14 New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Stick With
In theory, New Year's resolutions are a fabulous idea.
After all, what better way to start the New Year than with a fresh outlook on life? In practice, however, this annual ritual has become a bit of a joke, to the point that people make bets about how long their friends' and loved ones' resolutions are going to last. For some, it's gotten so futile that they've stopped making resolutions altogether.
The problem, says David L. Katz, MD, director of the Yale Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut, is that many resolutions are unrealistic and poorly executed. "Most resolutions involve inspiration but no preparation," he says. "For long-term success, a detailed and sustainable action plan is key."
With help from our experts, we've put together a list of resolutions for you to try. Many are a spin on the usual resolutions, but with tips for making them stick.
Instead of seeing it as all-or-nothing, look at health as a continuum, says Rallie McAllister, MD, MPH, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky, and founder and medical director of The Mommy MD Guides. "Every decision that I make moves me closer to one end of the continuum—good health—or the other—poor health," she says. "For instance, drinking a soda would move me in the wrong direction, while drinking a glass of water would move me in the right direction. By making small, positive decisions, I move closer and closer to good health."
For most people, exercise is an add-on, something that they do if they can find time. It's much easier to accommodate if you find ways to incorporate activity into your daily routine. "Climbing the stairs to the third floor takes just a minute longer than waiting for the elevator. Likewise, jogging to the mailbox at the end of my driveway takes a minute or two, but it's so much better for me than simply leaning out my car window as I drive by," McAllister says.
This also goes for the office. Using a smaller water glass and implementing "email-free Fridays," where you walk messages to colleagues as opposed to sending them, can boost your step count and help you lose weight faster. "When we find reasons to stay active throughout the day, we can afford to miss an exercise session every now and then," McAllister says.
Many of us get so wrapped up in our busy day-to-day schedule that we forget to pause and give ourselves a break. One easy way to squeeze in self-care is to set aside 10 minutes for yourself every morning before you reach for your phone and start checking emails, says Trinity S. Perkins, certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant in Woodbridge, VA. "Depending on how much time I have, I'll do things like lie in bed and take note of things I'm grateful for, put my phone on 'do not disturb' until I've finished my morning workout, and read for pleasure while enjoying my morning coffee. Starting the day with a dose of solitude set the tone for my entire day and made for a much calmer year," Perkins told Preventionpreviously.
Losing weight is a staple resolution...which could explain why so many diets fail, says Nadia Rodman, RD, registered dietitian for Curves Health Clubs and Fitness Centers for Women. "It's fine to have weight loss as a goal, but instead of following the latest diet craze, focus your efforts on eating healthfully," she says. Though that's not to say fad diets get everything wrong. Steering clear of empty calories and loading up on whole food and healthy fats are steps in the right weight loss direction.
Over the past few years there's been increased interest in cleaner alternatives for home and beauty products, which are so often filled with toxic chemicals that pollute our bodies and homes. Eliza Bacot, registered nurse and nurse practitioner in Atlanta, GA, told Preventionpreviously that she decided to slowly swap in healthier products. "Every month, I chose one product—January it was dishwashing liquid, February was stainless steel cleaner, March was body wash, April was hand soap, and so on—and replaced them with healthier, natural alternatives (who knew that lemon essential oil was a fabulous degreaser that also does wonders for stainless steel?)," she said. "It's been 3 years, and it's a resolution that's still going strong."
"Have you noticed that kitchens are getting fancier and fancier, yet fewer and fewer people are actually using them?" Rodman says. The beauty of resolving to do more of your own cooking is that you gain more control over the nutritional quality of your meals. Rodman's suggestion? "Prepare your own food from fresh ingredients. You will save calories and money, and you will be healthier for it,” she says.
Completely cutting out certain foods—especially those you're particularly fond of—is setting yourself up for failure," says Jason Ewoldt, RDN, wellness dietitian at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, MN. "When someone takes an all-or-nothing approach to bettering their eating habits, the likely result will be bingeing on the restricted food in the near future, followed by feelings of guilt or shame," he told Prevention previously. He suggests focusing on incorporating more healthy, nutrient-rich foods into your diet while still allowing yourself the occasional treat so you never feel deprived. So go ahead—enjoy that chocolate chip cookie.
One excellent goal to set in January is to participate in a competition like a 5K. Chelsi Day, PsyD, HSPP, a clinical and sport psychologist for Indiana University Athletics, told Prevention previously that she recommends setting a specific date and actually signing up for a race within the first week of January. That way, you've already committed, and you have a very clear goal to work toward over the next few months.
Thanks to modern electronics, we're switched on and tuned in 24/7—and more stressed than ever. Not to mention a growing body of research finds that media overload can increase your risk for depression, social anxiety, job burnout, and even allergies. The solution? "Spend an hour, 10 hours, or a full day without your cell phone, Blackberry, computer, or games," urges Ashley Koff, RD, a registered dietitian in Los Angeles. "What will happen if someone can't reach you or you can't reach someone else at a moment's notice? Where will your imagination take you?"
A crucial step to changing unhealthy food habits is simply being aware of what you're consuming on a daily basis, says Kristi King, MPH, RD, CNSC, LD, and spokesperson for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Write down your goals and what you're eating—food journals are eye-opening to what you are actually consuming," she told Preventionpreviously. A 2008 study also found keeping a food diary doubled a person's weight loss, so if you're trying to slim down, keeping a personal account of your meals and snacks is an excellent first step.
Another way to reduce your stress level (and boost your mood) is to work on clearing out the clutter in your home. "Living in the midst of clutter saps your energy," says Thom Lobe, MD, owner of Rejuveneda Medical Group in Beverly Hills, California. "Clean up your mess, and it will open up your life for more positive energy."
"Look for a New Year's resolution buddy that can make you accountable for meeting your goals," says Angela Ginn-Meadow, RDN, LDN, CDE, and spokesperson for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Whether it's a coworker, best friend, or family member, having an accountability partner who can either accompany you on your workouts or even just be there to encourage you when you feel like giving up is crucial. One study from the Dominican University of California found that more than 70% of participants successfully completed their goals when sending weekly progress reports to a friend
There's no time like the present to lay out a plan for saving more and spending less. To get started, Jim Roberts, PhD, a professor of marketing at Baylor University, recommends establishing an emergency fund of $2,500 and reducing your credit card use for an entire year.
Other saving secrets? Live below your means. If you do it consistently, you're automatically saving consistently. Aim to save at least 10% of what you earn after taxes—15% if you're over 35 and haven't started yet. If you can't save 10%, start by saving something and watch that stash start to grow.
Few things are as easy or provide as much instant gratification as donating time or money to people in need. "Give away 1% more of your income than you did last year; volunteer at a food bank in the middle of summer; go out of your way for someone who seemingly has nothing to offer you," says Kathy LeMay, founder, president, and CEO of Raising Change, a fundraising organization working for social change. "When you unleash your generosity potential, your life will be the better for it."
It's true, says a study from Duke University and the National University of Singapore. Researchers looked at survey data collected from more than 3,200 middle-aged Americans who were asked questions related to the frequency of their volunteer work and their mental and physical health. The results? Those who volunteered also experienced a lasting boost in "eudemonic" well-being, or feelings that life has purpose.
Before you say you're too busy, know this: It's not about how much time you give, it's about forming an identity as a volunteer, says Joonmo Son, PhD, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore. "That means you have to give back regularly enough to consider the activity part of who you are," he says. In his research, that meant volunteering 3 or 4 hours a month—but it could take even less for you.