something like that. So, maybe we hit like a couple of the cool thank you stories and what came out of them, and then we’ll let the conversation go where it goes.

John Israel: Yeah. I mean, so I appreciate you saying that I seem like a generally happy and grateful guy because that is not my operating system, right? My operating system is skepticism, pessimism. I’m looking for the problems. That’s actually a very common default mechanism for most humans. It’s called the negative bias. It’s a psychological term. Everybody has it. That’s why the news media floods you with the worst thing that happened on planet Earth today or yesterday, or that might happen tomorrow because they know you’re going to pay attention to it because we are perennially…

Brad Johnson: Tapping into that survival mechanism up here.

John Israel: Yeah. We all want to be conscious of threats in our lives. So, what that means is we’re vigilant to look for it. You know, in that particular day, kind of it’s some fun background to it, when I showed up to the airport that day, first of all, my flight was delayed, which is not an exciting experience, especially when you have a second connection flight to get across the country. So, those two flights from a trip and the first one was going to be late and I’m like starting to freak out, right? That anxiety is starting to build. And there was this experience of the project where it was this forced function to get me to look for people doing something right for me to acknowledge publicly with a handwritten thank you card, which by itself, Brad, is life-changing. Because just think of it, if every day you were forced to find five different people doing something right, your automatic filter changes to look for something good, which has so many health benefits, psychological benefits. And so, as I’m pissed, worried that I’m going to miss my connection flight, I’m sitting here at this airport and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I got this gratitude project I committed to for a year. It’s day three. It’s not starting out well.”

And so, the word appreciate is really interesting. The word appreciate comes from the Latin word “appretiare” which literally translates to “to appraise” or “to set the value of a thing.” So, when we are looking for people to appreciate, it becomes this interesting question of where is the value? Where is the good? Who’s doing something good right now? And in that moment, I actually see our pilots sitting at a Chick-fil-A like having lunch because our flight was delayed until I’m like, “All right. Well, hey, what if I thank the pilots on my plane? You know, I fly all the time and I always do a little prayer for safe travel when we take off.” And I thought, “Man, I’ve never thanked the pilots on my plane. Let’s do that today.” But then there’s this problem, Brad. And this problem is and this is where the project really took an interesting turn, which is, I don’t know these people. We’ve never met. How do you thank somebody you don’t even know, you’ve never spent any time with? And the nature of that understanding of appreciation, which is to pull out the value from, ask the question, “Where is the value?” It causes us to be curious. And since I didn’t know these people, I thought, “Well, I’ve got to get to know them.” So, I walk up and I say, “Do you mind if I have a seat?” And they’re like, “Yeah, go for it.”

So, I sit down and I say, “Okay. Well, this might seem weird but I never get to talk to the pilots on my plane. I’m just curious what it’s like to be you guys. Like, what’s your favorite thing about being a pilot?” And they started telling me all these amazing things, like they’ve got the best window office on planet Earth, right? Every day, they’re 30,000 feet above. They see the world differently than any human being does. And they say that’s an amazing part of it. And I thought, “That’s really cool.” Then I ask them, “So, why did you become a pilot? Why did you get into this career?” And what’s fascinating, Brad, I didn’t realize this but you have to decide a long time ago to do that job. You know, it’s not like Chipotle where you start making the bowls and then four weeks later, you’re running the store, right? Like, you got to have spent thousands of hours in preparation to get that job. And so, many of them were like, “Well, I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a kid. I went into the Air Force and this is eventually just kind of what came after I got out.” And I thought, man, that’s fascinating. I didn’t realize that.

Third question I asked them was, “So, what’s the hardest part about being a pilot?” And you can see their energy change and they all started talking about the same thing, which is how much they miss back at home for their work, family birthdays, get-togethers, holidays. And then one pilot gets really excited and he’s like, “Nope, not this year. This is the first time in 12 years I get to be home for Christmas Day.” And my heart breaks for this guy. I’m like, “This is what their life is like.” And I’m curious, Brad. I mean, I know in ways you’ve heard the story but just from hearing those three things, do you have a deeper appreciation for the pilots on the plane that you’re going to walk on?

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I was just sitting there as I kind of soaked in the story. And I love the concept of the project and how it changed you. Even though the project was really to show gratitude to others, it was an external project that became an internal force for you. It’s like you said, your operating system shifted and I think what’s really cool about that, to me, I heard it said one time, you can set goals in life from there like push goals or like domino goals or like one goal like pits for other things. Like, I want to work out in the morning at 6 a.m. Well, you’re going to drink less the night before, right, because you’ve got to get up early the next morning. And so, to me, that’s kind of what this did to you and, yeah, I’m naturally a curious person. That’s why I’m a podcast host, right? So, that is not that strange to me because I would love a conversation like that going up to a pilot but also in the context of not just being curious about that but being grateful for it. That’s like being curious and then taking that up a couple of notches to show, “Oh, here’s a reason I should be grateful for how they show up in the world and how they serve me and how they get people from point A to point B and the sacrifices they make.” So, yeah, there’s just so much more context around it when you look at it through that lens.

John Israel: Totally. And that was the thing that was fascinating is those people have always been… Here I think was like the kicker, Brad. Those people have been in front of me my entire life every time I got on a plane. And I never had the curiosity to even wonder, “What is it like to be you?” That’s really what a lot of this project became was, well, yeah, I got to write all these cards to all these different people but I don’t even know you. What is it like to be you? And in some cases, I could. come up with a theory or an idea of what is it like to be based on what I might know about being an entrepreneur or a father, things like that, right? But until I have some deep conversation and I don’t know if the audience picked up on this but there was actually three particular questions that I asked, which especially if someone’s a financial advisor, they’re an entrepreneur, or they’re a businessperson, they’re in sales in any way, these are the three questions that allow you to connect with anybody really, really quickly, right? First one was, what do you love about what you do? What are you excited about? What’s something that you enjoy and you connect with what people care about? You understand their values.

Second question was, so what’s your why? Why did you get into this? You know, if I’m talking to somebody about their retirement or their future, I’m like, so why is this an important conversation for you right now? Why is retirement planning something that you’re considering? Why is this important now versus any other time? Even inside of your retirement, what’s your why with that? What do you want your life to look like? And then three is the weaknesses, which are the challenges. What’s hard about this for you? What are you worried might happen? What are you scared of? When you connect with those three things, you understand the most important things to a human being. And if you’re in the context of a relationship, think about that. We value those that we connect with over our goals. We appreciate those who understand us with our greatest vision and objectives, and especially those that can support us and bring comfort during our weaknesses and challenges. We’re endeared to that person if they can support us with those three things. We call it the VOW framework, values, outcomes, weaknesses. What do they care about? What do they want? Where does it hurt? When you know the answer to those three things, you can connect with virtually anybody.

So, that in and of itself kind of became a framework that, as I would write a thank you card to somebody, I would want to find out those three things. And this is ultimately what happens, though. You know, I get on the plane and I pull out my stationery and then the cards kind of wrote themselves. And I said, “Dear pilot, it’s probably strange to receive a thank you card from a passenger but as I was boarding the plane today, I was thinking about how much I’m going to miss my family on this trip. And then I realized this is what you do every day for your job. You know, I can’t imagine how many birthdays, anniversaries, or special events you sacrifice for your work. Not to mention the hundreds, if not thousands of hours you spent in the cockpit training for your job because nobody becomes a pilot by accident. And all of that to have a slightly bumpy landing and then have people complain about it. So, whether you hear it enough or not, I want to say thank you on behalf of myself and everybody on our flight.” And I write two cards to those pilots. We land in the next destination with enough time to get to my next flight. So, I frantically hand them the cards while they’re still in the cockpit as I’m exiting the plane. I jump on another flight to do the same things.

So, I have four pilots, four cards. Now, this is what was wild. Now, I’m landing in Philadelphia. This is the day that you and I meet, Brad. Now, I don’t normally do this, but I have my business stationery with me, which had my name, cell phone number, and email physically printed on the card. This is what was nuts. Within 24 hours of landing in Philadelphia, three out of those four pilots personally contacted me to say thank you for the card that they received. One went on to say, “You know, John, in my 20 years of flying, I have never received a thank you card from a passenger.” And I thought, “That’s crazy. How is it even possible? These guys were such a big, significant, important job and no one’s even taking the time just to say thank you to them.” And then, geez, if that’s the case for these guys with such a big, important job, what about everybody else in their careers, in their relationships, in their marriages? There is a huge appreciation deficit in the world. So, Brad, when you and I met, it was right after that flight. And so, in a lot of ways, that experience filtered how I got to meet you, how I got to show up. And of course, there’s more, you know, and then we have the waitress story after that. I just want to pause because that in and of itself, Brad, set a stage for the entire next 362 days of that project.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of places we can go from there, John. But you know where the first place I went? How awesome it is to be connected to grateful people, like just in life in general, because there’s a vast shortage of it. And what I just thought I just kind of flipped it and I’m like, okay, so I’m this pilot and this random dude who maybe I met at the Chick-fil-A before we boarded just to say, “Here you go,” as he sprints out the plane and then you’re sitting there reading that. You’re like, just like, “I feel seen. I matter.” That’s like the first place my head goes and how that is a core human need for anyone. I don’t care how successful you are or aren’t. And, for me, those are the type of people not only do I love to surround myself with but I love to over-deliver and over-serve like I’ve been coaching advisors for, I guess, going on two decades now, almost two decades. And the people that I will bend over backwards for are the ones that are grateful. Like, an 8 p.m. text from a grateful person versus an ungrateful person, those hit differently. You know what I’m saying? It’s like the 8 p.m. text from the grateful person like, “Hey, yeah, absolutely. No problem. How about this? How about that?” The 8 p.m. text from the ungrateful, unthankful person that you’re trying to serve, you’re like, “Ugh,” one of those.

And so, it’s just such a powerful force. It’s such a simple yet powerful force and I know we’ll get into some of this but just the doors that had to open for you had to be just unbelievable that you couldn’t have even imagined when you started this project. Is that fair?

John Israel: Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s kind of insane. You know, I didn’t come from a lot of money. I grew up as a pretty poor kid, lower middle class. Parents sent me to private school, not because they had the money for it. They just really valued education. So, I was always the poorest kid in the richest school. So, the fact that I get to hang out in groups of entrepreneurs, of dudes who make loads more money than me is kind of like a fascinating thing. And that really accelerated during this project, not because I was trying, but it was just like they cared about it more. And like as an example, from Front Row Dads, I met Mike McCarthy and Mike McCarthy, who at the time was the CEO of GoBundance, who’s another entrepreneurial organization. So, he had heard about the project and he’s like, “Hey, man, we got a family event coming up. Why don’t you bring your family out to Philadelphia? We’ll hang out.” You know, tickets were relatively cheap. I was like, “All right, we got an East Coast trip anyways. Let’s go to it.” And I go, and while we’re there, it wasn’t planned, but he’s like, “Hey, man, we got a bunch of families here. We got parents. We got kids. They’re all entrepreneurs. Tell us about this project that you’re doing.”

I was only six months into this project, Brad, and I just shared from the heart, and here’s what I’ve learned. And I think this is what a mentor shared with me, this concept called the gratitude paradox, which is often the case is that people who have the most are the least grateful and the people who have the least are the most grateful. That’s a gratitude paradox. And I’ll never forget how I first learned that when I was 15 and I was in high school and I lived in San Diego, California, we did a service trip to Mexico to paint an orphanage. And I’ll be honest, Brad, I was a pretty entitled kid, not because we had a lot but because all my friends had a lot and I wanted it. So, that’s not fair. I should have a better car. I should have all these things that all my friends have that I don’t get to have. That’s natural as a 15-year-old. And I go to Mexico and we go there to paint this orphanage, and I didn’t care to do it because I had a heart for service, Brad. I had to check off a requirement for my high school. We had to do volunteer service every year and I get off the bus and I’m just hungry because we’ve been on the bus going to Mexico, right? And we’re ready to start lunch and, bro, we’re surrounded by all these kids, all these orphans who are between the ages of four and ten.

So, think about that. All these kids do not have parents involved in their life. There were like four adults supervising 50 kids in this orphanage, so very underserved. And they were so excited to see us. We get off the bus and the first thing we do is we eat lunch with them. And you know, I speak Spanglish, but they’re talking to us. They’re showing us all these busted toys that have been donated from Americans to them, and they’re showing us how excited they were. And even if you don’t speak the same language, we all speak the language of gratitude and these kids were so grateful that we were there. And I went to go play soccer because they were like, “Hey, you know, football, football.” So, we go play soccer and they had a half-flattened soccer ball into rusty tin cans as a goal. And they were just grateful somebody was there to play with them. And I remember breaking down at that orphanage because I thought, how is that possible that these kids have so much less than me and are grateful? And I have all these things that they don’t have, and I think it’s garbage. That’s in my own head. So, I think that was a seed early in my life that this idea was planted but I think when I get to speak to entrepreneurial groups, that’s a lot of the experience. Not everybody, not everybody, but a lot of us. If you’re a driver, if you’re a salesperson, you are paid on results.

So, thus, it’s common to be discontent with where you are. It’s natural that also has an impact that it’s hard to appreciate what we actually have. And so, I think that in a lot of ways opened doors with GoBundance. They invited me to be a member there and then Front Row Dads, obviously, getting to meet you and several people. And then I was at an event sharing a story. There was a TEDx organizer there, and they after the event said, “Hey, would you be willing to share your story at TED?” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? Like, you have to apply for a TED Talk. You’re asking if I want to do this?” And so, I think for me, that’s where it was like, okay, there’s something really powerful here that is meaningful, yes, to high-level, successful entrepreneurs, but really everybody. Because if you’re a human being on planet Earth right now, you know how divisive it is. I mean, you said a great point, Brad, which is you’re a curious person. I think a lot of us have stopped being curious. We’ve decided who people are because of who you voted for, because of the type of industry that you’re in, because of any number of things. We’ve decided who people are so we stop being curious. What does that cause? What’s that created, Brad? More connection or less connection?

Brad Johnson: Lot less.

John Israel: In a world that has the ability for me right now to pick up the phone and call somebody in India in 3 seconds and they’re going to answer, we’re less connected than before. And I think that’s on us because, in the scope of, society created a lot of these things. So, we have to be intentional and conscious about what we allow into our life and how we view the world and how we engage with those that are around us.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. It’s an interesting point you just made. We are less connected in the most connected time in the history of humanity. And it is, it is a lack of curiosity. It really is. People have just made up their minds. I heard a guy I follow quite a bit. His name’s Naval Ravikant, really deep thinker, one of the smartest humans I think that’s alive on the planet today. But one of the things he said that I always found interesting is he said he tries to never apply labels to himself, such as you mentioned, politics. Hey, I’m this party or that party. Religion, I’m this religion, that religion. And I don’t want to turn this into that sort of conversation. But if you think about it, when you apply a label to yourself, if you allow it to, it can turn the curiosity off because it’s like this is the box I must fit into. Everybody outside of that box, it’s like a zero-sum game. That’s one of the things he talks about. Politics is a zero-sum game. For somebody to win, somebody has to lose. And what I love about business is business can very much be an abundance mindset game if you allow it to be. Gratitude is obviously an abundance mindset. It’s like the more you give out in the world, the more it creates. It’s like this exponential flow. Yeah. That’s what’s fun about podcasting, man. These philosophical conversations, right? So, let’s go to I want to get to the story of that fifth thank you from that third day. It was that evening, I believe.

John Israel: It was. That was the first that we met. Yep.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, let’s get to that. And then I want to get into the journey since then, since the book. And your companies evolved quite a bit from that first time we met. So, let’s talk about the fifth thank you and the lesson that came from that one.

John Israel: Yeah. As you can imagine, this is a very long day.

Brad Johnson: I think that thank you happened after midnight if I remember.

John Israel: It did. Yeah. This was a fun side note. So, the rule was they had to be done before I went to bed. They didn’t have to be done before midnight, although my brain was so wired to do this every night. I don’t know if you know the story, Brad, but there was a moment where this wasn’t that particular day, but I came home from work, busy day, and I was like, “All right. I’m going to take a quick little nap and then I’m going to just write my cards.” And I fall asleep on the couch. I’m dreaming like deep sleep. In my dream, my wife shakes me and says, “John, wake up. You have to write your cards.” And I wake up. My wife is nowhere to be found. She’s already in bed. I look at my phone. It is 11:59. And it was this like it had so deeply ingrained in my psychology that I had to do this, my psychology wouldn’t let me not follow through. So, I didn’t have to. So, it’s still counted. They finished over into like by 12:30 midnight but that’s how seriously we took this. Okay. So, we’re in Philly. We finished our first session. We’re like, “Hey, let’s find a place to eat.” We have no reservations. I don’t know if you remember. We’re just walking around like 30, 40 guys. Hey, let’s find a place with no reservations like on a Thursday night in downtown Philadelphia, right? There were not a lot of options.

So, we kind of found this hole in the wall bar. We go in. And I remember the waitress, her name is Shantae, and she looked at us from across the room and she was just like pissed. Like, 30, 40 guys showing up, no reservation, and I don’t know who schmoozed her over but they’re like, “All right, we promise we’ll take care of you.”

Brad Johnson: Probably Ruhlin.

John Israel: Probably Ruhlin. He’s good with that. And so, she’s like, “Alright. I got a back room.” So, she kind of puts us in the back away from all the locals. And then we just have a great time. And there is this moment, Brad, I don’t know if you caught this, but again, I’m being hypersensitive to people that I might potentially write a card to. And I noticed that there was this moment where she was really annoyed at us and I don’t know what went on for her emotionally, but it was like this, “Okay, this kind of sucks. I can make this a terrible experience or I can make this amazing. Let’s make tonight amazing for these guys.” And she just showed up as like level ten at a ten hostess because, again, 30 dudes. She got all of our food orders, all of our drink orders, recruiting the cook staff to bring everything out because they were not staffed to support us. And she did an amazing job. And I thought, you know, she’s going to be my number five. She’s going to be my fifth card for the day. So, I pull out some stationery, which I keep with me at all times of that moment and I start writing this letter to Shantae.

And I said, “Dear Shantae, I know it might seem strange to receive a thank you card from a patron, but I just wanted you to know you did an amazing job tonight. What you may not realize is we’re a group of entrepreneurial dads here for an event to learn how to become better husbands to our wives and fathers for our children while we run our businesses. And tonight was really important because it was our first time meeting and it was all about fellowship, and you facilitated it masterfully. We know when we came in we had no reservation and you could have turned us away. We know you could have even given us awful service and we would have understood. But you didn’t. You were great, you were gracious, and you helped make tonight amazing. So, I just want to say thank you on behalf of myself and everybody in our group.” Pulled up the card. Shantae’s in the corner cashing out her tips for the night. I walk over and hand her the thank you card. She accepts it awkwardly, as most strangers do when I hand them a thank you card. And I go to the restroom before we leave to walk back to the hotel and I come out of the restroom and Shantae’s standing there, waiting for me, with like this huge grin on her face.

And then she just runs at me and gives me the biggest bear hug of my life and says, “That is the best tip that I’ve ever been given.” And then she sat me down and there was this moment where we just looked at each other. And it wasn’t customer-server. It was just human being and human being having a connection. And I remember leaving the restaurant that night very confused because we actually left her a massive tip. Think about that. Thirty entrepreneurial guys high on life, a couple of drinks, leaving a conference. We left her a massive tip. Yet, she holds up this thank you card and says, “This is the best tip that I’ve ever been given.” How is that true, Brad? How is that possible? And I think the answer to that is the understanding of what humans really want, which is to be seen, and to be seen not just for their weakness, but for their greatness. Because we are always our biggest critics. We’re always going to tell ourselves what we’re doing wrong, what we missed, what we could have done better in our presentation, what we could be doing better in our business. We’re always beating ourselves up about what we’re not doing right. So, when somebody shows up, and they see the goodness inside of us and they reflect that publicly to us, it’s almost hard to be with but it means so much.

And I think that that moment cascaded, like if I wasn’t 100% in, I was 100% in that night because I saw the need, and not even the need because no one needs this, but the impact that this has. And you said a great example of this, but gratitude is this crazy flywheel because you choose today to be a grateful human being, and not just feel it and keep it to yourself. That’s a distinction, Brad. That’s called passive gratitude. Passive graditude is where you write down in a journal what you’re grateful for. That is valuable and important. There are so many psychological benefits.

But when you take the gratitude, you feel inside and you reflect it outside, and you find somebody to blame your gratitude on. It lives differently and you feel different and they feel different and they show up differently. You’re actually kind of making a point here. You love talking to advisors who are generally grateful people. There’s actually science behind that. There is a research study at Harvard.

And they took students who were writing a paper. They took two groups. One of them, they would ask somebody to give feedback on a paper they wrote. And when the people gave the feedback, they said, “Hey, here’s your paper back. My comments are in red.” Two groups of people. They had one group say, “Thank you for the feedback, I really appreciate it.” The other group, they made sure they did not give any level of acknowledgment. So, when they got the paper back with correction, they simply said, “I will look over your notes,” like no appreciation, no gratitude, nothing.

And then what they did was they had those same students ask those people again for feedback on another paper, and here’s what they learned. The individuals who had thanked the people who had given them feedback, 80% of those previous respondents said, “Yes, I’ll help you again,” compared with those that didn’t express gratitude, only 40% said they would help them a second time. So, it is proven through science that we love to help and engage with grateful people.

Brad Johnson: I didn’t want to dip into your flow there. There’s so many nuggets there. First off, I might still, I’m going to start blaming people for the gratitude, I feel. Like, how dare you make me feel grateful? Well, one of the things at Triad that that statement reminded me of, the internal versus external mix. There’s a journal called the Five-Minute Journal. I think I heard about it on the Tim Ferriss’ podcast back in the day. But it takes five minutes to write down in the morning what you’re grateful for. And it is crazy how that frames your day.

But one of the things we talk about at Triad, we actually have a kudos channel in our team’s chat, so kind of our version of Slack. So, it’s just like, give some shout-out, throw some love out to the team members or those that have helped you. And then, every Monday, Kenzie, who’s our Director of Culture, she’ll literally read the kudos from the prior week. And it’s crazy how, like you look around the room, you look on the Zoom, it just lights people up, and all it is, is just saying, “Thanks, you showed up for me. You did this thing. You went above and beyond.”

But what we say is, “If you think gratitude, share gratitude,” right? It doesn’t do anybody any good, just like the waitress you were talking about. If you would have just held that inside, you missed an opportunity to give her, probably still to this day, one of the best gifts she’s ever been given. And it’s crazy how most humans do that all day, every day. They might actually be, “Oh, that was a pretty good waiter and waitress.” That’s one of the things like, and maybe part of this was inspired by you. I will now, if we’ll go out with my three kiddos and we do family board meetings, I know, I think you’ve done some of that with your children too.

And I remember the last one with Nellie, she’s seven, and we were at IHOP, her favorite little breakfast spot. And we had a great waitress, and I was like, “Nellie, we should write her a little thank you on the receipt.” And so, she writes, like, “Thanks, you are awesome,” and with like a little smiley face and a heart. And just that, like, just in kind of embedding that skill set in your children, it’s just something that I really, I’m very imperfect on this, and we don’t do it enough, but it’s such a gift you can give others and then give your children just this habit of gratitude. So, I love that, man.

John Israel: Well, and the crazy thing, Brad, here’s the crazy thing, how people pay attention, how much did that cost?

Brad Johnson: A few minutes of time.

John Israel: And how much money do we spend on things that don’t make us happy that we think they will?

Brad Johnson: Well, one of the things, and you might have some stats on this, so if you do from a culture and teambuilding and leadership within inside of a company, one of the things that I’ve personally experienced, actually, I’ve experienced both sides of this, like a lack of gratefulness from leadership as well as a gratefulness from leadership, and the people you want to follow and you want to run through a brick wall for are the ones that are like, “Hey, John, I saw how you kicked about last Friday. I know you stayed after a little bit. Man, you took out the trash. And thanks for being a team player. I really appreciate how you show up day to day. It means a lot. And I want you to know that’s leadership right there.”

Like, you say, something like that, and obviously, it needs to be heartfelt. You can’t fake gratitude. Those are the type of people you want to work for. Those are the type of people you want to show up and go above and beyond for. So, do you have any stats around just how that can show up inside of a business or maybe some different stories you’ve seen from some of the work you’ve done since the book?

John Israel: Yeah, as far as like how appreciation and gratitude affect the workplace?

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Do you have examples or stories of companies that have taken this seriously? It’s not like just, “Bring in John for a keynote. Hey, he talks. Everybody should be great. Okay, see you later on the next one.” They’ve actually taken it and run with it and how that’s showing up inside of a culture.

John Israel: Yeah, well, I mean, here’s what I can say. So, when you do the research on why high performers quit, number one reason is overwhelm, number two is lack of acknowledgment, number three is poor workplace culture. Top three reasons people leave, and not just anybody, the best people you work with, are those three things. Those are also three things the gratitude directly impacts, right? Because when we feel overwhelmed, what is that a result of? I can’t handle this. This is too much. And in some ways it is, people do choose to take on more than they probably should.

But there is research that shows when we can connect gratitude or purpose or meaning behind the work that we’re doing, we’re willing to put in the effort. And it doesn’t feel the same way. It doesn’t feel as much pressure as we’re engaging in it. But very especially, when it comes to relationships internally with companies, if people feel undervalued and underappreciated, it’s just like, “Well, why am I here?”

I’ll give an example as it relates to marriage because this is actually also very relevant to businesses. But there is something called the magic ratio by The Gottman Institute. Are you familiar with this, Brad?

Brad Johnson: I actually think I am. There’s four or five questions that– or am I thinking of a different study?

John Israel: I don’t know. Let’s roll with it. So, the magic ratio, so the Gottman Institute, they study happy marriages, which by the way, happy marriages are really a happy relationship. Well, your business is filled with relationships, so it’s very similar. So, they did this study where they would do couple’s counseling and they would give the couple a problem. And they would just watch how they interact as they deal with the problem.

And what they were looking for, Brad, were two things, positive to negative interactions. They were looking for things like positive interactions, which would be considered smiling, playfulness, fun, encouragement, to negative interactions, which would be putting down, negative tone, skepticism, lack of support. And they would look at those couples, they would track the types of interactions they had. And they noticed, they did a longitudinal study studying these marriages over time.

And what they actually found was there was a magic ratio. And it was a 5 to 1 ratio. Five positive comments to every negative 1 constructive comment, right? So, that, yes, no relationship is without fault or negative interaction, just like your business. You’re going to have people who do the wrong thing or make a mistake or you disagree on something and you’re going to have to deal with it, right? You got to give corrective feedback.

But to what degree is it compared to the positive comments you give? So, a 5 to 1 ratio of positive comments to negative, to every 1 negative comment, were the most happy, successful marriages over time. And the opposite was also true, which was a 0.8 to 1 ratio, 0.8 positive comments to every 1 negative comment. So, they were actually in a deficit. Those marriages had the highest likelihood of divorce.

And I would relate that very much so to a team. If you think about– I mean, have you ever been in an experience where you lose one team member and then lose multiple at the same time? You’re seeing that happen before, Brad?

Brad Johnson: I have.

John Israel: Why is that? Because there’s a greater connection between those individuals than there were with the one in any of those individuals with a leader. We go where we feel love and connection. And so, if there’s greater love and connection with your team with each other than they are with a leader and one of them chooses to leave, it’s very likely a recipe for disaster. We see that all the time in business.

So, those are some examples of how we’ve seen this really play out in marriages and business, and it’s something that’s avoidable. It’s totally avoidable. And it comes down to your engagement and your relationship. And really, I think this is probably a good takeaway, Brad. It’s like, do you build this in as a habit? Is it a system in your process, right? You guys built it in with what you do.

Another company, Fathom, they’re based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Jon Berghoff, a mutual friend of ours, did a lot of work with them. Their big thing they built was called the Love Machine, right? And the Love Machine was a Slack channel where they would share love and appreciation.

Another company we work with, Guild Mortgage. They have– I forgot what they call it, but it’s a particular every month, they encourage to send a note of appreciation to processors who work internally. So, not salespeople, but it’s for the salespeople to send them internally to processing. And every month, when they do their monthly meeting, they just sit there and they read the positive comments.

And I was on one of those meetings that I was speaking and I got to watch this happening and you could see all these kind of dry, not relationship salespeople just light up because they’re being recognized and acknowledged. In sales, we often get the recognition acknowledgment, right? I think where people need to pay attention to is how does this work internally with your team, the ones that are often overlooked? That’s where there’s an opportunity.

Brad Johnson: I want to hit, I want to go back a bit the marriage example. I think that’s a really good one because a marriage is just, for most, I think it should be the deepest relationship in life you have, right? I don’t know of a deeper relationship. But the interesting thing is, okay, so that cascades down to your children, then your team at work, and then a random airline pilot that you meet in the airport. But it’s just different levels of gratitude and how it cascades down in life is kind of the visual that I get. And you took me back to a book I read in my early sales days, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.

John Israel: Great book.

Brad Johnson: And there’s a really cool story in there. And it was one of Darren’s buddies was every time they got together, he was complaining about his wife. And it just goes to you amplify what you focus on, it’s like a microscope, right? If I’m focused here, I’m just going to amplify it. And every time, and after a while, Darren is like, “Bro, I got to call you out. Your wife’s awesome. You’re lucky to have her, man. I think, if anything, she should be complaining about you, about how you’re showing up right now.” And he kind of called him, and I found, like, your best friends in life will kind of call you on your BS if they’re good friends.

And so, he challenged his friend every morning, I think it was for a year, write something down that you appreciate about your wife. And he did it in secret in a journal. And then he gifted his wife that on Valentine’s Day or their anniversary or something. And of course, just tears flow.

And it was very similar to your experience. It was actually a gift for his wife and it was the most meaningful gift he’d ever given her, but it actually changed him because he started focusing on what he was grateful for in that relationship. And I just think so many times in life, we just are focusing on the wrong thing.

Because in America, like your story when you went to Mexico, in America, the truth is the poorest, the hardest-up people in America are about probably 10x better off than most third-world countries. But the problem is it’s the focus, comparison is the thief of joy. It’s like, oh, my neighbor has a bigger house, a better car, or whatever. And it just strips this gratefulness out of people. So, it’s what I love about this conversation every time we get together, it’s a good reminder for me to be grateful in life.

So, I know we’re getting down to, we’ve got a few minutes left here. Let’s transition to, okay, you write this book at the time, you’re very focused at Cutco, and obviously, doing really well there. And as my buddy Michael Hyatt says, “There’s life before the book and there’s life after the book,” and you’ve had quite the journey since the book. So, kind of catch us up, and maybe tell us, what are you doing today? And then maybe there’s some additional lessons that have come out of that journey as well.

John Israel: Yeah, for sure, I appreciate that. So, life really did accelerate in a big way. And what was important is I did keep my sales job as I was building this, you can call it a movement, right? So, what ultimately did happen? I finish the project and I write my 1,825 thank you cards. I missed one day, maybe, so I paid a thousand bucks to the Front Row Foundation.

Yeah, ultimately, I was on a trip and it was late at night and I thought I wrote my fifth card. But I do an Excel spreadsheet to track everything. And the next morning, when I was tracking my cards, I could only get to four. I couldn’t think of the fifth. So, I was like, “All right, I can’t prove it. So, I got to pay a thousand bucks.”

So, I finished that, and so many things were happening where I was getting letters and packages from complete strangers being like, “Hey man, I heard about what you’re doing. I’m starting my own thank you project.” And I’ve had people go into their kids’ schools and give a Mr. Thank You speech. They’re like, “Hey, I saw this guy speak at our company conference and he talked about gratitude. And so, I wanted to come in and teach you guys how to write a thank you card and how to express more gratitude.”

And there’s a woman out of Philadelphia with an event for their company. And so, she went out to her kid’s school, like she spoke to 200 first through eighth graders and taught them about gratitude. And they committed to a 30-day challenge to write one card a day every day for 30 days. And so, for me, it was this very moving thing to see how easy this is, right? So, our mission became to elevate the level of gratitude on the planet by inspiring 74 million thank you projects around the world. And 74 million is very specific to 1% of the world’s population. At least when I started, it was 7.4 billion. Now, it’s like 7.7, but it will evolve. And we’ve seen this just absolutely change people’s lives, their marriages.

I just spoke at a conference for young entrepreneurs in Memphis, and I got a– God, this broke me down. It was this 18-year-old kid who had just graduated high school. And he comes up to me and he says, “Hey, I just want you to–” and by the way, I thought the talk sucked because I don’t normally talk to kids, and it wasn’t a very engaged audience, but I was like, “I’ll give my best.”

He comes up and says, “Hey, man, I haven’t talked to my dad in over a year. He didn’t even come to my high school graduation. And today, I wrote my letter to him. And I just want to thank you for helping me become the person who took the first step in repairing this relationship.” I don’t know what that’s going to change in that kid’s life or that family, but what I do know is it costs him $0 and it’s going have a massive impact. And I’m all about efficiency. How do you get the most out of the least?

And so, I think gratitude really, for me, became our operating system. It also became our competitive advantage in our business. And slowly, the story and the message kind of compounded on itself. And now, we found, it was really interesting, it’s this sort of meta look, but our number one booking we get now is client appreciation events for companies. So, if they’ve got a list of super high profile clients or referral partners, they’ll usually do a dinner or an event and have me come and talk on gratitude, which is very meta because it’s a gratitude event and we’re going to talk about gratitude, and then everyone just leaves in a better state and they’re connecting that gratitude with the person who hosted the event.

And so, we really can turn this into a full-fledged business where we do speaking, we still run our gifting business. We do sell thank you cards. For some leaders who really struggle with this, we do some executive coaching for them, but it’s been really fun, Brad. I mean, I think that’s the thing I can tell you is it’s been really fun, and the relationships and the connections just keep coming. And I just try to build this into what I do.

Someone tagged me in LinkedIn with a CEO who was talking about thank you cards and said, “Hey, you should meet John Israel.” And I look this guy up and he’s a pretty big deal. And I just go on his website, I learn about him. He’s got a podcast, I listen to a few episodes, I send him a handwritten card with some specific things about the podcast that I enjoyed and how we got tagged and connected on LinkedIn. And his assistant just reached out, asking me to be on his podcast. I didn’t ask, I just simply chose to use thank you cards as my connection tool.

And by the way, what’s funny, Brad, is a lot of your guys who are in this space, they’re marketers because you have to be to sell your business to sell what you do getting more people. Gary Vaynerchuk talked about this. He’s like, “Where you want to go is look where there is the cheapest touch to connection possible.” And so, he’s like, “I’m even considering radio ads because nobody’s doing them. They’re super cheap right now.” Well, you know what’s cheaper than radio ads, Brad? Thank you cards.

So, you could be in your office and read the newspaper or read a local thing about people who are doing something good in the market, a new business that opens, and write him a handwritten card and say, “Thanks. So great to see another person who’s shown up in the world and trying to make our community better. Hey, don’t need anything from me, but if you ever want to connect, here’s my card.” And have that turn into a conversation that builds into a business relationship that you get a lot out of. That became how we run our business now, Brad. It’s pretty fun, doesn’t cost a lot, and it’s having a big impact.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, it’s really interesting when you do podcasts. And I remember, this is years back, you remember when the business trend was the crazy like dress socks? This was probably about when we met the first time. But I remember we sent out gifts to a lot of our clients and they were like the Sock of the Month Club.

And so, I wrote a blog on something about gratitude and socks, or I don’t remember even the details, but Michael Hyatt put it on his blog, which obviously had a massive readership, and I got a thank you note from a random lady that read the blog post, and she said, “Hey, my dad used to wear crazy socks and he passed away. And so, thank you for your words because they brought back the memory of him.” That’s very rare.

I mean, I’ve put out a lot of content over the last eight or nine years, and I can count on one hand the amount of thank you cards I’ve gotten. And so, you just show up differently. Actually, I got a thank you card. There was a guy named Pete that sent me a thank you card off of our episode. I think you inspired him off of our first episode, and I think you actually inspired him to start his own little thank you project.

But I want to hit one other thing that you shared on our last conversation. And I appreciate the vulnerability because you said you were maybe a month, I don’t remember how long, like a few weeks or a month into this project. And you hadn’t gotten a lot of feedback back yet. Like, you’d sent out 5 times 30, I don’t know however many dozens or hundreds of cards at this point. And you said you kind of started to get a little bitter, or I’ll let you put it in your words because you weren’t getting a lot of like, “Hey, I got your thank you card, John. Thanks, man. I really appreciate that.” And it taught you another lesson. So, can you share that, please?

John Israel: Yeah. So, by the way, for anyone who does want to try this, I think we’ll give you guys a 30-day challenge at the end here, which is a great place to start. Something to note is not everybody says thank you for a thank you card. And the interesting stat, I mean, Brad, you probably know this because you read the book, but out of the 1,825 thank you cards that I wrote for the entire year, what percent do you think responded back? Brad, do you remember the number? Do you know what it is?

Brad Johnson: Let me throw a guess. I do not remember. I’m going to guess. I’m going to say one out of 25. One out of 25.

John Israel: Okay. It was one out of 10, so 10%.

Brad Johnson: One out 10, 10%. Okay.

John Israel: But I want you to think about that for a moment. So, out of 1,825, 182 and a half people said anything. So, what does that also mean? Like, 1,600 people said absolutely nothing. And Brad, this wasn’t something that was like, oh, I wrote like one or two sentences. You probably know this, I tried to make them a full card, and it took me an average of 90 minutes per day to do this project. And I ran the math. And it’s 90 minutes times 365 days, I’d worked at to 22 and a half straight days, 24 days, writing thank you cards during that year.

And so, there was this moment, it’s actually only about a month or two in that I had written a couple of hundred thank you cards and I’d only gotten seven responses or 12 responses. And it was really hard because I was like, “Does anyone care about this? Am I saying the wrong thing? Am I upsetting people by writing these?” And you get all in your head, right? We do that. It’s like, “Oh, is there something wrong with me?”

And there is this moment where I had to ask myself, this is second part to the story, actually, I don’t think you know, because it wasn’t in my book. It happened after the book was over. But there was this moment where I had to check myself and say, “Where was your heart? Where was your heart when our kids are bickering all the time?” That’s the question my wife asked them. “Where was your heart when you did that or said that to your brother?” And if we’re being honest, it didn’t come from the greatest place.

And so, when I think about, you can’t talk about gratitude without also simultaneously talking about generosity because generosity is when you give something freely without expecting anything in return. And so, the question is, was I giving these cards freely without expecting anything in return? And what I actually got present to you was that wasn’t the case. I wanted to hear back. I wanted the acknowledgment, the recognition, the appreciation. And so, thus, I was getting upset because I was making it about me and it stopped being about the other person. And so, I realized, I got to let this go.

And so, the interesting other part to this story, Brad, was those stats actually were the same with my family. So, I’m the youngest of five kids, right? Everyone’s married. Or at least they were at the time. Kids, my parents, so a lot of people, when I wrote all those cards to my family, only 10% responded. My mom was not one of them.

And I’ll never forget because this was actually after the project was over. I went out to go visit my mom with my kids and my wife. And at this point, my father was pretty ill. He had been battling Parkinson’s disease for over a decade, and he was in a really bad shape. My mom was taking care of him 100%.

And I’m sitting with my mom at our dinner table. Kids are asleep. Dad’s asleep. And we’re talking, and my mom tears up and looks at me and she says. “John, I got your letter several months ago, and I so deeply wanted to appreciate it. But I’m in so much pain, taking care of your dad by myself. I couldn’t harness any gratitude to appreciate it.”

And Brad, I haven’t had the greatest relationship with my mom for a good percentage of my life for various reasons. And so, I found excuses to not visit. I found excuses to not participate and show up. And for probably the first time in my adult life, I actually listened to my mom below the words that were said. And I just said, “What do you need? How can we help?” And she said, “You know what? I would really love if all of the five kids came out for at least one week this year and watch Dad so I can leave and go just do anything because I’ve been with him for years by ourselves in his house.” And I said, “You got it.”

And I got in a business mode, Brad. I got a conference call with all my siblings. I’m like, “We got to help out mom. Who’s going to take this week? Who’s going to take this month?” And we plan it out. For the next six months, we plan out who is going to come and watch my dad and take care of him while my mom got some respite. And I got to do that myself. And in July of 2018, I got to spend that time with my dad. And a couple of weeks later, my final sister got to come and spend her week with my dad. And he passed away two days after she left. So, we all got our final week with my dad.

And when I think on that moment related to the first question, which was about how do you respond when people don’t say thank you to a thank you card? You also have to give a lot of grace because you don’t know what they’re going through. My mom didn’t say anything about my card, not because she didn’t love me or didn’t care about me. She was in pain. She was struggling.

And this was a huge breakthrough that actually happened after I wrote the book. So, whenever I write the next one, this is going to be a big part of it. What I learned, Brad, a lot of people in my life actually didn’t need a thank you card. What they needed was for me to show up for them, to show up for them when it hurt. And most people didn’t even tell me when it hurt because I was so busy. I was so engaged in my work with my clients, I never even took the time to ask.

But I did with all these people, I wrote thank you cards, too, like my pilots and flight attendants and all these people, but not even my own family. Bro, that changed everything. Because if you simply write somebody a thank you card, but you don’t do anything to support them in a moment of need, it’s kind of pointless. It’s like, do we really have a relationship?

If you tell your team how much you love and appreciate them at a meeting, but then treat them like garbage when they make a mistake on a file, all it tells them is you don’t have integrity with what you say. It doesn’t actually mean anything. It actually hurts you, by saying kind things in a relationship and not showing up differently.

So, this is maybe a great place to land, Brad. But this taught me a question to ask in the context of any relationship, which is, how do you treat that for which you are grateful? How do you treat that for which you are grateful? Because if I tell you that I’m grateful for our relationship, how would you know that without me ever saying those words? Brad, how would you feel my gratitude without me having to write you a thank you card?

I know how Brad says I love you. He sends you a coffee machine in the mail. That’s what he did after our last podcast. If you haven’t read the book, there’s a funny story about running out of coffee at home. So, Brad sent me his love through a coffee machine.

But bro, that was such a life-changing thing to realize. And that ultimately is what changed my life after the project because it wasn’t becoming this guy who can suddenly see and notice all the things to be grateful for it. That is very good. What actually changed me was being a person consistent in my actions with what I said in my words. That changed everything.

Brad Johnson: I think that’s a great spot to kind of end this. And it actually leads into my final question, John. So, it’s been quite the journey for me, personally, since our last podcast. And one of the things that’s just core to what we want to do at Triad, which became the name of this podcast, is we want to do business with people we want to do life with, and we really change the paradigm. We look through what I would call the financial services brokerage business or coaching business. And so, I always just love to ask. For you, John, how would you define doing business, doing life, kind of this integration that I know is very core to the gratitude journey that you’ve been on?

John Israel: Yeah. What does it look like for me to do business and do life? I think, for me, it is actually a very recent experience because starting to do a lot more speaking and travel and whatnot, there is a pull on my family, which is challenging, because that is my top values, my relationship with God, my relationship with my wife, my relationship with my kids. Top three values.

So, I talk to all these speakers, I’m like, “Hey, what do you do with it? How do you run a professional speaking business and have your families to love you when you come home?” And they said, “Involve your kids as much as you can. Involve your family with your trips and your travel.” So, I started doing that.

And so, I’d started bringing my kids, the ones that are old enough. And my son, who’s nine years old now, every time I do a speech, if we have books there, he will help sell books afterwards and I pay him a dollar per book. And so, he loves to come to work with Dad. And so, for me, it’s really finding a way to integrate my family into my work. If a private executive coaching called somebody, Brad, I’m not going to bring him into that conversation. But any place that I can involve my family, I want to. So, that’s kind of how we’re doing it.

Brad Johnson: I love that, man. Very similar. We just got back from Tahoe. We call it our DBDL Founders Retreat. And one of the things that I found is entrepreneurs kind of want to do things on their own terms, I’m like, “Do you want to bring your whole crew?” I want to bring my whole crew because I’ve sacrificed so many nights away in this business away from them for different conferences and all of that. And I said, “That sucks. I don’t want to do that anymore. Our time together is finite in this house.”

And we had more children there than we did adults. And it was cool. We brought in Rener Gracie, we were doing jiu-jitsu in the morning, Jason Khalipa, CrossFit workouts. And I honestly was really selfish because I was like, “I want to do that with my kids. I want to do that with my kids.” And guess what? As it turns out, so do a lot of other successful entrepreneurs.

So, anyway, man, it’s always thank you so much for grabbing some time. And man, the first episode we did, it was up there. But I think you took it up another notch today. So, John, look forward to the next time we get actually crossed paths in person. And thanks for all the work you’re doing, and you truly have inspired me. So, thank you for that.

John Israel: So, yeah, I mean, my final thoughts that I’ll say on this, Brad, is just appreciate you for making this podcast, man. You impact a lot of people because you live your gratitude out loud, you live your values out loud. And my favorite memory of you is sharing that story about taking your kids with you to the grocery store and buying somebody anonymously $100 grocery gift card, just so you could have your kids behind them to watch the reaction of what it’s like to play generously. So, thanks for always playing generously with me. Thanks for playing generously with your squad, with your family. And I’m grateful for our friendship, man.

Brad Johnson: Thanks, John. Come next time, my man.

John Israel: Cool. See you.

Brad Johnson: See you, bud.


These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations.


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