New Year’s resolutions are founded on the best intentions, but as everyone knows, long-term follow-through on them is notoriously difficult. We say we’ll lose 10 pounds, and we end up gaining five. We enthusiastically declare this year “the year for the marathon” but find ourselves watching cat videos on YouTube in our free time instead. When the promises we make to ourselves (especially those related to our health) are so hard to keep, are they even worth making?
If we choose wisely, yes! Constructive self-improvement can happen when we set small, realistic goals that meet us where we are.
Seven years ago, at the dawn of 2011, I set one such itty-bitty New Year’s resolution. I’d done some reading about diet and decided it would be a good idea to cook and eat more fish and beans (and less meat). I wrote this five-word goal down on a sticky note posted in my bathroom medicine cabinet.
Since this resolution was so succinct, it felt attainable, and I actually stuck with it. When I sat down to meal plan each week, I made sure at least one dinner featured fish or beans. Gradually, this minor addition to my diet led to other incremental changes. I became increasingly invested in healthy eating—so much so, in fact, that two years later I enrolled in my community college’s dietetics program. I’m now a licensed nutritionist: proof that small steps can really add up!
Here are six suggestions to put you on the path toward better health in 2018:
Reboot your pantry
Need a starting point for revamping your diet? Try a pantry reboot! Clear away the Cheetos and Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs and replace them with healthier options like whole grain pastas and rice, beans and lentils, fresh and dried fruits, and vegetables. If healthy food is at your fingertips, you’re much more likely to eat it. Here’s a handy how-to.
Eat more of one healthy food
Like my commitment years ago to eat more fish and beans, the beauty of this resolution is that it simply adds one thing to your diet (or two things, in my case), rather than removing a host of foods in the name of better health. Perhaps try eating more whole grains, or zero in on something super specific you like. More broccoli, anyone?
Set a step goal
Most likely, your smartphone is already tracking your steps. Whether that strikes you as creepy or helpful, it’s a built-in tool you can use to your advantage. Take note of how many steps you currently average per day, then set a goal somewhere above that number. You may not make it to the recommended 10,000 steps right away, but awareness of your numbers can motivate you to work in more walking.
Find a workout buddy/accountability partner
There’s one thing you can be sure of come January: You’re not the only one who wants to get healthier. Ask a reliable friend if they’ll commit to joining you as a workout buddy or exercise accountability partner. Even if all you get is a once-a-week check-in text, knowing someone else is paying attention can propel you to the gym.
Practice silence, gratitude, or prayer in the car (or on public transit)
This world is so incredibly noisy. We have to take mental health breaks where we can find them, and one such place is the “chapel of the four wheels.” (When we’re alone in the car, that is.) Simply silencing our phones and keeping the radio off creates a small space for healing silence. For those without a car, public transit may be loud, but it does provide an opportunity for internal quiet. Instead of checking notifications for the thousandth time that day, ponder something you’re grateful for while you ride the bus or pray for those around you on the subway. These mini-meditations may add up over time to more peace and well-being.
Make a meditation playlist
Centering your mind and spirit becomes a more attractive prospect knowing you have some great tracks to accompany the practice. Resolve to compile your very own meditative “jam” in the new year of beautiful, ambient songs you love. Enya, Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai, and Dan Gibson are a few artists to get you started–or search for “ambient” in iTunes or Spotify for inspiration. (Hint: this also works for exercise!)
Whatever your resolutions for 2018, may they add up to make it a healthy, happy new year.
Originally published on January 2, 2018.