Prioritize Wellness With These Techniques from Positive Psychology
In the 14 years I’ve taught in the field of Positive Psychology, I often hear colleagues issue the same dire warning: “If you don’t focus on your own health and happiness, you will never be successful.”
It’s a serious message — and a scary one — but is it true?
As a leadership development facilitator, I work with many executives who are so busy they rarely stop to think about their health or happiness. And yet, most objective observers would place them squarely in the “successful” category. After all, they’re gainfully employed, and most fall in the country’s top-earning financial brackets. Their resumes boast notable experience and career progression. Things look pretty good.
Take John, for example — a senior executive I recently coached. John was the head of finance for a large organization. By his account, he was married to a wonderful woman with whom he had 3 great kids. “This is just ridiculous,” he ranted, having read yet another article informing him that not exercising would keep him from being a success. “I’m clearly successful. Guess I don’t actually need to exercise, huh?”
“I’m not concerned about your success, John,” I responded. He looked at me quizzically. I continued: “You are, by many measures, very successful. What I wonder is, are you achieving your full potential?”
John briefly furrowed his brow, considering our discussion. A look of determination replaced his look of concern. If he wasn’t yet reaching his full potential, John seemed to be thinking, what other amazing possibilities were lying in wait for him?
Make Small Changes to Reach Your Full Potential
By whatever measure we choose — career trajectory, paycheck size, a happy family, a completed half-marathon — we often gauge our own success.
But “success” doesn’t necessarily correlate with achievement of true potential. By not addressing that element, we run the risk of leaving a whole lot of potential on the table.
As we talked, John started to consider the potential that he might be leaving untapped, and how he might access it.
If you’re wondering the same thing, there’s good news: Accessing your full potential is easier than you might think. Making even small changes in your daily habits can have a significant impact on your success, regardless of how you measure it.
These changes needn’t be major life overhauls. At CCL, we teach that taking the time to set our brains up for success pays off in all areas of our lives.
4 Techniques Proven to Decrease Stress & Boost Potential
Specifically, I share with clients 4 of the only techniques that have been scientifically proven to decrease stress and increase well-being:
- Increase both your sleep quality and quantity.
- Get more exercise/increase your movement throughout the day.
- Develop your mindfulness skills (via various meditation techniques).
- Foster a culture of gratitude, at work and at home.
Making headway in any of these areas requires no more than 20 minutes a day — and often, as few as 3 minutes will do the trick.
How to Bolster Your Wellness & Access Untapped Potential
By increasing each of these 4 areas — sleep, movement, mindfulness, and gratitude — you can take easy steps that move you closer to accessing your untapped potential.
1. Increase Sleep.
Time commitment: 20 minutes a day
Research shows that you lose one IQ point for every lost hour of sleep. Catch up by taking a quick nap during the day, and reap the added benefit of increasing both your alertness and productivity levels for the afternoon. Or consider a short nap between arriving home and having dinner with your family. Your partner, friends, or children deserve your attention, and it can be hard to focus if you’re nodding off.
If naps won’t work, set your alarm to wake you at the time you’ll actually need to get up. Hitting the snooze button may make you feel like you’re sneaking in a few extra minutes of rest, but you’d be better off letting your alarm go off 20 minutes later and getting up after an extra bit of restorative sleep.
Learn more about how sleep can make you a stronger leader.
2. Increase Movement.
Time commitment: 5 minutes a day
If you’re not currently able to fit exercise into your busy schedule, don’t feel you must jump headfirst into a CrossFit membership. Just taking a break and a quick walk can have immediate positive effects on your stress levels, creativity, and productivity.
These effects are even greater if you get that walk in outdoors, around some trees or greenery. Aim to increase your movement a little each day, and don’t forget to notice exercise that you are actually getting but may be ignoring. (Hint: Walking up and down the steps to the subway, at home, or at work count — celebrate it!)
Also, try these 3 quick workouts that don’t take much time and are easy to do, even in a hotel room if you’re traveling.
3. Increase Mindfulness.
Time commitment: 1 minute a day
Put a meditation app — I like Calm and Headspace — in the spot on your smartphone where your most commonly used social media app usually sits. You’ll be surprised, both by how mindlessly you open up the app without a thought, and by how easily you can fill the few minutes you might have spent scrolling with a grounding meditation instead.
You may like a short, guided recording, or you may prefer the timed sessions that just play background music — try a few and figure out what works best for you. A recent favorite of mine is Calm’s breathing meditation, which rings a chime as an indication to inhale, a chime to hold your breath for a count of two, and a chime to exhale. It’s simple and effective, and best of all: You can use it for a little as 60 seconds to help re-center yourself whenever you need to hit reset.
Getting into the practice of centering yourself — and becoming more mindful of your emotions and environment — will benefit you in a multitude of ways. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more aware of the needs of your colleagues and family, or if you are less rattled by the constant change we all confront each day. Being mindful helps us to notice more things, both internally and externally, and thus navigate through our days more effectively.
Read more about how mindfulness practices can boost your leadership skills.
4. Increase Gratitude.
Time commitment: 3 minutes a day
Keep a gratitude journal. Use a book, use your phone, or use one of the many apps that offer this service, but don’t miss the opportunity to reframe your long-term mindset. Writing down even 3 good things every day will quickly train your brain to look for positives throughout your day. This will pay off both personally and professionally, as your happiness boost will be noticed in and out of the office.
If you want to spread the benefits of gratitude to those around you, you may wish to extend your thanks to others at work; this will help your team members feel appreciated, engaged, and supported.
Want to make this a daily practice? Once a week — I suggest first thing on Monday or last thing on Friday — spend no more than 3 minutes writing a quick gratitude letter to someone in your life. This can be handwritten or sent via email, but try following our widely-recognized SBI™ feedback model to make it quick, easy, specific, and impactful:
- Share the Situation. (This morning, before our weekly meeting…)
- Describe the Behavior you observed. (…you brought me a coffee because you knew I was tired but hadn’t had a chance to run to the kitchen…)
- Depict the Impact on you. (…I felt supported and grateful. I’m so glad to get to work with you.)
Sign it, send it off, and you’ve not only benefited from gratitude, but you’ve made someone else’s day better, too. Get even more tips on how to encourage gratitude in the workplace.
So, remember these 4 tips from positive psychology to help you boost your resilience levels, because while you may be successful by most accounts — including your own — you may still be falling short of your reaching your full potential.
Strengthening the foundations of your wellness (your physical, mental, and emotional health and happiness) equips you to seize all the possibilities that await and truly reach your full potential.
To learn more about how increasing your resilience will help you access your full potential, watch our webinar Building More Resilient Leadership for Greater Impact.
We also offer programs to help you understand how you can Maximize Your Leadership Potential. And our flagship Leadership Development Program (LDP)® equips managers and directors develop the resilience required to handle complex, rapidly changing conditions.