Tony Robbins said, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”
If you’re planning to make a career resolution this year, you’re in good company. According to one statistic almost half of Americans make a resolution yearly. And, while admittedly, not all of them follow through, with some persistence and planning, you can increase the odds that you will successfully achieve yours.
If you’re trying to figure out the perfect resolution that will take your career to the next level, consider one of these possibilities:
1. Pick up a new skill
In my work with executives, many talk about a desire to continue their learning. However, fewer actually make it enough of a priority to do something about it. Instead, they get caught up with their daily demands, letting their desire for professional development fall by the wayside. If that sounds like you, resolve to take action this year. And remember, small steps count – sign up for a conference, read a book, work with an executive coach, experiment with new behaviors, or enroll in a class. Next year at this time, you’ll be able to look back with a sense of pride for the progress you made.
2. Seek Feedback
If you’re not sure the areas you could be working on to develop, then set the resolution to seek feedback. If you have the opportunity to go through a formal 360 process then by all means, sign up to get in-depth perspectives from a wide range of people. If that’s not possible, then select 3-5 people you trust and ask them for candid feedback regarding your strengths and areas for development. This might help you to uncover some blind spots, and also give you some ideas for further resolutions that you can set. One research study found that leaders who ask for feedback are more significantly more effective than those who don’t. So, if you want to improve, don’t be shy about asking!
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“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ~Maya Angelou
I currently wear a lot of hats. I’m an entrepreneur focused on building my business and over-delivering to my clients. I’m the mother of a very energetic and joyous two-year old boy. I’m the wife to an equally entrepreneurial husband, who values my opinions in business and beyond. I’m a sister, daughter, and aunt in a close family. I’m a workout fiend who makes time for activities like tennis, pilates, and circuit training. I’m a pretty active blogger who likes to put my thoughts out into the ether, hoping that they’ll help others. And, I’m a bleeding heart who tends to say “yes” to different pleas for assistance ranging from reviewing resumes, to speaking to students, to devising a marketing strategy for a talented teenage artist.
Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Right now, I’m in the fortunate position of having that statement apply to me. Still, if you’re doing the math, there’s only so much time in the day. As a result, I sometimes feel like I’m doing an awful lot of “doing” and not enough “being.”
So, for the past few months, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the idea of taking breaks.
Historically, I haven’t been so great at them. Instead, I’ve been a nose to the grindstone kind of person who could delay gratification with the best of them to get stuff done. Plus, I’m ultra-curious, so I truly enjoy intellectual stimulation. As a result, I could manage my time like a pro, reading non-fiction and journal articles while on a cardio machine, cranking out high quality material at warp speed, and coming up with creative ideas in my car that I immediately wanted to start implementing once I got home. I could be fully present with my son, then grind something else out the minute he went to sleep. Even when I would go for a massage, instead of lying peacefully, I would find myself chatting with the massage therapist, eager to learn more about the workings of the human body and what I could do to get rid of muscle imbalances.
It sounds dizzying even as I type it, but honestly, it usually feels fine. After all, when you’re passionate about something, like Confucius said, it doesn’t feel like work. And, I make time to do things like exercise, so I’m doing everything I was supposed to do, right?
It would seem so, except for the fact that it wouldn’t be until outwardly imposed breaks hit that all of this activity would catch up with me, usually in the form of getting sick during holidays. Or sometimes, I would feel completely and utterly tired despite full nights of sleep (I am not one to skimp on sleep).
And, I’m not the only one. Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend (the mother of an infant), who mentioned she had gotten sick over the weekend as a result of firing on all cylinders in her life. I have another friend who constantly updates her Facebook page with status updates about how busy she is, while also feeling that there’s nothing she can do about it except be as productive as possible to keep up.
Lately, however, I’ve been actively questioning this approach. And what I have found is that while the outcomes of taking a break aren’t as tangible as checking an item off of a to-do list, they can be just as rewarding.
For example, last month, I took a few hours to go to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, to recharge. I had heard about how peaceful it was there, and so I decided I was going to take a break with the goal of simply relaxing in solitude. And, it was wonderful.
Although I’m someone who meditates pretty regularly, sitting in the silence of a cavernous empty church, designed with clean, simple lines juxtaposed against beautiful stained glass, was particularly tranquil. Walking along the paths, taking in the loving craftsmanship of the statues and the natural beauty of the flowers was humbling. Sitting by the still lake on a bench, writing in my journal while being serenaded by a group of ducks was a nourishing experience.
And, though I was initially a tad irritated when a friendly stranger sat beside me on the bench and engaged me in conversation (after all, I had come for solitude), I quickly went with the moment, and ended up enjoying an interesting dialogue on metaphysics, including an opportunity to practice my French (which I hadn’t done in years).
It was only a few hours, but the experience truly refreshed me and left me with a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a long time, because I gave myself total and absolute permission to just be.
Since then, I’ve been being intentional about taking time for breaks such as these more often. I take bubble baths. I take power naps when I need them. This morning, when I felt too tired to go to the gym, I listened to my body instead of forcing myself to go. I resumed attending my gentle yoga class after a one-year hiatus. I also plan to carve out time on my calendar to spend a few hours at the monastery again in the future.
And the funny thing is, everything still gets done, just as it did before. Clothes get folded. Projects get completed. Blog posts and reports get written. The world keeps turning.
About a year ago, I asked my (amazing) parents for words of advice they would share for younger people based on their own life experiences. Both of them said something similar, “I would stop and smell the roses more.”
So, I plan to do just that. I hope you will too!
As more and more information emerges about the benefits of taking a holistic approach to life and work, chances are you’ve stumbled across terms like E.Q., positive psychology, and mindfulness. And, like many people, you may be more familiar with the terms themselves than their actual meanings. To help set the record straight and enhance your understanding of some valuable concepts, here is a handy glossary which offers you a complete overview of some terms relevant to this area.
Also known as EQ, Emotional Intelligence is a term that has become increasingly prevalent in the business world. It refers to a person’s ability to monitor the emotions of himself and others and use this information to guide his thinking, behavior and actions. An increasing number of studies have shown that those with higher EQ levels enjoy better mental health, enhanced on-the-job performance and highly developed leadership skills. As such, hiring managers are consistently on the lookout for EQ in potential job candidates.
While psychology has historically focused on human dysfunction and mental illness, this trend has shifted since the turn of the current century. Positive psychologists use scientific methods to study the conditions associated with helping both individuals and communities to prosper and perform at their best. The term is gaining rapid popularity in the world of business where corporate psychologists such as myself are drawing on the science to help companies and employees achieve greater wellbeing, and in turn, drive more profit for the companies in which they work.
Originating from ancient Buddhist meditation practices, mindfulness has since emerged as a contemporary term which describes a person’s dynamic awareness and acceptance of his/her thoughts, emotions, sensory experiences and surrounding environment. It calls on individuals to experience and non-judgmentally stay aware of the immediate moment, rather than be distracted by thoughts of the past or present. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a prominent figure in mindfulness defines it as, “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” Mindfulness has proven to be a valuable practice in a variety of realms and is now used across an array of areas including corporate, education, health and social rehabilitation.
As the name suggests, wellness relates to a person’s overall state of wellbeing encompassing the mind, body and spirit. This balance is actively sought out by an individual through decisions and choices that nurture the creation of an all-encompassing healthy lifestyle. While the term is incredibly broad, common wellness dimensions include mental, physical, spiritual, environmental, social and occupational.
Spirituality is a hard one to define as it can mean different things to different people. That said, most spirituality encounters involve a path to self-transformation, inner discovery and meaningful experiences. Some of the more popular spiritual journeys involve religion, meditation, nature, reflection and sensory experiences. While work and spirituality have often been considered separate domains, research shows that they can co-exist to create better outcomes.
“Do you have any book suggestions?”
Clients ask me this question all the time. It’s understandable – there are piles of self-help books purportedly designed to help you and your career, but how do you wade through them all to separate the good from the not-so-good?
In this video I give you some of my favorite book suggestions for professional development. They are great for leaders, leaders-to-be, entrepreneurs, and anyone who wants to advance in their career. Check it out, and tell me what you think!
Here are links to the books I mentioned:
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There – Marshall Goldsmith
- Give and Take – Adam Grant
- The Charisma Myth – Olivia Fox-Cabane
- Search Inside Yourself – Chade-Meng Tan
- For Your Improvement – Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichinger
- The Alchemist – Paulo Coehlo
- The Consummate Leader: a Holistic Guide to Inspiring Growth in Others…and in Yourself – Patricia Thompson
Oprah Winfrey. Steve Jobs. Phil Jackson. Russell Simmons. Bill Clinton. Ray Dalio (founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund firm). What do each of these individuals have in common aside from being insanely successful? They are (or have been) regular meditators who extol the benefits of this practice as contributing to their achievements. At this point in time, no one questions the need to exercise one’s body for greater effectiveness, both in and out of work. Similarly, engaging in a regular meditation is exercise for your mind that will make you more productive in a variety of spheres. Need some more convincing? Read below for my top five reasons that all leaders would benefit from a little time spent on a zafu (meditation pillow).
1. Meditation is a Stress Reducer
Numerous studies have shown that regular meditation is effective in reducing stress. Whether it is used to calm the mind of individuals with anxiety disorders, or to simply relax after a long day, its effectiveness has been proven time and time again. In fact, studies show that across time, meditation changes the brain’s structure so that not only are you better able to deal with stress, you become less prone to experience stress or fear in the first place.
2. Meditation Improves Your Emotional Intelligence
According to Daniel Goleman, the individual largely responsible for bringing the term “emotional intelligence” to the general lexicon, there are five aspects of E.Q.: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. The different types of meditation can positively impact the majority of these variables. For example, mindfulness meditation, a form of meditation in which the individual learns to observe his or her thoughts nonjudgmentally, helps one to gain greater insight into oneself, and in turn can assist with regulating one’s behaviors. Lovingkindness meditation (LKM), a form of meditation aimed at developing greater acceptance of others, can assist with developing empathy, which in turn, can improve one’s relationships with others.
3. Meditation Enhances Your Resilience
The business world is fraught with unexpected developments, shifting priorities, and setbacks. Resilient individuals are able to bounce back quickly from these events, maintain a sense of perspective, and focus on the task at hand. In laboratory studies, mindfulness meditation has proven effective in helping individuals bounce back more quickly from unexpected stressors.
4. Meditation Improves Your Focus and Concentration
Various studies have shown that meditation improves one’s ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. For example, Buddhist monks who have maintained a regular meditation practice tend to perform better on concentration tasks than control groups. There is also good news for those of us who do not have the time or inclination to devote ourselves to a life of contemplation. In various experimental studies, participants who are taught to engage in a regular meditation practice exhibit better concentration than those in a waitlist group after just a few months.
5. Meditation Enhances Your Immune Function
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson and colleagues conducted an 8 week study in which participants were taught mindfulness meditation. In addition to having an increased activity in the left-sided anterior portions of the brain (a pattern associated with greater positive emotion), they also showed increased antibodies in response to an influenza vaccine compared to a control group. Interestingly, the increases in the antibodies were commensurate with the increase of activity in the left anterior portions of the brain. Want to be healthier? Add meditation to your daily routine.
As someone who has meditated regularly for the past several years, I can also personally attest to the value of making the time to clear one’s mind. I have seen the difference it makes in my effectiveness, sense of well-being, and ability to handle stress. I have also witnessed similar positive changes in my clients who have committed themselves to this endeavor. So, give it a try – as little as 10 minutes a day can be beneficial. “But I don’t have time to meditate,” you say. Then perhaps you should consider this old zen adage, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
In the past month, I have surprised even myself by the number of times I have recommended mindfulness to my executive coaching clients. I have recommended it for a new manager who needed to improve his listening skills, an executive who struggled with confidence, and a stressed tech worker. I have also suggested mindfulness for dealing with impulsivity, emotional intelligence, and concentration.
So, am I just a lazy psychologist who has a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching? Not at all! There just happens to be a wealth of research that shows the numerous ways mindfulness can increase work effectiveness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is world-renowned in the field of mindfulness defines it as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.” Read on for five ways it can hep you to be at your best at work.
1. Mindfulness Improves Self-Esteem
If you struggle with self-doubt on the job, mindfulness can boost your confidence. One study showed that students who took part in mindfulness meditation showed greater self-esteem after meditating, compared to a control group. The researchers argued this was because they developed a non-judgmental attitude toward themselves, were able to stay present, let their thoughts come and go without reacting to them, and learned to label their internal experiences. All of these strategies prevented them from getting carried away with their self-criticism.
Takeaway: By training yourself to take a step back from your thoughts and emotions, you can view yourself and the situation more objectively, and feel good about yourself, regardless of what may be going on around you.
2. Mindfulness Can Decrease Burnout
In today’s competitive market, companies are frequently in the position of trying to do more with less. As a result, workers often complain of demanding jobs with increased workloads and mounting stress. Luckily, studies of healthcare workers have shown that mindfulness practices can help guard against burnout. For example, a study of primary care clinicians showed they were less burned out, anxious, stressed, and depressed as a result of mindfulness training, and that these results persisted 9 months afterwards. Mindfulness has also been linked to decreased levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body.
Takeaway: Practicing mindfulness enhances your resilience to stress by positively altering your physical reactions and helping you to look at situations in a more objective fashion.
3. Mindfulness Can Improve Customer Service
If you are in a customer-oriented role, mindfulness can help you to better meet the needs of your clients. In another study of doctors, it was found that physicians who are more mindful were rated by their patients as more effective in communication and quality of care compared to their less mindful colleagues. The researchers concluded that because these doctors were more attentive to the patients, talked more with them about their emotions, and took more time to connect, the patients had a better overall experience with them.
Takeaway: Regardless of the field you are in, being fully present with others can only enhance your ability to hear, understand, and respond to their needs.
4. Mindfulness Can Help Your Job Performance
My clients consistently talk about how their jobs require them to deal with busy schedules, competing priorities, and a need to multi-task. Fortunately, mindfulness has also been shown to assist with these challenges. In a study of restaurant servers, it was found that the employees who were more mindful were rated by their managers as being more effective overall. The researchers argued that the ability to maintain attention in a busy environment gave those individuals a leg up compared to their co-workers.
Takeaway: Mindfulness can help you to concentrate and stay centered, even when things around you get crazy. This can help you to respond to the demands around you in a calm way.
5. Mindfulness Can Make You More Compassionate
In a study out of Northeastern University, participants who went through a meditation training program were over three times more likely to help an actor who was pretending to be in pain and on crutches compared to the control group. The researchers suggested that the meditators developed greater compassion for their fellow human beings as a result of this 8-week training program, and as a result, were more likely to help someone in need.
Takeaway: Given that most of the clients I work with long for a positive and supportive workplace culture in which employees genuinely care about each other, the enhanced compassion associated with mindfulness can increase employee engagement.
Regardless of the field you are in, a regular mindfulness practice can help you become happier and more effective on the job. Invest in yourself and enjoy the results!