5 Steps to Making This Your Best Year Ever
The new year is upon us and traditionally, this is the time when most people resolve to change their lives for the better, implement new, productive habits and do away with the old ones. While it’s certainly a worthy goal to aim to better yourself in the new year, it’s important to realize that breaking your old, destructive habits is simple, but not easy -- which is why the gyms are empty by the third week into the new year.
If you want to maintain your momentum, it’s important that you tap into your “why” and focus on replacing your old habits with your new, healthy and productive routines, rather than trying to attempt a total life makeover from one day to the next.
1. Don’t buy into the allure of "no days off."
When you’re excited about a new project, or perhaps you started an entirely new business, it’s easy to get swept up in the optimism true entrepreneurs possess -- you are eager to put in long hours, work weekends and sacrifice time with friends and family. It’s natural to think that putting in more time will result in seeing the fruits of your labor sooner. I’d like to caution you however, because not taking any breaks for an extended period of time can cost you dearly. I’ve learned this the hard way.
When I first got started in business, I was 20 years old. I’d worked in the corporate world for a few years, then branched out to start my own business. Capitalizing on my knowledge of IT and computer technology, I created a business servicing small and mid-size companies as their external IT expert. I was basically fresh out of high school, and with a young man’s energy, I approached my new venture with passion and ambition.During the better part of the next decade, I was working 16-20 hours every day. I didn’t take any days off, not even on weekends or holidays. Financially speaking, the grind paid off. By the time I was 30, I had three successful businesses. I sold my IT business and grew my second and third companies (both in the marketing industry) into multi-million dollar firms.
The more I worked, the harder it seemed to take a break. Even when I wasn’t working long hours, I was always thinking and strategizing. Basically, every waking hour was consumed by work.Looking back, it seems obvious that keeping up this obsessive workaholic approach wasn’t sustainable. I didn’t have the wisdom or life experience to know any better at that time though, and as a result, I suffered a major mental breakdown. The exhaustion, stress and burnout took a toll on my relationships and my personal life. I was only 34 years old, and I was faced with having to seriously reevaluate my choices.
Even though I was very successful financially, I found that having a high net worth didn’t do much for my overall happiness. Psychologists call this anhedonia -- it’s an oscillation between feeling nothing at all or feeling down in the dumps.As I started to deeply reflect on my values and what really mattered in life, I came to realize that sacrificing free time, personal fun and relationships for the sake of growing my business was not worth it.
I couldn’t “fix” my life without outside help, of course. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I’d highly encourage you to seek professional help. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve worked with psychologists and occupational therapist to get through this. Overwhelmingly, they recommended to focus on “self-care,” which at the time, I found somewhat vague and intangible. Eventually, implementing their advice and guidance started to pay off.The first thing I had to do was to set boundaries around my work and be less available to my businesses’ demands outside of work hours. I focused on having a life outside of work and started to pursue long forgotten hobbies. I also reconnected with friends that I hadn’t seen in months or even years.
Being social, and rediscovering with my hobbies rejuvenated my energy and helped me become more creative in business. It felt as though I got a new lease on life. Today, I am happier than I have ever been in my life. I meet each day with excitement, feel more fulfilled, and life seems to have more depth and meaning.
2. Celebrate your victories more often.
As entrepreneurs, we are driven to high achievement. We love to chase bigger and bigger goals. We face challenges head on and don’t even recognize our own victory on the other side. What once seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, once overcome, seems to be instantly forgotten by many. We tend to immediately shift our focus to the next goal, or overcoming the next challenge, rather than taking time to reflect and reevaluate what helped us succeed thus far. The problem is, if we never congratulate ourselves or take time to celebrate, we miss out on receiving the emotional rewards for our accomplishments. When bigger goals are achieved, they’ll zoom by unnoticed too.Today, I recognize how much I missed out on in the first decade of building my business. Friends and colleagues would congratulate me for each big success that I achieved, but for me, none of it ever really sunk in. It was as though I didn’t “feel” the success. I only judged my progress by the ever changing goal posts that I kept adjusting so that I’d have a reason to strive for more. Despite getting ahead in business, my life felt empty and meaningless.
A simple way to overcome this is to focus on being grateful every single day. Take a few minutes each day to journal, and write down what went well. Make sure you don’t turn journaling into a chore or just another task on your to-do list. Take the time to connect with your breath, and jot down a few sentences about things you could be grateful for. To help avoid listing things by rote (i.e. things we’re “supposed” to be grateful for, such as a roof over our heads and having three meals a day), make sure you connect emotionally with the things that you’re expressing gratitude for.If you have difficulties coming up with a list of things to be grateful for, try this. Instead of thinking “today I’m grateful for...” start tapping into what felt nice from the previous day’s events. Perhaps someone held the door open for you at the bank. Maybe the cashier at the grocery store smiled at you, or a friend called to simply say hello. Whatever small thing it is, as long as you truly feel that it was nice when you think back on the event, write it down in your journal.
This practice will help shift your focus and energy toward the positive things that are happening both in and outside your business. Before you know it, your overall mood and outlook will improve and you will start to notice the positive things more often.
Another reason why it’s important to be grateful for the small victories is to truly make gratitude a habit. That way, when big victories come, you’ll be able to really appreciate them and celebrate your accomplishments.
3. Exercise daily.
Exercise is known for being a natural mood elevator. According to this article by the American Psychological Association that reviews a multitude of studies on this topic, “exercise could be a powerful intervention for clinical depression.”
Given that serious depression can result in further health problems and even suicide -- remember the loss we suffered when celebrity designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain took their own lives recently -- it’s important that we pay special attention to our mental health, especially since entrepreneurship is inherently ridden with challenges and difficulties.My recommendation is that you consider exercise mandatory. Think of it just like breathing or eating -- a necessity you simply won’t do without. Make sure you start -- and maintain -- a daily exercise routine.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be complex. A simple 30 minute walk in the morning or during lunch is a great way to get started. As your endurance improves, you can start incorporating more strenuous workouts that fit your style. I like to hit the gym and practice yoga. Several of my successful entrepreneur friends recommend martial arts -- particularly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as it incorporates exercise, discipline and competitiveness. The latter is a trait of all entrepreneurs, and giving it a regular workout is bound to help you succeed, both on the mat and in the “real world.”
4. Focus on your personal relationships.
According to this Harvard study, “our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” And yet, we often fail, or at least tend to postpone investing time in our personal relationships. If you take anything from this article, let it be this point.My biggest regret in life is that I thought I’d have time to focus on my friendships later. I had a vague sense of an undefined, evasive point in the future where I’d have time to invest more in my personal relationships. Unfortunately, I’ve lost a few amazing friends -- including my best friend -- because they felt the relationship was one sided, as I was always “too busy” to really pay attention and be present with them.
I hope you learn from my mistakes and make the necessary changes to include your inner circle more in your day-to-day activities, dreams and goals. Sharing your aspirations and your challenges with your loved ones, and listening to theirs in return, will enrich your life. Though I learned this lesson the hard way, since I shifted to become more relationship-oriented, it has certainly enriched mine.As an added bonus, once you start connecting with a handful of friends and family members in a more meaningful way, you’ll start practicing more empathy, and you’ll become a better listener. This, in turn, will help you be more effective in your business relationships as well.
5. Invest in more professional help.
It’s easy to get swept up in the “superhero syndrome” so typical of entrepreneurs. We truly believe that being independent is above all, and it often leads to attempting to solve problems in isolation. We are resourceful, and we think we can figure everything out ourselves.
While being resourceful and thinking on your feet has likely contributed greatly to your success thus far, sometimes resourcefulness means accepting help from others, both personally and professionally. Once you build a strong and diverse support network, it’ll be much easier to navigate life and business with all its complications and challenges.Looking back, I truly wish I’d sought out professional advice earlier. Trying to solve everything myself resulted in irreparable damage to some of my close relationships.
My advice is to create a safe space for yourself, and have a support team that includes sounding boards, mentors in business and professional help for your personal life when you need it. Doing this will help you overcome challenges much faster and enjoy good times with great people. Invest as much as you can in all of these areas. You’ll be glad you did.We are often told that great sacrifice is needed to succeed in business. While that is true, we have to be careful not to sacrifice in the wrong areas. Giving up too much of our free time, personal relationships, friendships and quality time with our loved ones eventually takes its toll. Be careful not to grind so hard that you find yourself with a full bank account and an empty soul.