Forget New Year’s resolutions doomed to fail in favor of carefully planned goals with actionable steps to make them successful.
A new year brings new opportunities to adopt fresh perspectives on overall well-being. It’s a time when we can look at what’s working for us and what’s not so we can adopt new habits to benefit our health. But let’s not call them resolutions, which can set us up for disappointments as we let them go one by one throughout the year.
Let’s call them “healthy habits” instead.
To help us, we’ve asked some leading experts for suggestions on manageable, practical behaviors with big benefits to offer.
How to create a shiny new habit that lasts past the first month of the new year
But first, let’s look at what goes into the building of new habits. A New York Times story delves into the mechanics of starting new habits and points out that we may be approaching it wrong. We start the new year with plenty of enthusiasm and make bold proclamations about losing weight or maybe exercising more. But we fail to take the next step, which is clearly outlining the steps we need take to get to success.
The article goes on to say we should be layering new habits on top of old ones. For example, chances are, you already have bedtime rituals or morning ones but if you want to change something, simply add new habits to those already existing. While brushing your teeth, you could be doing heel lifts to strengthen your leg muscles, or get up and walk around your house during the daily call with your mom or boss. Starting small is what experts suggest and move forward from there.
Habits become hardwired into your life when you do them daily. Some research suggests that 66 days is the average time it takes for a new task or habit to become automatic. And when you’ve been successful make sure you reward yourself to say, “Job well done, Me!”
According to Dr. Brittany Ferri, medical advisor with Medical Solutions BCN, the habits that have the greatest impact are those practiced with consistency and regularity. “The only way for this to happen is if it has enough variety to keep your interest and motivate you,” she says. “For example, instead of saying you’ll run 5 days a week, change it to some form of physical activity so you can allow yourself to walk, swim, or bike if the mood strikes you.”
She suggests prioritizing which goals will change your life the most. Start with just 3 simple goals. “This doesn’t mean it needs to be a giant goal, since that will make it far less realistic for you,” notes Dr. Ferri. “But if you choose a goal that takes you one small step closer to a larger goal or dream of yours, it will be more meaningful to you.”
7 health-boosting habits to rock the new year
Our experts have some ideas on what new habits are worth adopting. You don’t have to do them all, of course. Pick the ones that resonate most with you and your health goals.
1. Move more. That’s it. Whatever you’re doing now for exercise, do more in the new year and do it more regularly. It’s a great start to reaping the numerous benefits of exercise, from improved heart health to mood boosting. Consider tracking your progress. Use a fitness tracker to count your steps and try to improve on the number every day, which also serves as a means for accountability. (You can also pair up with a friend with similar goals or share your progress with your health-care provider.) Just walking has a big pay-off. Once your exercise habit becomes routine, set bigger targets to incorporate more cardio into your workouts.
2. Reduce stress levels. A growing body of scientific evidence has shown that stress has a significant (and negative) impact on health. Ready to dial it down a few notches? Dr. Carrie Lam of Dr. Lam Coaching suggests a few tactics, including laughing. “Numerous studies have shown laughter to be effective medicine against all kinds of ailments, both mental and physical. Watch a comedy, spend some time with a friend who has a sense of humor, or hang around with kids.”
Also consider meditation. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just deep breathing for 5 to 10 minutes is enough to calm a busy mind. Or use a free app to guide you through the process and book the time in your schedule so it becomes a habit.
3. Unplug yourself. When it comes to sleep and stress management, unplugging is a powerful tool. Aim for less time spent on social media. Your phone likely has a tracking function of how many hours you’re online. Keep an eye on that and whittle it down, especially at night since the blue light emitted from electronics interrupt the body’s sleep patterns. “Always being connected takes its toll on your health, and all those gadgets and constant notifications can be overstimulating,” adds Dr. Lam. “Put them away for a few hours. Better yet, leave them in the house and go outside for some sunshine and exercise. At the very least turn off your social media notifications once in awhile.”
4. Do one thing at a time. We’ve become a nation of multi-taskers and it can be unhealthy. It’s difficult to be present and tuned in to your needs when you’re constantly juggling. “Do you read email while watching TV and talking on the phone, and scarfing down a bag of chips?” asks Dr. Lam. “Do you really remember any detail from any of those activities? When you try to do several things at once, you really don’t do any of them well. Focus on just one thing at a time. Think of it as mindfulness meditation and notice how much calmer you feel as you go through your day.”
5. Practice gratitude. The last couple of years have forced many people to reassess what’s important to them and to let go of things/situations/people who detract from their quality of life. It really is more beneficial to appreciate the good things in your life. Sandy Schwartz, director of the Ecohappiness Project and author of Finding Ecohappiness: Fun Nature Activities to Help Your Kids Feel Happier and Calmer suggests keeping a gratitude journal.
“Gratitude plays a critical role in happiness,” she says. “Focusing on the positive gives us energy, inspires us and transforms us. In a nutshell, it gives us meaning by thinking of life as a gift.” Write down 5 things you’re thankful for each day or week on an ongoing basis. Over time, you’ll begin to experience the benefits of gratitude such as stress reduction and optimism. If you want to get creative with your gratitude journal, she suggests developing a gratitude blog to share with others, creating a painting, drawing or collage, or make an audio or video recording.
6. Slow down. Many of us live hectic lives and it’s exhausting. Finding the joy in anything is difficult because there’s no time to pause and process things. Life coach Dana Humphreys, based in Rockaway Park, N.Y., recommends setting boundaries. “Protect your precious time and energy,” she says. “It’s important to learn how to say ‘no’ to things that over-extend you. Instead, make time for things that matter more. When you do this, you slow down life in a wonderful way. Creating boundaries and learning to say no also helps to bring your goals into sharper focus. You’ll feel happier and more productive.”
7. Connect with others. Being connected to friends and family is good for body and soul. Numerous studies have found that it’s imperative to our well-being and that loneliness leads to health issues, especially later in life. Even when staying connected is challenging, it remains crucial. “Surrounding yourself with healthy, happy people gives you a higher chance of being healthy and happy yourself, even on social media,” says Dr. Tasha Holland-Kornegay, a licensed mental health clinician and founder of Wellness in Real Life. “Find a few people who inspire you and give them a follow.”
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
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