We all likely have many more than five goals we’d like to accomplish this year, but in keeping with the lean mentality, I’ll keep things simple and give you just five, which, if done mindfully can have dramatic ripple effects on your health, happiness and professional success—and perhaps all the other goals you’ve set for yourself.
1: Smile more. It is well known among social psychologists now that the simple act of smiling can make you happier and healthier, even if your smile is a forced one—so practice more in 2015! This effect apparently happens for two main reasons. According to the facial feedback hypothesis, smiling activates the release of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin, neurotransmitters that help reduce stress and elicit positive emotions. In other words, while your brain usually controls your muscles, your muscles (i.e., smiling!) can actually influence your brain. In essence, the brain senses the flexion of our facial muscles and, concluding that we must be happy about something, starts to make us feel happier.
Smiling works for another more obvious reason—it is contagious, literally. According to a Swedish study, when people are exposed to emotional facial expressions, they tend to unconsciously mimic those expressions, positive or negative, which as just discussed may influence their emotions. The key takeaway: when you smile, you may appear more inviting, attractive, relaxed and sincere to others. And when you don’t smile, the impression you give may be the opposite. (For other great tips on how changing your body language can have a profound impact on your life, check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk.)
2: Maintain a health and fitness regimen. The health impacts of regular physical exercise are widely known (and very important to your success as a leader). But, in addition to reducing stress, fighting disease and improving mood, energy and sleep, getting regular exercise and eating healthier can also make you appear to be a better leader. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, healthy-looking individuals are perceived as better leaders than even intelligent-looking people.
3: Schedule personal time. That’s right, schedule your personal time. Many of us are used to scheduling, but for some reason only seem to do so in the context of work (e.g., meetings, project deadlines, etc.). However, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the most productive people are not actually the busiest but rather those who prioritize their free time—for personal passions, for family, for activities completely unrelated to their jobs.
As reported by Fast Company, social networking company Draugiem Group recently used the productivity app DeskTime to determine which habits distinguished their most productive employees from everyone else. They discovered that the top 10% of their most productive employees not only didn’t put in longer hours than anyone else but also didn’t even work full eight-hour days. Instead, they took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked, spending those breaks completely away from their work and email.
What the Draugiem Group results show is something that researchers have increasingly been concluding: that the best way to improve performance and focus is to reserve time to refresh yourself. In the New Year, schedule time for family, friends and passions. Your work will improve, your relationships will improve, and you never know what meaningless knowledge you’ll accumulate in the process—of scuba, Star Trek, baking, or any other hobby—that will help you form great new relationships.
4. Don’t commit to things you can’t do. There’s quite a bit of literature out there about the fake-it-until-you-make-it mentality—that is, committing to things outside your comfort zone in an effort to grow and improve. But in this case, I’m referring more to those activities you just know you can’t do. Can’t make it to dinner with your friend next week but prefer to say ‘maybe’ so you can delay the disappointment? Just say you can’t. Not overextending yourself will save you time and consternation down the road, and when you do commit, you’ll actually follow through—and become known as a person whose word means something.
5. Use your calendar. One of the best ways to stay on top of your goals is to schedule—relentlessly. Managing your to-do list in an online calendar will help you miss fewer deadlines, keep you organized, and ensure that you are prioritizing your most important tasks. Key non-work items to schedule include seeing family and friends, reading the news and books, engaging in personal hobbies and checking personal finances.
The point is to think of your personal to-do list the way a software development team might think of an agile project, breaking large tasks into incremental, iterative projects and continuously evaluating whether you must reprioritize. Get your time management app or calendar of choice, assign a time to your tasks and then continuously prioritize based on importance. Countless interviews suggest that the most successful CEOs are often the ones who most actively manage their to-dos.
Don’t Just Set, Maintain
Success with resolutions, as with business objectives, isn’t merely about setting goals but maintaining them. Come up with your own system to periodically monitor your progress and assess whether a change in strategy is necessary. That requires will power, discipline and a fluctuation in mindset between living in the moment and planning.
And, sure, you can have a much longer list of goals this year, but these five resolutions are about creating overall alignment—between your goals and reality, and between your identity and others’ perceptions of you—and becoming a more well-rounded leader with a 360-degree understanding of yourself and consequently your organization.