Happy almost new year! It’s that time when a lot of us are looking ahead and thinking of what resolutions we’re going to make for the coming year. Instead of vague or short-term goals this year, why not resolve to start a healthy habit that you really want to stick with?
Have you ever noticed how the gym is extra crowded that first week in January? By mid-January the wait time for that elliptical trainer is a little bit more reasonable, and by the end of February things have pretty much settled back to normal. That surge in gym-going is a great example of how new year’s resolutions often work: we set out with the best of intentions, but our resolutions are too big or too vague to really follow through with them all year long.
Starting a healthy habit takes time. I’ve read a lot about starting habits, and depending on what source you’re looking at, it can take anywhere from 21 to 66 days. That means that you need to practice something regularly for anywhere from a few weeks over two months to really make it part of your routine. And that’s if you’re practicing every day.
If your healthy habit is doing something once a week or less, it’s going to take longer. Going into this with reasonable expectations is key to building healthy habits that stick!
What’s great about starting a habit is that once you establish it as part of your routine, it stops being a chore and starts being part of your routine. Brushing your teeth in the morning is a great example of a habit. We wake up bleary-eyed, and for many of us the first thing we do is stumble into the bathroom and grab that toothbrush. It’s almost a reflex, right?
New years resolutions so often are something vague – like “get in shape,” but vagaries are hard to stick to. Check out these ideas for healthy habits that you can form in 2013, and remember: practice makes perfect!
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1) Start a Gratitude Jar
Practicing gratitude is such a great habit to get into, and turning that practice into something physical can help you remember to be grateful for what you have every day. Get yourself a mason jar or a small vase, and every day, write down something that you’re grateful for and stick the paper in the jar.
Your moment of gratitude can be as simple as something like, “Made an amazing pot of coffee this morning!” to bigger things like, “Got a promotion at work today!” Remember to date your moments of gratitude, so you can jog your memory about them later on.
At the end of the year (or when times are feeling a little rough), you get to sort through the jar and enjoy all of the little blessings from the past year. It’s so easy to take those small things for granted, and having them all in one place helps remind us of how lucky we are. (Leesa recommends a gratitude journal to write down at least 5 things you are thankful for each day! When you focus on all that is good in your life, you change and your life will change!)
2) Learn a New Skill
Have you always wanted to learn how to make pottery or cook Indian food? Instead of just resolving to do those things, sign up for a class!
I know, pottery and cooking classes can be expensive. If you don’t have the money in your budget for a class, spend some time googling and see what resources you can find online. Then, create yourself a structured schedule and block out time each week to practice whatever it is you’re trying to learn. For the Indian food example, maybe you can bookmark a dozen recipes, and try making one or two a week, starting with the ones that seem simplest.
You can also invest in a book, which can be very helpful. Sometimes having a tangible item can help keep you motivated.
3) Getting Regular Exercise
As cliche as it sounds, a lot of us do want to lose some weight in the new year, and that’s OK! Focusing on weight loss tends to be ineffective, though. Instead, try focusing on getting regular exercise.
One of the best ways I’ve found to incorporate exercise into my schedule has been…incorporating it into my schedule! Literally. Whether you use a day planner or a digital calendar to keep up with appointments, schedule those workout just like you’d schedule a work meeting or a lunch date.
You can join a gym, but you can also just buy a pair of tennis shoes and head outdoors for your workouts. Walking and jogging outside are totally free activities that almost anyone can do. It can also help to pick up a program, like Couch to 5K, or sign up for an event like a race. Training towards something specific is very motivating!
4) Cooking at Home
“Eat healthier” is another common resolution that’s hard to keep. Instead of just resolving to improve your diet, try focusing on something more concrete. When we cook at home, we tend to eat healthier food than when we go out or order takeout.
That doesn’t mean you have to toss your favorite Chinese delivery menu in the recycle bin! If you eat most of your meals from restaurants now, try cooking at home once or twice a week to start, and add in more meals as you get more comfortable in the kitchen.
Related Reading: 5 Essential Vegan and Vegetarian Cookbooks
When you choose your recipes for home-cooking, look for ones that have healthy doses of fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean protein. You can grab a couple of healthy cookbooks to get you motivated or search online for recipes. Cooking Light and Epicurious both have searchable recipe databases, and you can even look for specific ingredients, if there’s something in the fridge that you need to cook before it goes bad!
5) Replace a Bad Habit with a Good One
Are you a smoker? Is sugar your weakness? Do you love diet soda? We all have vices, and cutting back or cutting out one of yours can mean a healthier, happier 2013.
The trouble with a resolution like “quit smoking” is that on its own, it’s a pretty daunting task. Instead of just resolving to give up a bad, try replacing it with a good one. Quitting smoking is hard, but what if you’re trying to start a running regimen at the same time? Suddenly, your smoking is holding you back from another goal, which makes it a little easier to say no to the bad habit.
For something like diet soda or sugar, replace those unhealthy treats with healthy ones. Next time you want to reach for a diet coke, grab a fizzy water and sass it up with a squeeze of lemon or a shot of juice. Put down that cookie and grab a tangerine instead.
The other key to ditching bad habits is not beating yourself up if you slip. So, you had a few drinks at the bar and smoked a cigarette last night. You can’t change that. Just don’t smoke today! Or tomorrow. Go easy on yourself, and remember that your goal is a long term one.
6) Practice Mindfulness
It’s easy to make snap decisions – sometimes ones we regret – in stressful situations. When that happens, we just end up even more stressed out! This year, resolve to try being more mindful in tough situations. Try to remember to take a step back and look at the big picture. Whether you’re faced with a time crunch at work or a family emergency, I bet you’ll find yourself making better choices and stressing less.
The key is finding better, concrete ways to deal with your stress right there in the moment. Try taking a deep breath and slowly counting to five when you feel things getting out of control. Or even learn when it’s time to remove yourself from a situation to give yourself a little perspective.
Mindfulness can also be about celebrating what’s good in our lives. Pairing up this resolution with another one, like the gratitude jar, can help you remember what’s important in life when times get a little stressful.
7) Practice Self Care
Self care is all about taking the time to care for your own emotional needs. We can get so caught up in the day-to-day that we neglect our own mental health. When you practice self care, you not only improve your own happiness, but you set yourself up to approach the rest of your day with a more positive attitude and more energy.
Practice a little self care every day, and when you make this resolution decide what that means to you. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It could be as simple as taking the dog for a walk while you listen to your favorite podcast or spending 20 minutes one evening painting your nails. Just do one small thing for yourself.
Whenever I talk about self care, I like to share this video from Twin Peaks. It’s a little bit cheesy, but I think the point he makes is spot on. Treat yourself every day, and you’ll be happier and healthier.
8) Volunteer Your Time
One of the best ways that we can improve ourselves is by giving back to others. Try signing up to walk dogs at the local shelter or help out once a week at the local food bank. Giving back improves your community, and you get to go home feeling warm and fuzzy. Everybody wins!
We are all blessed with so much, and taking time each week or even a couple of times a month to give back can help remind us of how lucky we are.
Do you have a healthy habit planned for 2013? I’d love to hear your healthy new year’s resolutions in the comments!