5 Simple Resolutions That Will Make You Smarter, Happier and More Confident

Each year millions of us make resolutions, and each year it’s a struggle to keep them. Change is difficult. Promises that begin as hopeful glimmers amid crackling New Year’s fireworks later smolder, morphing into arduous tasks on an already long list.

What if this year you try something new? What if you focus on adding specific elements to your life that not only bring you positive and lasting results, but are also enjoyable in and of themselves?

1. Learn a language connected to something you’re passionate about.

You don’t have to become fluent to reap the benefits of learning new languages. Even mastering a few key phrases can be enough to turn heads and spark conversations. Becoming a polyglot makes you more perceptive, a better decision-maker and delays the cognitive decline associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

So, how do you pick that new language, and more importantly, how can you stay motivated to practice? Consider those diehards at Comic-Con who learn to converse in Klingon, a language from a fictional universe: if you connect your goal to something you care about, perhaps even obsess over, you set yourself up to win.

Are you an avid fan of Brazil’s soccer team? Dabble in Brazilian Portuguese so you can cheer (or curse) like a local. Do you love the hit show Vikings? Pick up some Icelandic to delve further into their world. The language of Viking explorers has hardly changed since they settled in Iceland in the late ninth century.  

Eftir hverju ertu að bíða? [Icelandic for: What are you waiting for?]

2. Earn a shiny new certificate.

You know the satisfying feeling you get when you check an item off of your to-do list? Positive emotions resonate when you complete your goals, and if you can learn something new in the process, it’s even better.

Enroll in a certificate program for an ability you want to develop. It could be something career-related such as effective negotiating, a life skill such as CPR or something physically challenging such as Scuba diving.

A certificate is a small commitment compared to a degree, but still provides you with helpful structure and milestones. When you’re done, you receive physical proof of your success. Whether you hang your certificate on your wall or not, you’ll end up feeling more confident and you’ll have gained some new skills. You might even be able to leverage what you’ve learned to improve your leadership abilities and advance your career.

3. Become a "mini-expert."

If you can’t spare the time for a full certification, carve your own path and become a "mini-expert" on a particular topic. Don’t let the word “expert” intimidate you, though. When you know a bit more than everyone else in the room, guess what? You’re now the expert.

Becoming an authority makes you more interesting, increases your perceived value and boosts your confidence. It can even lead to unexpected opportunities related to your new niche.

You might become well-versed in persuasive speaking, social media trends or even wine-and-cheese pairings, just to name a few.

It’s easier than ever to get started. Create a personal library of articles. Take an online course. Listen to podcasts and audio books on your commute. With simple tactics like these, you don’t necessarily have to invest 10,000 hours to see positive results.

4. Challenge yourself in martial arts.

If you’re already hitting the gym, consider this as a fun way to switch up your exercise routine and meet some new people. There’s no need to go for a black belt, either. As with new languages, you can learn martial arts basics in just a few classes and stand a little taller when you walk into a room.

Just knowing you have the ability to break out of a chokehold will make you radiate a bit more assurance and charisma -- even if you never have to do it.

Look into a unique style such as Systema, the Russian martial art that teaches you to be flexible, fluid and fully aware. Just imagine telling a colleague you’re becoming a calmer and more focused person through studying the ancient fighting style of Russian warriors.

5. Mentor an up-and-coming talent.

It’s been shown that the best way to learn and polish skills is to teach them to others. When you mentor someone, you have to synthesize and articulate your experiences with clarity and context, so it’s a great teaching opportunity. Taking someone under your wing is also a great way to pay it forward and feel good in the process. You might choose to mentor a relative, a co-worker, your neighbor’s kid or a fellow alumni.

If you’re not able to commit to an ongoing mentorship, bring several young people to the office for just one day each year. Think about those who helped you with their guidance when you were getting started. Now you can send the ladder back down and provide something valuable to the next generation.

The only resolutions worth making are the ones you’ll actually keep, so seek out things you find interesting, fun and rewarding. By focusing on clear, actionable goals with measurable benefits, you create a positive feedback loop that will keep you motivated week after week. If you do that, you won’t just be setting targets for the new year -- you’ll be acquiring benefits that stay with you for life.

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Harrison Monarth

Harrison Monarth is an executive coach, leadership consultant and the New York Times bestselling author of The Confident Speaker, and the business bestseller Executive Presence. Monarth coaches entrepreneurs and corporate executives from th...

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