I have never been one to do New Year’s resolutions. This is partly because I don’t believe in waiting for an arbitrary date to make improvements, but it’s also, more importantly, that I don’t believe in the grand gesture. I don’t see people succeeding long term when they decide that on January 1 they’re going to go on a restrictive diet, go from couch potato on December 31 to 5 mile-a-day runner on January 1, enroll in an education program and turn over a new career in just a few months. Instead, I’m a big believer in the power of incremental change: small changes multiplied by time, which become huge transformations.
So, in advance of the inevitable avalanche of New Year’s Resolution articles, I offer a simple list of things you can start doing today, that will improve your life in the long run
1. Save some money. If you have never saved, start saving a little bit, every week, or every paycheck. Do this even if you have debt. If you already save some, save a little more. Don’t try to completely revamp your spending right away, because you’ll miss your morning latte and your lunches out too much and you’ll backslide and probably wind up spending more in the long run. Just make one change – skip a latte one day a week, or pack your lunch one day a week, or, when you need something new for your house, check Goodwill first. Here’s an example – I needed a table lamp. A trip to Goodwill, $17 and a leftover can of spray paint later, I had this.
Nice, right? The point is, get some money saved. Once you see that gain, it will encourage you to find other ways to cut. Over time the small changes will add up and you’ll be on the correct side of the balance sheet.
2. If you have a dream to do something for a living that’s different from what you do now, find a way to incorporate steps to that dream into your activities every day, or at least every week. Want to write a book? Write at least once a week. Even if you do only 1000 words a week, that will add up to a short novel in just a year’s time. Do you think a year is too long? How many novels did you write in the past year while you were waiting to have the time to write your novel?
If you want to return to school to upgrade your education, do something to that end every week. Maybe it will be saving money. Maybe it will be taking prerequisite classes online so when you do return to school you can do it for less money and time. But do something because I guarantee, if you do something every week, you’ll be farther ahead at the end of a year than you will be otherwise.
3. Bump up your physical activity. Are you a couch potato? Don’t try to run a marathon next month. Just commit to walking a mile a day. Do you already walk a mile or two a day? Commit to adding another mile, or, if your knees are up to it, run one of the miles. Or, start stretching for a 10 minutes a day. Or, if you’re a cardio fiend, commit to lifting weights for 30 minutes twice a week.
The idea is to get into a sustainable habit, lock it in over time, and then adjust it as needed until you have the activity level you want. If you try to do too much too soon, chances are you’ll get frustrated pretty quickly, and the whole plan will fall by the wayside. I’m not trying to be negative here, just stating something that fits with years’ worth of observation.
4. Eat a vegetable. There are a lot of challenges going around, where you commit to a complete nutritional overhaul, for a set period of time. Again, based on my observations, most people white-knuckle it through the challenge period and most of them then have a doughnut/cake/ice cream rebound immediately afterwards. Then they go back to whatever eating habits they had before the challenge.
What if, instead of making an extreme change, you assumed that your nutrition is mostly OK (because, assuming you’re not dead or in the hospital it probably is) but could use a few tweaks? Maybe you eat enough protein, but not enough veggies.
Commit to eating one more serving of veggies per day than you do currently. That’s not so hard, right? One handful of baby carrots maybe? Or a handful of spinach in your morning smoothie? Get that habit down, then add something else – perhaps a commitment to eating a vegetable serving at dinner every night. The point is, these small changes over time will have a huge impact on your health, and because they’re not a shock to the system, you’re likely to keep doing them over a long period of time.
5. Because I’m a lifelong neat freak, this last one is my favorite. Add one housework habit to your daily routine. Some ideas:
- Put away all the clean laundry the same day it’s washed.
- Tidy the kitchen before you go to bed.
- Clean one table/counter/closet a week for a set number of weeks until they’re all clean.
- Establish a place to put your “get out the door in the morning” things so they’re always ready for you when you leave the house.
- Process your mail as soon as it comes in.
- Make your bed every day as soon as you get up (pro tip: get a duvet – much easier than a bedspread). Again, pick one habit and do it until it’s second nature, before trying to add another habit.
Over time your house will become tidy, and you’ll be able to use the time you used to spend looking for your keys to start that new career you’ve been dreaming about.