Fresh Ideas to Restart the Year
Have your resolutions already been derailed? No worries—follow these suggestions and get back on track for a memorable 2017.
Boredom might have doomed your New Year’s resolution, but it’s never too late to reset and embrace variety! Stop weighing yourself daily—instead sample a whole raft of self-improvement ideas and see which ones click. On the following pages are 52 tips for feeling your best and enjoying life. Work your way down the list—or jump around and surprise yourself!
1. Take a trip. A change of scenery works wonders. In a priceline.com survey, more than half of the respondents said travel beats other activities (like shopping) as a mood-brightener. Romantic getaways worked best of all. (A lengthy journey isn’t necessary—four out of five people favored multiple short trips over one big one.)
2. Try a new food. We all get in food ruts, thinking we only like certain things and sticking with them. So make an effort to try one new healthy food each week. Variety is important to our diet. To ensure you’re taking in all the nutritients you need each day, try focusing on a different fruit or veggie each week. Filling up on low-calorie and nutrient-dense foods can help you crowd out the not-sogood foods.
3. Give back. Heard of the “helper’s high”? It’s the great feeling you get when you give. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health looked at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to charities and found that giving stimulates the reward center in the brain, releasing feel-good endorphins. (To get started locally, Google the Literacy Volunteers of Morris County or the ARC of Essex County.)
4. Read a classic. Haunted by the fact that you’ve never read Little Women? (Or maybe it’s Treasure Island.) Make time today to tackle that first chapter—and ease stress by not giving yourself a deadline. After all, literature is how folks used to keep occupied while waiting for Facebook to be invented.
5. Try a new fitness class. Bodies get accustomed to the same old workout routine, but taking up a new exercise—spinning, for example—can give your body the jolt it needs to start burning fat again. The average indoor cycling class burns 400 to 600 calories. Stay motivated by focusing on the music, and know you can ride at your own pace.
6. Make a small change. By switching a little habit like your route to work each day or your coffee order at Starbucks, you’ll encourage your brain to make new connections. This concept, called neuroplasticity, can actually make you more creative, leading to more “Aha!” moments of inspiration.
7. Think positive. Pick an area of your life you’re apt to complain about, and look at the bright side instead. In a study in the journal BMC Public Health, researchers found that heart-disease patients who were more optimistic survived longer.
8. Visit a new area in Morris and Essex counties. There are 39 municipalities in Morris and 22 in Essex. How many have you seen? Get acquainted with a new town!
9. Do something you’ve never done. Indoor rock climbing? Wearing a fedora? Going on a blind date? If it’s new to you, give it a try! Sometimes we need to shake things up to avoid that Groundhog Day feeling.
10. Forgive someone. Carrying a grievance around? Drop that weight! Studies have found that forgiving someone can actually improve your health, cutting heart-attack risk, improving cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure and reducing pain, anxiety and stress.
11. Focus on your motivation. If you set a goal, such as losing 10 pounds or quitting smoking, without focusing on your motivation, it’s easy to give up once the going gets tough. But zoning in on why you want to lose the weight—for instance, to look good at a college reunion or to live a long life to really get to know your granddaughter—can get you to stick with the program.
12. Tell someone how you really feel. Don’t go overboard here, but honestly getting something off your chest feels great—and lowers stress. Whether it’s confessing your affection to a longtime crush or simply telling the school volunteer coordinator you really don’t have time to help set up the class book fair this year, just say it. You’ll set yourself free.
13. Schedule a spa session. Maybe there’s a treatment you’ve been dying to try—microdermabrasion or a flotation wrap, perhaps. Or book something classic such as a massage you know will make you feel great.
14. Make time for you. It seems there’s always something that needs doing or someone who needs attention. But it’s important to carve out time for yourself so you can recharge and reconnect with whatever it is that brings you joy. How to fit it in? Schedule a meeting with yourself. Setting aside time the way you would for a business meeting or a doctor’s visit will help you keep the “appointment.” The gift of time for yourself increases clarity, creativity, energy and motivation.
15. Buy that thing you’ve always wanted. Maybe it’s a convertible, a Louis Vuitton bag or the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine you longed for as a kid. If you can’t stop thinking about it, buy it. Life’s too short to be always pining for something, even if it isn’t strictly a necessity. (Too pricey? Start putting aside money that’s earmarked for this heart’s desire. You’ll have something to look forward to.)
16. Hire a personal trainer. “When you hire a trainer, you get a workout that is focused on exactly what you want to achieve,” says certified personal trainer Kevin Diaz of Newarkbased Diaz Fitness and Training. “There’s also an extra sense of accountability. Going it alone can lead to not pushing yourself, no progressing, getting hurt or not going at all.”
17. Meditate. Mindfulness—intentionally focusing on the present moment without judgment—has been practiced for centuries to increase well-being. And research shows that mindfulness meditation can decrease stress and improve focus, memory and sleep. “Breathe, relax, hand on heart,” says Julia Erickson, owner of Jolie yoga and meditation studio in Madison. “This three-second meditation practice is a secret weapon to get you through your day—an antidote to stress, anxiety and fear.”
18. Try reflexology. Reflexology is based on the idea that points on the feet correspond to the body’s organs and glands, and pressure applied to these areas can bring benefits. Reflexology can reduce pain, anxiety and depression, while increasing circulation and promoting relaxation, according to research studies.
19. Have a glass of water. Experts tell us it’s good to stay hydrated: Good old H2O’s myriad health benefits include calorie control, clearer skin, improved muscle function, less fatigue and enhanced digestion. And it’s a refreshing break from sugary sodas and costly coffees.
20. Write a letter. Think about how good it feels when you get real mail instead of just junk or bills. Spread the love by sending a handwritten note to someone else. The recipient will appreciate that you took time out of your busy day to write a letter and that they’re worth the effort. And it will make you happy knowing that you made them happy.
21. “Journal” nightly. A growing body of evidence supports the health benefits of “therapeutic journaling”—jotting down not just what happens, but also what you think and feel about it. Such writing helps you work through issues, gain perspective on your emotions and potentially brighten your mood.
22. Organize your photos. Wish you could look back at a certain vacation pic or find that cute image of your toddler with mac ’n’ cheese all over her? If your pictures were clearly labeled and organized, it would be easier. Make this your year for taking these steps when downloading new photos to your computer: create folders, add keywords and tags, add locations via GPS or manually and take advantage of facerecognition software.
23. Edit your closet. If you stare each morning at a bulging closet, yet can’t find anything to wear, it may be time for professional help. A “stylist” can help you decide what to keep, store, donate—or add. Getting objective feedback on your wardrobe will help you toss the pieces that no longer work for you. And you’ll wind up with go-to looks for work, date nights and weekends. Having an outfit plan saves time, reduces morning stress and increases your confidence.
24. Improve your posture. Hunched over a desk all day? Make a conscious effort to sit up straight with your shoulders down and relaxed. Exercises such as Pilates and yoga that focus on core strength and body awareness can help, and a gym trainer can direct you to the right muscles to strengthen.
25. Book medical appointments now. It can take a long time to get an appointment with a doctor, so spend a few minutes now making appointments for the coming year. (For a refresher on what regular screenings you need, search online for “screening guidelines for adults.”)
26. Attend a religious service. Frequent church or synagogue attendees have lower blood pressure than others, says a study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. Why? It could be that “people who attend services are exposed to sermons that provide guidance for healthy decision-making and coping with stress,” says Harold G. Koenig, M.D., of Duke University, one of the study authors. Group singing may also help cut stress, he says.
27. Fix that flaw. A tiny red spot on the face? It could be broken capillaries easily repaired with a laser treatment by a dermatologist. Many cosmetic procedures are less expensive and invasive than you’d think. If a facial or skin flaw bugs you, check it out and decide if it’s worth corrective treatment. If so, make an appointment; if not, put away worries and move on.
28. Ask for better rates. Sometimes speaking up can save you money. Ask your bank for a credit card interest rate reduction. Shop around for cheaper homeowner’s and car insurance. Call your cable or cellphone company and negotiate a better deal. You may qualify for an incentive rate or a discount you didn’t know about.
29. Put down the phone. A study from the University of Derby in England warns of “smartphone addiction,” a new malady authors link with “higher scores of narcissism.” Try designating phone-free hours of each day, and don’t use your phone as an alarm clock, lest you be tempted to jump on it the minute you awaken.
30. Sign up for a race. Having that 5K or Tough Mudder race on the calendar is excellent motivation to get you working out—or working out harder than ever. Plus you may make new friends who’ll help keep you on track even after you cross the finish line.
31. Tip one back. New research from Penn State University and Kailuan Hospital in China shows that moderate drinking may slow the decline of “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which helps remove bad cholesterol from the arteries, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Moderate drinking is defined as one-half to one drink a day for women; one to two drinks daily for men. (Note: We said “moderate”; teetotaling still beats abusing alcohol.)
32. Buy new pillows. Your pillow is where your face spends one-third of its time, but you’d be surprised how quickly dirt, oils and dead skin cells build up there. Replace pillows at least every three years, and keep them clean in the meantime. Dry-clean down feather pillows; down-alternative pillows can be tossed in the washing machine.
33. Subscribe to a newspaper, magazine or website. Dig deeper than the headlines by making a regular date with your favorite news source. You’ll be bristling with insights at the next cocktail party. (Often, signing up for a print publication gives you online access too.)
34. Check that home improvement task off your list. Surely there’s a home project you’ve been dreading. Choose today to tackle it, or—no shame here!—call a handyman to make an appointment to get it done. How relieved you’ll feel!
35. Pick up a coloring book. Coloring books for adults are hot, with bookstores and Amazon offering dozens of options. Research has shown that coloring can reduce anxiety and increase mindfulness (see tip #17), so grab your colored pencils and get scribbling.
36. Consult a financial planner. We all want to be able to retire comfortably someday, and advance planning is necessary. It’s important to meet with a financial advisor long before retirement to get the maximum benefit from your investments. But it’s never too late to begin a financial plan. If you get an early jump on investing, an advisor can guide you toward investments and an asset mix that are most likely to help you meet retirement goals, taking into consideration your personal risk tolerance. The advisor can also help you determine if you need to adjust current saving or spending habits.
37. Make a “joy jar”. Write down the moments that bring you delight each day and slip them into a “joy jar”—use any jar with a lid, such as a mason jar or a washed-out spaghettisauce container. At month’s end, open your jar and enjoy the memories.
38. Organize one drawer. It’s daunting to think about getting organized in general. Instead, pick one spot to sort right now—like the junk drawer. Or the linen closet, or the space under the bathroom sink. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.
39. Step outside. Make an appointment with the great outdoors—this afternoon—for a bit of fresh air. Research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology shows that spending time in nature increases energy for 90 percent of us.
40. Do it yourself. Assemble that bookcase, paint that bathroom or fix that broken bike. Doing things yourself actually makes you value the finished product more— researchers call this “the Ikea effect.”
41. Invent something. The next Joy Mangano (inventor of the Miracle Mop) could be you! But even if you don’t think up a Shark Tank–winning idea, it’s still good to stir the creative juices. Start small by coming up with a new smoothie recipe or a game your kids can play.
42. Don a special color. Research on the psychology of color has shown that wearing certain hues can affect your mood. Orange lifts the spirits, blue inspires calm and green can make you more productive.
43. Please your nose. Studies show that smells trigger more vivid emotional memories than images. Why not enjoy such nostalgia by wearing an old favorite perfume or buying a gingerbread-scented candle that smells like the cookies your mom used to make?
44. Have a chocolate. No, really—it boosts brainpower! In a study of 1,000 people spanning 30 years, people who ate chocolate at least once a week did better on cognitive tasks than those who didn’t. The University of South Australia researchers believe nutrients called cocoa flavonoids increase blood flow to the brain.
45. Do something you’re scared of. Go river tubing, give a talk before a community group or do your own taxes. Psychologists believe repeatedly exposing yourself to something you fear reduces the discomfort you feel each time.
46. Make your mornings easier. Take 15 the night before work or school to prep your coffee, pack your lunch, pick out your clothes, etc. You’ve heard it all before but you’ve heard it all before for a reason. It really works!
47. Listen to a podcast. Podcasts (downloadable audio series, basically radio programs you can tune into any time) have been around for more than 10 years, but many people still haven’t tried them. Liven up your commute by checking one out—there are podcasts on just about any topic. The easiest way is through an app on your smartphone. When you subscribe, the latest episode shows up on your device as soon as it’s released.
48. Buy a floral-print outfit. Vacation prints are a big spring 2017 runway trend. Purchase that splashy floral frock or tropical-print shirt now so you’ll be ready to rock it when the weather warms.
49. Adopt a pet. Bring home a cat or dog from your local shelter, and you’ll both benefit. Researchers from the American Psychological Association found that pet owners tend to be more extraverted and have greater self-esteem than those without furry friends.
50. Call that friend or family member. You’ve been meaning to get in touch with that aunt in Iowa, or your old college roomie. Why not have an actual conversation—today? Your phone, after all, is many wonderful things—including a phone!
51. Learn something new. Sign up for a cooking class, study a foreign language online or attend a computer session at your local library. You may discover a new hobby or boost your career by expanding your skill set—and your brain will benefit.
52. Get a brighter smile. Years of drinking coffee, tea, soda or red wine can discolor your teeth, as can tobacco and some medications. To restore a brighter white, ask your dentist about bleaching. “We use a technique called GlO that gives great results with no sensitivity,” says Anna Hong, D.D.S., a cosmetic dentist at Englewood Dental in Englewood. The GLO system uses an LED light and heat in a closed mouthpiece to activate peroxide gel on the teeth. Faster than at-home bleaching kits, it takes just three 8-minute sessions in the office.