At the start of a new year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by messages around creating a ‘new you’. While aiming to make positive changes to our lives is not in itself a negative, the fact is that many of us set unrealistic goals, setting ourselves up to fail. We try to achieve too much, too fast. It’s why, according to research from the University of Scranton, 92% of Americans fail to keep their New Year’s Resolutions.
So when it comes to bettering ourselves, what works? The answer, according to research, is committing to making small, repeated actions, breaking down goals into ‘micro-actions’. Completing these micro-actions regularly is more likely to lead to success in what we want to achieve overall, such as in improving our general sense of wellness as we step into a new year. Regular ‘mini successes’ generate positive momentum and make barriers seem less imposing and more easily overcome, helping us to focus on our wellbeing, and to become more motivated around improving it.
With all that in mind, why not try some of these ten micro-actions over the next few weeks and see if you gain a wellbeing boost to take you, and your teams, through 2023…
1 Find your flow
‘In flow’ is the optimum state of intrinsic motivation, where we experience peak performance and greater wellbeing. We achieve flow by engaging in activities that play to our strengths and require the right amount of stretch. You’re in flow when you’re fully in the moment, so absorbed that time seems to stop. This could be through creative activities like writing or painting, exercising, connecting with a friend, or certain work tasks. Identify where you find your flow and seek it out regularly to improve your wellbeing and productivity.
2 Find a new way to use your strengths
Using our strengths regularly helps us to find flow and maintain our wellbeing. One creative way of doing this, according to the VIA Institute on Character, is to aim to use one of your strengths in a new way every day for a week. Think about how you might express this strength in different scenarios (at work, leading a project, with friends, with your family, while commuting, and so on). Long-term (over six months), this exercise is connected with higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression.
3 Start gratitude journaling
Gratitude is linked to greater levels of overall wellbeing. One practical way of building gratitude into your everyday life is to try gratitude journaling. This simple, quick and impactful activity involves taking some time, often at the end or the start of the day, to reflect on a number of specific things that you’re grateful for, no matter how small, and why. Studies have shown that people who wrote in a gratitude journal weekly for ten weeks or daily for two weeks experienced more positive moods, optimism about the future and even slept better.
4 Get out into nature
Connecting with nature has a host of benefits for our mental health – research from the Mental Health Foundation has found even watching nature documentaries can have a positive impact on our wellbeing. While going for a daily run or hike outside could be unachievable for many of us, you can start by building five or ten minutes into your working day to get some fresh air, while moving your body and appreciating a connection to something bigger than yourself.
5 Focus on your why
Having a sense of meaning and purpose is so important to our wellbeing: a study from UCL has found people with a stronger sense of purpose live longer. Find your why by spending a few minutes thinking about the positive purpose of your role. What gives you meaning? Write this down somewhere you can see it everyday, as a quick reminder of the purpose you need to thrive.
6 Prioritise human connection
Loneliness is a major cause of poor mental and physical wellbeing and in an increasingly virtual world, it’s important to be intentional about creating connections with others. This could be committing to spending a few minutes connecting on a personal level every day with a different colleague via Teams or your internal social network, or having a monthly in-person coffee catch-up with a valued colleague.
7 Celebrate the wins
Feelings of accomplishment have a positive impact on our wellbeing, so think about how you can build opportunities to celebrate the wins into your working life. For example, could you start every team meeting by asking everyone to share one thing from the last week that they are proud of, whether work-related or personal? Building a regular rhythm of sharing successes will bring warm glows all around.
8 Set SMART goals
The evidence tells us that setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals at work is effective in making progress as they increase a sense of personal ownership. Using a SMART approach around your wellbeing could be as effective. If you want to get more active, for instance, you could set a goal of going to the gym for 30 minutes, three times a week for a month. This is more likely to be successful than a goal of ‘doing more exercise’.
9 Do small acts of kindness
According to The Kindness Test, a scientific collaboration between the University of Sussex and the BBC, there’s a link between kindness and wellbeing. A powerful micro-action could be committing to doing one small random act of kindness a day. At work this could be giving genuine, positive feedback to colleagues, bringing in food to share as a team, or having a meaningful conversation about someone’s strengths.
10 Make your bed
It might sound a bit leftfield, or deceptively simple, but according to Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit: “making your bed every morning is correlated with better productivity, a greater sense of wellbeing, and stronger skills at sticking with a budget.” This could be as making your bed each morning sets up a positive ripple effect for the rest of the day, demonstrating the power of the micro-action.
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