It’s that time of year again: resolution season. Chances are you won’t get through January without at least thinking about what you’d like to accomplish at work in the year ahead. Maybe you see a promotion on the horizon, want to be more efficient or would like to improve relationships with your coworkers. Often, however, our instinct to buckle down at work stems from an unconscious need to compensate for the things that aren’t working elsewhere in our lives.
If there’s one critical lesson I’ve learned through building lululemon, it’s this: you can’t meet your professional goals if your personal life isn’t working. A growing body of research shows the biggest predictor of success — at work and beyond — isn’t how much effort you put in; it’s how happy you are. And cultivating happiness requires making a conscious choice to develop who you are as a whole person, not simply perfecting your role in the corporate machine. Without that awareness, focusing purely on professional goals can actually be deeply counterproductive.
For managers and employees, here are some strategies pulled from the frontlines at my companies to jumpstart that personal development at work in 2018. Your team (and your bottom line) will thank you for it.
Chase personal goals … at work
We saw an extraordinary boost in job performance when we helped employees identify and achieve goals as part of our onboarding process. The catch? Those goals often had nothing to do with our company. I remember one of my most successful hires was upfront from day one about his dream to eventually leave his job and start his own restaurant. Without batting an eye, we coached him through a process to get him there (check out the SMART technique for goal-setting inspiration), and within a few years he left and went into business for himself.
Why put so much effort into supporting employees when they’re just going to leave? If they’re working towards something they are passionate about, they become a leader of their own personal project and become engaged, invigorated and inspired. That naturally spills over into the workplace. By acknowledging and supporting your employees in their personal goals, you’ll get happier, more open and more productive workers — for however long you have them.
Pay employees to exercise
Despite our Fitbit-obsessed culture, exercise is often the first thing to go on a busy day. Neglecting this area of your life doesn’t just negatively impact your health, it affects your work. The cognitive benefits of exercise include everything from increased concentration to sharper memory, and people who exercise during the workday report a better overall experience on the job. (Bonus: companies that spring for wellness programs actually save money in the long-term.) The natural dose of dopamine that comes from prolonged aerobic exercise—around 35 minutes or longer—also helps you stay present at work and make better decisions based on what is happening in the moment, rather than out of emotion or societal pressure.
When we first partnered with yoga studios so our staff could take free yoga classes, we quickly saw the value in improved time management, increased productivity and deeper interactions with colleagues. (Incidentally, it also allowed us to do some great market research on our target customer group.) If you don’t work for a company that finances fitness, something as simple as going for a quick jog at lunch, or turning a meeting into a chance to go for a hike, can have a substantial impact on your performance.
Clear your baggage — before meetings
Before every meeting, we’d encourage employees to do a sort of “clearing” — a brief sharing of anything going on that day that might be pulling them out of the present. Maybe someone has a kid home sick, or is under a tight deadline or had a disagreement with the person beside them. Whatever it was, airing it out at the start of a meeting allowed people to be authentically in the moment because they weren’t distracted by “hiding” what was really on their mind. In turn, our meetings were much more productive because everyone could be truly present and able to engage with the topic at hand.
These are not meant as complaint sessions or airing of grievances, but sometimes the topic of a meeting gets muted by an unexpected elephant in the room. Acknowledging it and giving it a few minutes of discussion can clear the air and allow everyone to participate fully without distraction.
Zone out (and tune into yourself), on the job
When lululemon was exploding from a local success story to a global brand, mini-meditations became my saving grace. At the time, around 2007, everyone needed my attention. Thanks to those brand new gadgets called smartphones, they could demand it at any time. When I started to get overwhelmed, I’d escape to the bathroom (one of the few places I could be alone without distractions), close my eyes and focus on a small black dot in my mind’s eye. This ritual helped me clear the hard drive of my brain so I could start again from a place of focus and calm.
It’s not just me; taking breaks for meditation or mindfulness at work has been shown to improve concentration and focus and reduce stress, and it doesn’t need to take long. Just a few minutes connecting with your breath or listening to a meditation app can completely reset your day. I believe in this so much, I even developed a series of mini-meditations to help employees be more present at work and in life.
Spend less time at work
One of the most effective ways to deal with the pressure of a big project is to actually step away and spend time with family and friends. Seriously. According to studies, people who invest more in their social connections during times of extreme stress — say, college exam time — do better than those who isolate and work for hours on end. Why? The biggest contributor to our wellbeing is our social connections, so the more stress you’re under, the more social support you need.
The best return on my investment as a human being, hands down, is spending time with my family — but it took me a while to learn that. During my first marriage, I worked nonstop and missed out on a lot of time with my older children when they were young. I’m incredibly fortunate now to be raising young children again. This time around, I’m doing things differently. My family comes first. Not only do I have a deeper connection with my kids, I’m way more focused for the time I am at work. And I anticipate the best of life is yet to come as I become a grandparent. Not everybody has the luxury to prioritize family time all the time, but I promise you that the time you spend with them will never be time wasted.
Personal development isn’t an exact science. There will always be moments when you have to make sacrifices—and put in late nights at the office—in order to get ahead. That’s fine. The point is to make deliberate choices about where you’re putting your energy and what you’re working for. This is your life we’re talking about. Don’t let it just happen to you.
Chip Wilson is the founder of lululemon and Hold It All, Inc., a philanthropist, loving husband and father to five boys. Follow him @ChipYVR.