The new year feels like a fresh start—a chance to wipe the slate clean and make your wishes come true. In reality … it’s not. We can’t snap our fingers and expect our bad habits to disappear. To transform New Year’s wishes into rock-solid resolutions, you need to make goals that are realistic and specific. Once you’ve picked your resolution(s), write it down—along with a list of reasons why it’s important to you—and break it down into concrete goals. Say goodbye to fading dreams and hello to an awesome reality!
Resolution 1: Live more mindfully.
Maybe mindfulness sounds like something other people do, or that you would do—if only you could find the time. It’s easier than you think.
Concrete goal: I will find a tangible item that reminds me to stay grounded daily.
Snow globes work for Andrea Brandt, Ph.D., author of Mindful Aging. “At my workshops, I shake one up and explain that those snowflakes represent all the thoughts going on in your head at any moment, and how that blizzard is distracting you from living in the present,” Brandt says. “Breathe slowly as the flakes gently settle to the ground, until you’re left with the stillness and beauty at the end of a fresh snowfall.” You might also try carrying a worry stone or wearing jewelry with a peace symbol or mandala.
Concrete goal: I will do a quick de-stressor every time I start to feel frazzled.
As soon as you feel the pressure building, take one hand and grab the other and start massaging it with your thumb. Find any tender points as you breathe slowly. “I’m trained in Oriental medicine, but you don’t need to know acupressure points to do this,” says Pedram Shojai, author of The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People. “Poke around, find the tender spots and massage them. That’s it.”
Concrete goal: I will meditate for just 5 minutes a day.
All you have to do is sit quietly and listen to your breath while trying to be nonjudgmental about whatever pops into your head. “Just breathe,” says Brandt. “Focus on your chest heaving and your tummy expanding.” Or use an app to guide you, like Insight Timer, Mindfulness or Headspace.
Concrete goal: I will take at least one contemplative walk every week.
Maybe sitting still with your thoughts just isn’t for you. That’s OK. Go outside and take a few deep breaths as you pay attention to the sensations throughout your body. Then go for a stroll. “When you practice walking meditation, you simply walk with awareness,” says yoga and Ayurveda expert Micah Mortali, director of the Kripalu Schools. “Focus on the sensations in your body: Feel your feet in contact with the earth. Take in the sights, smells and sounds of walking.”
Resolution #2: Exercise more.
Whether you’re stuck at a desk, in a car or both for most of the day, you can kick your sedentary habits to the curb.
Concrete goal: I will take at least one seated activity and find a way to make it active.
Walk around your cubicle while listening in on a weekly conference call. If you shuttle kids to sports practices, chat with the other parents for a few minutes, then walk the field or do a strength-training routine, says Pete McCall, CSCS, a personal trainer in San Diego. Hit the floor for crunches and stretches during the commercials of your favorite shows. Or try walking or biking for part of your commute.
Concrete goal: I will explore new activities until I find something I love.
Once a month or once a week, try something different. Take a hot yoga class, explore CrossFit, find a group to snowshoe with. Keep at it until you find a workout so fun you’ll make time for it—no matter what pops up in your day.
Concrete goal: I will be active for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
Get your calendar right now and figure out when this will happen. Block off 30 minutes every Wednesday to walk during your lunch break or commit to Zumba every Thursday night. The options are endless, but doing the pre-planning is crucial, says McCall.
Concrete goal: I will find a buddy or app that will keep me accountable.
You’re more likely to succeed when you have to answer to someone besides yourself, says Michael Dansinger, M.D., a medical director of lifestyle programs and former nutrition expert for “The Biggest Loser.” Find a willing friend or family member to meet you at the gym, or download an app that will push you.
Resolution #3: Get more energy.
If you can barely drag yourself out of bed in the morning, it’s time to make sleep a priority.
Concrete goal: I will stop hitting the snooze button.
“The average snooze cycle is seven to nine minutes—not long enough for your brain to get back into a deep state of sleep,” explains clinical sleep specialist Michael Breus, Ph.D. So it’s not restorative sleep. Instead, just set the alarm for when you must get up and get on with your day. As with bedtime, keep your wake time consistent so that your body gets into a rhythm. After a few weeks, you should find that you’re naturally more alert (not desperately seeking caffeine) when your alarm goes off.
Concrete goal: I will get out of bed if I can’t sleep.
Quit counting sheep into the hundreds. “You don’t want your bed to become a stressful place,” says Rebecca Robbins, Ph.D., a sleep researcher at NYU School of Medicine. “Read a few pages of a book in another room, and come back when you’re tired again.”
Concrete goal: I will refresh my bedroom to evoke relaxation.
Buy a comfortable pillow, a lusciously soft comforter or anything else for your bedroom that screams—or rather whispers—Zen, says Robbins, who is also co-author of Sleep for Success! And it’s worth taking a moment to rid your room of electronic gadgets that are emitting too much light, which interferes with your body’s get-sleepy signals.
Concrete goal: I will set a cut-off time for my daily to-do list.
You can’t go from tidying up the house and packing lunches to drifting off to sleep in an instant, says Robbins. Do the math: Take your desired bedtime and subtract one hour. That’s when you need to start the wind-down process. Next, establish a relaxing nightly ritual—perhaps something as simple as taking a warm shower—that will eventually signal to your body that it’s power-down time.
Resolution #4: Eat better.
Improving your diet can help you lose weight, boost your mood and avoid getting sick.
Concrete goal: I will keep junk foods out of the house.
If you were serious about quitting smoking, you wouldn’t carry around a pack of cigarettes. Then why put bags of chips in your shopping cart? If you’re buying snacks for the kids, OK. But then leave them for the kids: store them in a cabinet you’ll mark as off-limits for yourself.
Concrete goal: I will give my snacks a healthy makeover.
Carb-heavy snacks don’t have much staying power and are easy to overdo. “You want something with both protein and fiber so that you’ll be satisfied longer,” says Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., a dietitian, personal trainer and co-author of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure. Try some edamame, a stick of string cheese with a piece of whole fruit, a hard-boiled egg with some baby carrots, or a handful of whole-grain crackers with a little hummus.
Concrete goal: I will fully immerse myself in the experience of eating at least once a day.
“Your brain needs to register smell, texture, flavor and consistency, otherwise it’ll keep sending signals to eat more even after your stomach is full,” says Shojai. Be extra mindful during at least one meal—smell what’s on your plate for 20 seconds, chew at least 20 times before swallowing, and put down your utensils between bites to savor the taste.
Concrete goal: I will aim for at least 8 glasses of water and 25 grams of fiber per day.
Rather than focusing on what to take away, think about what you can add more of. Water should top the list, since it’s easy to confuse thirst signals with hunger. To up your fiber intake, fill half your plate at each meal with veggies, swap refined carbs (like white bread and pasta) for whole-grain varieties, and exchange fruit juice for fresh fruit. People who add more fiber to their diet tend to lose weight—even if they don’t deliberately make any other changes.