From a global pandemic to natural disasters to political upheaval (and everything in-between), 2020’s been a challenging year for many. I think it’s fair to say a lot of us are hoping for a little more normalcy, connection, and peace in 2021.
Many are trying to tip the odds in their favor by setting New Year’s resolutions, such as losing weight, getting organized, earning more, learning a new skill, or breaking a bad habit.
While each resolution may look different from others, most share an ultimate goal: Living a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. Assuming you’re as fed up with 2020 as many of us, you might be after that too.
If so, there’s something you should know …
The Harvard-Backed Secret to Happiness & Fulfillment in 2021 (and Beyond)
A 75-year Harvard study uncovered the secret to happiness, and many resolutions overlook it entirely: Our relationships.
In other words: If you want a happier, more fulfilling life in 2021, the most direct path is building deeper, more meaningful relationships—and it’s easier than you may think (even in a socially distanced world).
No matter what 2021 has in store, here’s five New Year’s resolutions designed to help you live a happier, healthier, more connected life.
1. Master the Simplest, Most Impactful Relationship Habit
Positive Alacrity is the easiest, most powerful relationship practice I know.
It’s the skill of delivering micro-experiences that have a profoundly uplifting impact on others, and the habit is simple: When you think something positive you genuinely believe, voice it.
Most of us have at least 2-3 positive thoughts about others every day … We just don’t voice them. For example, we think …
- “Those new glasses look great on him;”
- “That’s a really creative solution to that problem;”
- “I can’t believe she remembered that!”
Positive Alacrity isn’t about recognizing people for big accomplishments. You probably already do that. It’s about giving voice to the little positive thoughts you experience almost every day.
For example: Imagine your team is heads down on a new project. Despite this, you see on Slack that one of your founding team members jumped on a call with an intern to teach them how to create pivot tables in Excel. Many leaders would see that, smile, and go on with their day.
With Positive Alacrity, you’d ping your team member at the end of the day and say something like, “Hey Erin, I know your workload is crazy right now but I noticed you slow down enough to help Riley with pivot tables. I just wanted to say I thought that was really cool, and I love that you take such great care of the team. Thank you!”
A message like that takes 30-45 seconds of your time, but can make someone else’s day (and have a powerful trickle-down effect on company culture). If you’re tuned in, I’m certain you can find at least a few chances to practice this skill each week.
If Positive Alacrity resonates with you, you may appreciate the playbook we put together to help incorporate this habit into your day-to-day life.
2. Give One of Your Senses Superpowers with This Skill
Lao Tzu, the father of Chinese Taoism, famously said, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
That’s why most people are happiest in activities that force them into the present moment, like exercise, meditation, or creative outlets. Living in the present reduces stress, increases happiness, and—perhaps most importantly—allows us to deliver more meaningful interactions.
After all: When you’re fully present, you are listening at your best—and when you do that, you allow others to feel truly heard. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through Active Listening. Active Listening is connecting with someone with the intent to understand, rather than reply.
When we listen to reply, we’re living in the future. When we listen to understand, we’re living in the present—and that’s the best way to truly connect with others. How do you achieve this? By boosting your natural curiosity.
Curiosity—or the desire to ask questions and truly understand—is a fundamental part of the human condition. Yet many of us lose that curiosity over time. Instead of asking questions, we fill holes in our understanding with (often incorrect) assumptions.
But if you’re able to cast aside assumptions and enter every conversation with a genuine desire to hear and understand the other person, you’ll be hanging on every word they say. You’ll ask insightful questions that show you’re present, engaged, and interested in the other person.
Once you’ve cultivated that curiosity, here are three more ways to practice Active Listening in any conversation:
- Give Visual Cues: Show you’re listening by making eye contact, leaning slightly in, and nodding your head (here’s how to set up your home office to deliver this type of experience). This is a great way to counter distraction: If you find your mind wandering, engage your body and your brain will follow.
- Embrace the Silence: Pauses are as important to a conversation as dialogue, so fight the desire to respond immediately. Take the time to formulate a meaningful response. If needed, buy time by saying something like, “Give me a moment to respond.” You’ll find most people appreciate the intentionality.
- Seek True Understanding: Assumptions are the enemy of understanding. Confirm your understanding by summarizing what the other person said in your own words, then asking, “Have I understood this correctly?”
Active Listening requires being present in the moment, which is increasingly-rare in our disruption-driven world. When you allow someone to feel heard, they’ll feel safe, valued, and important.
It’s one of many mindfulness practices that can have a profound impact on your life. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve compiled 58 of my favorite mindfulness practices so simple you can build them into everyday life (perfect if being more present is on your list of resolutions!).
3. Combat the Epidemic of Othering
In recent years, we’ve seen an outbreak of “Othering,” a social phenomenon where we allow our differences to divide us (rather than letting our commonalities connect us).
This tendency is a relic of our ancestors, from a time where different tribes of people were often a threat to our very survival. In modern times, differing beliefs and opinions are rarely lethal threats—yet our subconscious mind treats them like they are.
This results in feelings of anxiety, stress, and even threat that often escalate aggressiveness and cause division. Long ago, “Othering” was vital for our survival as a species. But today, that part of our nature has become a handicap that stops us from living together peacefully.
So how do we overcome it? It starts with a very simple habit:
Any time you notice something “different” about someone, intentionally look for what you have in common with them, such as interests, hobbies, or experiences. This can be as simple as a shared meditation habit or as unique as the fact that you both immigrated to the US from other countries—and anything in-between.
As humans, we’ll always have more in common with one another than what separates us (regardless of political ideologies, religious beliefs, nationalities, or upbringing). Here’s a few strategies to find common ground in almost any situation.
- Identify Common Ground in Advance: Meeting someone new? Perform Icebreaker Research to find common ground in advance. For example: Did they graduate from the same school as you? Do they work in the same industry as you? Do you share any mutual connections? Find whatever commonalities you can, and bring them up early in the conversation.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Avoid “Yes” or “No” questions. They typically tell you very little about others. Instead, ask questions that require a thoughtful answer. For example: “What are you working on these days,” “What do you do to recuperate,” or “What’s the most recent lesson you’ve learned?”
- Fire the Second Dart: The first question you ask will almost always result in a surface-level answer that tells you little. For that reason, always ask questions in pairs (what I call firing the second dart). Questions like, “What makes you say that,” “Why is that important to you,” or “What’s your favorite thing about that,” are great ways to dig deeper and find commonalities.
Pro Tip: When you do find common ground, be sure to voice it to the other person and let them experience that same sense of connection!
Learning to seek commonalities rather than differences isn’t just about having more meaningful interactions or living a happier, more connected life. Combatting “Othering” is a duty I believe we all share: To make the world a better place for those around us, and to leave it better for those who follow.
Just imagine what our world would look like if more of us made finding common ground second nature. What would happen to racial tensions? Political division? Religious zealotry? What would happen to our (in)ability to compromise? How would it affect our companies? Our economy?
The domino effect of this simple habit is profound, and all it takes is a commitment: In every interaction, seek connection over division, and commonalities over differences.
4. Match Your Message to Your Medium
Our virtual world makes us more prone to miscommunication than ever.
For example: Have you ever sent what you thought was an innocent Slack message only to have it blow up in your face when it was completely misconstrued? Most of us have been there (many of us, recently). Why does this happen?
In short, misfires like the one above happen when we don’t communicate at a high enough bandwidth. Let me explain: In 1967, UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian published studies showing that effective communication has three elements:
- Words: The actual words we use to communicate.
- Tonality: The tone of our voice as we deliver our message.
- Body Language: The movements of our body (especially our face) as we communicate.
When we combine all three elements to deliver a message (such as in a face-to-face interaction), we’re much less likely to miscommunicate. But when we only use one element (like with Slack, text, or email), we’re much more likely to be misunderstood.
And when that happens, we’re stuck cleaning up the mess. Depending on the severity of the situation, that can be as simple as apologizing and providing more context or as involved as trying to mend a damaged relationship and rebuild trust.
What started out as a desire to be efficient (sending a quick Slack message) can wind up being wildly inefficient as you spend more time mending fences than if you’d just offered to jump on a 5-minute Zoom call in the first place.
For that reason, I recommend only using text-exclusive platforms for quick questions or status updates. More sensitive communication, like constructive criticism, should almost always be communicated on a higher bandwidth medium. For example:
- Use Voice Message on Slack so the other party can hear your words and tonality.
- Use Loom to send video messages, allowing the other party to hear your words and tonality, plus read your body language.
- Jump on a quick Zoom call to combine all three elements, plus allow for clarifying questions.
At the end of the day, the skill is simple: Before communicating anything sensitive, ask yourself: What channel will be most effective to communicate this message? While quick pings might seem efficient, they can often create more trouble than they’re worth.
5. Use Present Interactions to Plan Future Touch Points
As you use the skills above, you’ll connect with people more deeply: You’ll learn their background, their interests, their passions, and their hobbies. You’ll learn what’s important to them, and this information allows you to not only deliver more meaningful interactions … It allows you to interact more often. Let me give you an example.
Imagine you met John and, over the course of that meeting you learned three things:
- He was going to marry his fiancé, Alexander, on June 21st of this year but COVID forced them to delay;
- They were planning on honeymooning on the Cayman Islands because they’re both avid SCUBA divers;
- They adopted a puppy on their original wedding date as a way to celebrate the day.
Based on that information alone, you have at least four potential future interactions:
- You can check-in in a few months to see if they’ve been able to set a new date for the wedding;
- You can do a little research and send them an article on the top dive spots in the US, (since they can’t leave the country);
- You can offer him an introduction to a former colleague of yours who’s also an avid diver.
- You can send a surprise dog toy on the one-year anniversary of their puppy adoption.
Imagine how meaningful just one of those interactions would be—and you have the opportunity to deliver all four over the course of the year. Even better: You can do this for almost anyone you meet with.
Immediately after any meaningful interaction, I’d challenge you to think of 2-3 additional touchpoints: They can be as simple as a check-in email or as involved as an introduction. At the end of the day, as long as you’re committed to providing meaningful, relevant value, people will look forward to connecting with you and you’ll enjoy truly fulfilling relationships.
Why These Resolutions?
Sure: These resolutions will help you live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life in 2021. In fact, I think they practically ensure it.
But it’s bigger than just you.
These resolutions help make the world a better place.
As you connect more deeply with others, others connect more deeply with you. And because of our pay-it-forward nature, those you interact with will likely deliver similar experiences to those around them, who will then deliver more meaningful interactions to the people in their lives.
It creates an ever-expanding ripple effect you may never realize the full scope of … But will in some small (or large) way, leave the world a happier and more connected place. And if that isn’t a beautiful vision for 2021, I don’t know what is.
Happy New Year from the Mindmaven team.