Disclaimer: of the right foods! “We’re big fans of goals that start with ‘eat more’,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, director of FoodTrainers, a New York City-based nutrition counseling service. For example, resolve to fit in more probiotic foods, like miso, apple cider vinegar, and yogurt to improve your mood and cut cravings. If you do want to cut out guilty pleasures, don’t nix them completely. “Instead of having red meat every week, say, ‘I’ll have red meat once a month’,” says Keri Peterson, MD, an internal medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital. Enjoying your cravings once in a while will make staying on track the rest of the time less grueling.
Go to Sleep a Bit Earlier
If vowing to get eight hours of sleep every night is totally unrealistic, tell yourself you’ll go to bed 15 minutes earlier than your usual bedtime. “Keep shifting that number earlier and earlier, rather than vowing, ‘I usually go to bed at midnight, now I’m going to bed at 10,” says Roshini Raj, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and co-founder of the skin care company TULA. “Everyone has time to go to bed 15 minutes earlier. If you keep doing it, eventually you will be going to sleep an hour and a half earlier.”
Clean Your Mind Daily
Clutterbugs, this one’s for you. Instead of telling yourself you’ll be more organized this year (as you’ve vowed last year and many years before that), try meditating once a day. “When people are stressed, hurried, anxious, or depressed, they don’t want to keep their place clean,” says Sherry Blair, PhD, a positive psychology expert and University of Southern California adjunct instructor. “Mindfulness will help center you.” In a study of 3,515 adults published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found 30 minutes of meditation every day improved symptoms of depression and anxiety in participants after eight weeks. “When people start cleaning up, you can tell they’re feeling better,” says Blair.
Take Steps to Lose Weight
Really, take more steps. “Instead of just worrying about working out during the week, I want my clients to turn their focus to accumulating more steps during their day-to-day activities,” says Shannon Fable, director of exercise programming at Anytime Fitness. “Even 500 extra steps for five days will lead to significant changes.” Schedule breaks during the day to stroll around the block or walk to your coworkers’ desks instead of emailing. This way, you’re focusing on overall wellness (hello, healthier arteries!) rather than just shedding pounds. "The goal should be achieving a healthier lifestyle, not just losing the weight,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, author of The One One One Diet. “With wellness, weight loss can happen naturally.”
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Define Every Day
Pick a new word to live by each month (say, “friendly” or “wholesome”) and apply it to your daily actions—introduce yourself to that new neighbor, or swap your favorite fast food joint for a juice bar once a week. “That’s a really great roadmap,” says wellness expert Sadie Nardini, author of 21-Day Yoga Body. “So many people move through the year without a clear purpose. If I had a word, it would probably be integrity—to me, that means I’m taking actions that feel aligned with my health and happiness.” Post your word somewhere you can see it or set it as your email password as a reminder.
For Cigarette Quitters, Splurge on Something Nice
The catch: You can only use money you save from not smoking. “Smoking increases your risk for every disease out there, from heart disease to cancer,” says Leana Wen, MD, an emergency physician at George Washington University and coauthor of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. “If I could advise anyone to make any New Year’s resolution, it is to stop smoking.” If you’re one of the nearly 70 percent of adult smokers who want to quit, it’ll likely be hard to stop cold turkey. For extra motivation, pick a “splurge” item once a month that you can only purchase with money not spent on cigarettes. “Say you’re spending $50 a week on smoking,” says addiction specialist and inspirational speaker Marti MacGibbon. “But what if you found $50 under your pillow each Sunday? What would you spend it on?” Tape a photo of your goal item where you can see it often.
Journal Your Favorite Things
Instead of resolving to simply “be happier” this year, write down what you’re thankful for each morning. “No matter how challenging life is at that moment, take time, even if it’s in bed, to remember everything you do have,” says Nardini. “This will help you have more joy in your life.” Research has shown that those who regularly journal what they’re grateful for sleep better, work out more, and visit the doctor less. If keeping a journal isn’t your thing, you can also download gratitude-centric apps for your smartphone.