As I begin to settle into 2016, my ongoing commitment to wellness and self-improvement is stronger than ever.
With the crises and challenges of the past year—and knowing there will always be more ahead—it’s tempting to let wellness goals fall by the wayside. There’s sometimes an inner voice that tells us such goals are trivial, that they can wait, that there are tasks that are more important.
But I’m continually learning to resist that voice. It helps to remember that wellbeing is important because it’s foundational—it’s not a goal in itself, but it’s the way we keep ourselves strong so that we can reach other goals.
I’ve added many techniques to my wellness repertoire—ones I’ll continue to use in the year ahead.
Here are five direct routes to better self-care that I intend to keep in my pocket and pull out whenever I need a boost:
- Gratitude: 2015 could be called the “year of gratitude,” with so much research focusing on how the emotion of thanks can improve lives, relationships, and even work effectiveness. A roundup of some research includes this tip that I’m going to try: Keep a gratitude journal with brief jottings—even a sentence—each day on five things for which you feel grateful. Research found that people who did this reported fewer physical problems and better sleep.
- Plan something: In my position at Yale, I recently had the chance to learn from experts at the Gallup Foundation, which has done significant public opinion research on what constitutes a good life. One of the many factors for life satisfaction measured in their Well-Being Index—and subsequently explored in Wellbeing:The Five Essential Elements by Tom Rath and Jim Harter—was having enough planned activities. Note that planned activities means you have to actually make a date and do something to feel the effects. So when I look at my calendar, I’ll make sure that among my weekly meetings and deadlines, there’s also something social, some scheduled time to chat with a friend or family, or a walk outside.
- Feel the BIRG: Yale University President Peter Salovey likes to point to the positive effects of BIRG, or Basking In Reflected Glory—the way taking joy in someone else’s success can also lift you up. He said he “feels the BIRG,” for instance, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (a Yale alumna) visits campus. The sense of hope is contagious in the best way. I’ve made a commitment to spread the word about others’ accomplishments that I admire, as I speak with groups and write articles, reports, and posts. It inspires everyone while giving me a boost.
- Declutter: The cleanup trend sparked by Japanese author Marie Kondo has international impact and shows no sign of winding down. One of her techniques: Go through a drawer or shelf and hold each item in your hands for a moment. If it “sparks joy,” keep it; if not, it must go! This has the added perk of giving you time to relive some great moments and memories. I’m looking at a desk drawer that could use this treatment very soon.
- Find a hero or shero: Who are your role models and inspirations? I have many: My family; my great aunt, Oscar-winning actress Hattie McDaniel; Oprah Winfrey … it’s a long list. Reading a biography or article about someone I admire gets me thinking about my heroes’ actions and values—and helps clarify my own. As I speak, work, and travel, I’ve resolved to keep my eyes open for the unsung heroes as well. I find new heroes and sheroes all the time, in students and in those who work for charitable and philanthropic organizations.
In some ways, a new calendar year is an arbitrary division. In academia, we’re inclined to see autumn as a time of beginnings. But the reality is that there is no one “new year.”
We may all be heading toward a 24/7/365 environment, where there’s no set time for a hard stop or a reboot. But that’s a reminder of something that has always been true: We can make a change or a new start at any time we choose—including now.