Let's all collectively acknowledge that the last 20 months have not been a walk in the park. A global pandemic, loss of jobs, social and racial unrest, political division, vaccine mandates, our own personal tragedies, and the list goes on and on.  

As we close out another year of extreme challenges, this is the time to be thinking about making smart choices to ensure our happiness and well-being as we head into the new year. What is it that needs to change for you?

If you consult science, there are things we can do regularly that are not only good for our own health and well-being but are especially good for the health of our teams and workplaces.

1. Practice self-kindness

Many people are good at being kind to others but will neglect to be kind to themselves. Science now tells us that being kind to yourself is good for your mental health.

Psychologists in England conducted a study by examining brain scans of over a thousand people who practiced kindness. They found that when you're being kind towards yourself, certain regions of your brain light up like a Christmas tree -- as if receiving kindness from others or giving kindness to someone else.

The practical advice given by psychologists is to pay attention to your inner voice. Do you talk to yourself in a hostile and rude way or in a friendly manner? Point is, negative self-talk that is critical and judgmental can impact your physical and mental well-being much as if it were coming from a critical and judgmental outside source.

So speak to yourself in a friendly and kind way, as a good friend would when supporting you during tough times. Every morning, do a little self-reflective exercise. Ask yourself: If I choose to be kind to today, how would I treat myself?  List the things you could do, start your workday on that note, and watch others be attracted to your positivity.

2. Learn to be grateful

Science says you can literally train your brain to be happy and optimistic if you journal three things daily for which you are grateful, and you do it for 21 days in a row. According to the research, when you raise your level of positivity, your brain performs significantly better than when negative, neutral, or stressed. In studies, it's been found that:

  • Productivity rose by 31 percent
  • Sales increased by 37 percent, and
  • The likelihood of a promotion rose by 40 percent.

3. Forgive others

Have you ever been hurt by the actions or words of someone at work? Nearly everyone has, including me. Anger, bitterness, anxiety, or even vengeance are common behaviors that come with being stabbed in the back or thrown under the bus. But if these feelings linger and persist, it can have devastating consequences for the one holding the grudge.

So what do you do? How do you cope and get your peace back?

Embrace forgiveness.

You heard me right. Forgiveness is rarely discussed or formally embedded into the corporate culture. But it should be. 

In one research study involving more than 200 employees, forgiveness was "linked to increased productivity, decreased absenteeism (fewer days missing work), and fewer mental and physical health problems, such as sadness and headaches."

When we learn and master this virtuous practice as an organizational value, forgiveness can be an effective way to restore trust and set things right with colleagues and bosses alike so you're running on all cylinders again.

Forgiveness also extends outwardly to impact others not involved in the conflict. When colleagues observe others practicing forgiveness, research says it often "fosters positive emotions that can improve decision making, cognitive functioning, and the quality of relationships."

4. Slow things down (exercise patience)

"Speed kills," goes the saying. In times of crisis, it can feel like every situation is an emergency, and the choice to speed things up can actually lead to more chaos and confusion. When people get sucked into a vortex of urgent and impulsive decision making without slowing things down, often things get worse, not better.

Exercising a higher level of patience, processing your emotions, and getting varied input from different people in the organization will actually produce better outcomes in the long term.

In one 2012 study, researchers found that people exhibiting patience made more progress toward their goals and were more satisfied when they achieved them (particularly if those goals were difficult) compared with less patient people. 

Other research also found that patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions and can cope better with stressful situations. Additionally, they feel more gratitude, more connection to others, and experience a greater sense of abundance.

Now comes the million-dollar question: Which of these will you start exercising more often in 2022?