Be gentle to yourself during these long dark winter months. Illustration ©James Bareham

Get Results — Be Gentle

Why you should be less ‘Hoorah’ and more ‘Hygge’ this winter.

In the animated excellence of Ratatouille, the weary food critic, the aptly named Anton Ego, wants only one thing when he visits Gusteau’s eponymous restaurant. He tells the waiter: ‘I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective.’

At the beginning of a new year, we could all do with that. And it’s something where older people in business or indeed the business of life have a lead. They have perspective, decades of it, that younger people don’t have. And now is the time to deploy that perspective.

In his incredible meditation on his life, Oliver Sacks says in Gratitude that he realised he had much greater perspective on his life at 80 than he had at 60. I don’t have that many decades under my belt yet, but even I’ve noticed how the holiday companies start to ramp it up in January, how magazines will soon be telling us to get ‘beach ready’ bodies, like they do every year.

My body is already ‘beach ready’, so long as that beach is a howling flatness on the edge of the Arctic where you have to wear four layers of clothing at all times. And I’ve learned this is the time to be gentler on ourselves, whatever our age, wherever we are on the wobbly ladder of corporate life.

If we’re not careful we find ourselves pushed to and fro by various forces which have their own agenda. The overindulgence of Christmas must be atoned for by fierce dieting and even fiercer gym regimes. We simply must get out there and snap up bargains in the seasonal sales or our economies will suffer. We have to come up with a list of resolutions we need to stick to come what may. We have to face the new year in a new way.

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, saw the problem with this years ago. He lives his life by systems, not goals. A system is ensuring you eat healthily and get some exercise. A goal is to lose half a stone and go to the gym three times a week. You will almost certainly fail in your goal — our own experience shows us that.

But you won’t fail in your system if you generally do take more care of your diet overall and ensure you go for a walk or take some other exercise a couple of times a week. Even if you have the odd lapse. You’ll feel better because you’re keeping to your system overall, not stressing about hitting a target which remains out of reach. And if you do reach it, you do hit that half-stone loss? Then you celebrate temporarily then wonder what to do next. Which is usually to put that weight back on.

The same applies in business. There’s no need to start the year with a fearsome set of demands you’re making of yourself or your co-workers. You will almost certainly fail to meet them because they’re unrealistic and then you feel like you’ve failed.

Instead decide to start the year with an improved system. Do one thing a day that makes you feel good, and do one thing a day that makes you feel good about yourself. You’d be surprised how different those two can be.

This isn’t a post lecturing about ‘the five things you must do every day to succeed’. You will suffer enough of those in your life. Instead look at your whole life, your work-life integration, and see how it can be improved over the long term, not just the knee-jerk equivalent of going dry for January.

There’s a growing interest in a Danish concept called Hygge (pronounced ‘hoogar’ or something like). It’s how they get through their long winter months. It’s about being gentle on yourself, but not self-indulgent. At this time of year it means lots of candles around the home, blankets on the sofa and a warming fire. It means good, healthy, homely food, shared with friends and family.

It’s one of the contributing factors to the Danish always coming out in surveys as the happiest people on Earth. They’re not manically over-indulging/dieting/exercising, they’re taking a bigger picture of themselves. Imagine how this could translate into your work life — it certainly illuminates their working lives, in what is a very successful economy.

So, take the longer perspective, be more Stoic, which means focus solely on the things you can affect or influence and let go of everything else. And let go those extreme resolutions that will make you unhappy and anxious. Let them go without guilt. Be more Hygge at work and at home and you’ll brighten the long winter months ahead for you, your family and your work colleagues.

Illustration by James Bareham
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