I have a simple solution to the annual ennui that rears its ugly head this time of year. When the pressure mounts to create (and fulfill) New Year’s resolutions, do the opposite: Don’t make them. Instead, harness the “fresh start effect,” per University of Pennsylvania researcher Stewart D. Friedman, who found that a sense of new beginnings is actually a strong motivator. Use this renewed energy to build an action plan to grow your business by setting attainable goals for the year. Unlike resolutions, which often veer towards the vague (“make more money”), goals are detailed and actionable (“pitch five new clients every month”) and, therefore, lead to real results.
Research shows that if you see immediate rewards from working toward your goal, it’s a good predictor that you’ll stick it out for the long haul. This applies to business, too: A Harvard Business School study reports that of everything that can boost emotions, motivation and perceptions during a workday, the single most important thing is making progress in meaningful work.
To get you started on your path to success in the new decade, here are my suggestions for three goals to set for the new year. How you personalize them is up to you, but I promise that if you devise attainable markers and stick to them, you -- and your team -- will be happier and healthier in 2020 and beyond.
1. Take up one new hobby.
Trust me; I know how hard this one can be. When you’re in the early stages of getting your company up and running -- heck, even when you’re 15 years in -- it can be excruciating to entertain the idea of having a personal life. But you need to: It’s good not only for your mental, physical and emotional health, but also for the health of your business. Hustle leads to burnout. Workaholism stifles your imagination, keeps you from seeing outside the box and results in poor productivity -- and the future business success of your company.
Having hobbies and interests outside of your industry and your job keeps you creative, innovative and, perhaps most important, gives your brain and body a chance to de-stress and focus on something different. To set this goal, focus on just one activity you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe it’s something you used to do as a kid, or that just sounds a little out of your usual routine. Think gardening, listening to music, painting or drawing, cooking or photography -- all of which are associated with improved mental health.
There are real-time associations between engaging in leisure activities and daily health and well-being. According to research from Harvard Health, hobbies can offer immediate stress relief by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, which research shows have benefits such as improved focus, less overall stress, happiness and long life.
Having a life outside work also benefits you back at the office, too. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology reports that having a creative hobby leads to better work quality, including project creativity and an upbeat attitude. The study notes that large organizations, such as Zappos, take advantage of this research by encouraging employees to bring their artwork to work to decorate their offices. Help yourself meet your goal by helping your staff do the same. Offer memberships to art studios or creative-writing resources or provide access to musical instruments.
2. Schedule one fun team-building activity per quarter.
Team-building, first and foremost, starts with you. It means showing up for your staff by being vulnerable and baring some of your flaws. Taking off your founder-and-CEO hat sometimes is important to cultivating staff loyalty and a sustainable company culture. In my former life, before I founded Hint, I worked at AOL with a team of some 200 people, and I didn’t really know them well. And while we didn’t have any major crises, I found it lonely to spend so much time at work but never truly know anyone.
Now I make it a priority to do small things to bring my team together than can make a huge difference, and I show up to any planned activity or event. Every month, I host a party at our local Benefit cosmetics shop in San Francisco for the first 15 people who sign up. The attendees receive appetizers, champagne and free beauty services. Every few months, Hint hosts outings like bowling nights, and during the holidays, we set up festive events both inside and outside the office. This year, we took an Alcatraz Island night tour before Halloween, and during the holidays, we trimmed a Christmas tree and decorated cookies. Once per month, I also host an “ask me anything” breakfast for 20 staffers.
No matter if you organize a potluck, an epic party or a simple group power-walk around the block, celebrating team wins and creating playful moments for your staff will improve their happiness, as well as engage them in their work and their relationships with coworkers. Better yet? It will do all those things for you, too. Aim to schedule one fun team-building activity per quarter, and you’ll see that engagement play out.
3. Learn to trust your gut by practicing mindfulness once per day.
When I first launched Hint, one of my biggest challenges was being taken seriously. My favorite example of this is when I pitched my business idea to a Coke executive, and he replied, “Sweetie, Americans love sweet.” I had no prior experience in the food-and-beverage industry, and everyone I spoke with told me it was impossible to create what I wanted: a beverage with a long shelf like that had no sugar, artificial sweeteners or preservatives. I experimented with my idea a lot, with many, many failures.
But I stuck to my guns, and Hint became the first beverage with real fruit that didn’t require preservatives. When we launched, the product had a three-month shelf life, which we later prolonged to 18 months. Had I let that negative feedback or my failed tests -- or that executive’s comment -- direct and quash my entrepreneurial endeavor, I might still be miserable at my tech job.
There is a lot of uncertainty in entrepreneurship. And you may never be entirely sure that your instincts are right; we live in a world of uncertainty, after all. However, learning to trust your instincts is vital to sustaining your business (and sanity), and it’s an essential skill because there’s scientific evidence that your intuition is a valuable guide. A study led by Florida State University shows that gut-to-brain signals can powerfully influence emotions, mood and decisions, and these signals are usually a response to something that feels threatening. So when you’re offered feedback that just “feels wrong,” your body is essentially sending you red flags.
Cultivating the ability to know when to listen to your instincts doesn’t need to be daunting; one tactic you should already be employing is trial and error. Additionally, learning to be flexible and open to new ideas will help hone your gut. A study from the Journal of Translational Medicine & Epidemiology shows that researchers who are more open to other disciplines and worldviews published significantly more interdisciplinary research articles that had a bigger potential impact on society, as judged by independent raters. In other words, immerse yourself in ideas outside your industry, and your work output may affect more significant change in the world.
One of the best ways to learn to trust your gut is by engaging in mindfulness. Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He began this eight-week program in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts to help participants reduce stress and pain while improving focus, resilience and the capacity to recover more quickly from challenges. Sounds like a boon for business, right?
Many studies show that the practice of mindfulness is quite effective; one study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine shows that participants in MBSR reported reduced psychological distress, including lowered depression and anxiety; higher levels of empathy; improved motivation and a better ability to approach stressful events as challenges instead of threats. They also noted feeling able to let go of things they can’t control and a heightened sense of trust, closeness with other people and the environment.
But you don’t have to join an eight-week program to reap the benefits of this practice. Pick one form of connecting with yourself that you know you can stick to. Maybe it’s journaling, writing down how your body and mind react to different situation and what your gut “tells you" at specific points in your day. Perhaps it’s taking a yoga class twice per week, which, by reducing the impact of stress responses (known as “fight or flight”) will also help combat the effects of burnout and depression, which costs businesses billions of dollars per year. If you prefer getting out into nature, a hike will also reduce stress levels. Even just going to a park will increase your well-being and get you more in tune with your inner self.
Taking a “whole body” approach helps you pick up on more information at faster rates than your conscious mind can handle, according to Rick Snyder, CEO of Invisible Edge and author of Decisive Intuition: Use Your Gut Instincts to Make Smart Business Decisions. When we listen to our body’s cues and signals throughout the day and over time, Snyder says, we can make the best decisions possible. And that’s all you can ask for in business, isn’t it?