Whether you set goals, make resolutions or just relish the thought of turning the page on the calendar to a new year, committing to self-improvement is always a good idea. Following through on that commitment, of course, is the hard part. The “Just Do It” Nike slogan can be a good place to start.
If you generally want to feel better this year, it makes sense to consider your physical, mental, and emotional well-being simultaneously, since they are interconnected.
Here are some tips on becoming your best self in the new year:
1. Give Yourself a Chance to Change
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for instant success in any new endeavor, whether this means joining a new book club or starting an exercise routine. Fitness centers are notoriously packed in January and then empty by February, in part because of frustration when immediate results don’t materialize.
“When you’re trying to motivate yourself, appreciate the fact that you’re even thinking about making a change,” wrote Alice Domar, Ph.D., director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health and author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect in Oprah Magazine. “And as you move forward, allow yourself to be good enough. Perfectionism can undo what you’re trying to achieve.”
2. Start Small and Stick to a Routine
If you’ve set yourself a broad goal such as to make new friends or to become physically fit, try to break down that goal into smaller achievable actions. Perhaps you can begin with a plan to exercise 30 minutes a day for three days each week or to try a yoga class to see if you like it.
Researchers have found that it takes most people 21 to 60 days to develop a new habit. If you establish a routine such as setting an alarm to walk at 7 a.m. or to meditate for five minutes at noon, and do it for a month or more, you’re more likely to keep doing it for the long term. If you’re a recent retiree or plan to retire soon, it may be tempting to sleep in and yet you may feel stronger and healthier if you stick to a schedule. Planning out your week and your month with healthy physical and social activities can keep you feeling optimistic about reaching your goals and being your best self.
3. Do Something New
On the other hand, if your life feels like one big routine, it’s probably time to shake things up:
- Learn a new skill by taking a writing class or an art class or a cooking class. Take an online class or attend one at a nearby college.
- Volunteer — even if it’s just once — someplace new, to explore new possibilities for helping others.
- Travel is also a good way to open your mind to new perspectives. Even if you don’t have the cash to take an overseas trip, you can get a similar benefit by going to different neighborhoods in your own city, trying exotic foods, or taking a day trip to somewhere nearby.
4. Develop Your Spirituality
Before you can live a fulfilling life that meets your desire to live with purpose and meaning, you need to understand your values. Whether you worship regularly in your religion of choice or not, you can explore the deeper meaning in life and your core beliefs simply by thinking about them and the world around you.
Some of the ways to increase your spiritual wellness include writing about your feelings and expressing gratitude for anything you can appreciate in your life, trying a yoga class, or meditating. There are numerous apps that can guide you through short meditation sessions to help you handle stress and anxiety or to sleep better, such as Calm or Headspace, which explains why meditation helps, as well as teaching you how to do it.
5. Get Moving
Staying active physically is known to have numerous health benefits both physically and mentally. Even if you’ve never exercised before, you can still gain from starting to move around. While many people associate exercise with weight loss, exercise can also help you maintain balance and flexibility, reduce the impact of illness, improve your sleep, boost your mood and help your brain function in multiple ways.
Getting started doesn’t mean you have to push yourself to join a gym or take up a vigorous sport. Try activities like yoga, Tai Chi, walking, dancing, swimming, or water aerobics that can be easy to learn and less stressful on the body than something like running.
For people who dislike exercise or think it’s boring, try listening to music while you walk, window shopping in a mall, watching TV while on an exercise bike or treadmill, or turning any activity into social time. Walking or golfing with a friend or playing with a dog can distract you from the fact that you’re accomplishing your exercise goal.
For some people, an activity tracker can be a great motivator, especially if you set it to compete for the highest number of steps walked with friends or family members.
Bonus Tip: A Focus on Others Helps You to be Your Best Self
So far, the focus has mostly been on you: how you can stay active physically, keep motivated and follow your self-improvement plan. But an important part of being a better you includes turning your attention outward.
Research has shown that strong personal relationships with friends and family can reduce stress and lead to better health and longevity. Being present and available for those close to you can sometimes require deliberate attention to your schedule and theirs. Consider scheduling a regular day and time to visit with a friend, spend time with children or grandchildren or have a weekly call with a long-distance friend.
In spite of today’s ease of connecting with people through social media, many people feel lonely and disconnected.
Volunteer, or join a reading group or hiking group, to stimulate your mind while providing a chance to make new friends. Volunteer work can serve multiple purposes — giving you a sense of purpose, stimulating a new interest and connecting you with new people. Whether you decide to tutor children, coach a team, or support an ongoing interest in a political cause or a neighborhood endeavor, you’ll benefit as much as the organization does.
While no one wants to start a new year feeling overwhelmed by new goals and obligations, choosing a few things to jump-start your mind and your body can bring fulfillment to you and the people around you.
We want to hear from you! Share in comments: How do you plan on being your best self as we welcome a new year?