05 Jan Setting Yourself Up for Success: How to Build a Happy & Healthy New Year
The sparklers were lit, the ball has dropped, and we find ourselves in a brand new year, symbolizing a fresh start full of promise and potential. While some are calling 2022 “2020, two” (a tip of the hat to the pandemic’s longevity), we prefer to look ahead to new experiences and think of this year as its own entity – a blank journal with 365 pages to fill with color.
In our previous blog, we traced the history of making New Year’s resolutions and the psychology behind why they so often fail. In summary, high-level, open-ended resolutions that often focus on reducing or eliminating “bad” habits are not likely to succeed because they lack clear progression and are perceived as punishment. Scientists note that most people throw in the towel on their New Year’s resolutions by mid-February, the latest.
This blog focuses on ways to build healthful habits, embrace mindfulness, and establish small daily practices that can help create long-lasting change for this new year ahead – and beyond. We’ll explore setting positive intentions, a SMART-er method of habit-building, and 22 ideas to try for a mentally healthy year ahead.
Why Intentions are Everything
Intentions are thoughts that become powerful drivers of our actions. While science suggests we have, on average, a whopping 6,200 thoughts per day, many of these are fleeting or subconscious. Those that we dedicate focus to, and create mindfully, are considered conscious intentions. The ability to create thoughts that result in palpable positive change makes the act of intention-setting arguably more impactful than building habits, establishing goals, or even creating plans. In this way, one can begin to set conscious intentions that can create significant change across all aspects of life.
Scientists believe that conscious intention-setting is so powerful, it has the potential to impact relationships, habits, outlook, and even change your biology on the cellular level. To get started, simply spend a few moments every day reflecting on a small set of questions. These questions may be broad, yet they are purposeful in how they open up your mind to possibility, positivity, and future potential.
- Who do you wish to be?
- What would you like to contribute to others, or society?
- How would you like to impact your personal relationships?
These thoughts are like windows that open up the way you think – and ultimately act. They can help make you more productive or help you combat negative thoughts. Ultimately, these questions – or other avenues of intention-setting – can help create forward momentum for positive change, inform personal or business goals you create, and even make them more actionable.
Creating SMART-er Goals
When it comes to creating goals, studies show that it is best to create ones that are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. While coined by the journal Management Review in 1981 to create better management practices, it’s also useful as a framework that seamlessly transitions to everyday life:
Specific: When resolutions fail, it is often because they are too high level. When they are vague, such as: “lose weight,” or “eat more vegetables,” they are created without detailed guidelines that one can execute on. Instead, create more specific goals, such as: “take a 10 minute walk every day,” or “eat a salad for lunch three days a week.” By focusing on very specific areas of improvement or change, you create clear direction for yourself.
Measurable: Take notes so you can watch change happening. This can be done by snapping photographs, logging milestones, or taking notes in a journal. When you see progress in play, even in small ways, you’ll see that your efforts are creating a real difference that helps reinforce your goal.
Achievable: Lofty goals are great for future planning, but may be too frustrating to put into play. While “buying a beach house” may not be in the cards this particular year, opening up a separate savings account and putting away a few hundred dollars each month is an attainable, immediate goal that can help bring you closer to your slice of paradise.
Relevant: Make sure your goal resonates with you. Reflect on questions, such as: Why are you setting this goal? Does it build up to positive change in my life? If for any reason you’re unsure, or if you feel the goal may be inspired by societal pressures and not what you want to be doing, hit the pause button and reset. By ensuring the goal is relevant to you, your growth, and your well-being, you are setting yourself up for a goal worth pursuing.
Time-bound: This goes hand-in-hand with “measurable” and “achievable.” If you set milestones and a timeline for your initial goals, you’ll be working toward establishing a lifelong habit instead of a “flash in the pan” resolution that is tempting to break.
22 Ideas for a Healthy & Happy 2022
Ultimately, whether you opt for resolutions, conscious intentions, SMART goals, or establishing new habits or hobbies, the goal is the same: investing in your personal well-being and overall physical and mental health. To that end, we’ve outlined 22 ideas that can help build greater positivity, resilience, health, happiness, and satisfaction. Use this list, or feel free to make a list of your own. Afterall, science shows that personalized goals are more likely to become accomplished goals.
- Start a gratitude journal: A great way to begin is by writing down 1-3 things you’re thankful for every morning when you wake up or make your list before you go to bed each night.
- Build boundaries: Is work burning you out? Are certain relationships or commitments taking too much from you? Learn to say no when an activity or an obligation won’t bring you joy.
- Spend some time outdoors: Nature is relaxing, calming, and good for you. Find a few moments away from your electronic devices to get some fresh air.
- Read a book: Besides being relaxing and enjoyable, reading literary fiction has been shown to help increase your empathy levels.
- Stretch for ten minutes every day: Like other forms of exercise, stretching releases endorphins.
- Sample some “superfoods”: Add wild salmon, walnuts, blueberries, leafy greens, seeds, and other “superfoods” to your diet. Omega-3s, antioxidants, and other nutrients reinforce positive chemicals in the brain.
- Invest in a therapy lamp: Early morning exposure to sunlight helps regulate a healthy circadian rhythm, which boosts energy levels and mood.
- Give back: Volunteering has been shown to be extremely beneficial. It can help improve physical health, nurture a sense of purpose, build relationships, and help communities. Luckily, there are many ways to volunteer your time or skills. Visit volunteermatch.org to search for opportunities.
- Be a conscious consumer: Consider small changes, such as reducing the amount of single-use plastics you purchase. Or be selective about where you shop, and spend your money at retailers who give back to local nonprofits or support conservation efforts. There are many new platforms out there, such as DoneGood or Goldune, that leverage consumerism to support social and environmental causes.
- Hydrate: Drink ten glasses of water each day.
- Start a bedtime routine: At least one hour before bed, lower the lights, make a cup of tea, read a book, write in your journal, or take a bath…the options are limitless. Just be sure your choices are relaxing and don’t involve screens.
- Plan for health: Schedule visits with your physician, dentist, and any specialists to actively invest in your health and longevity.
- Watch Animal House: Or Caddyshack, Bridesmaids, or any other comedy movie on a list like this one. Because laughter is the best medicine.
- Try a new recipe: Home cooked meals are healthy – and testing a new recipe can give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Be Heart Healthy: For the first time in 15 years, the American Heart Association updated its guidelines in 2021. Learn about the best proteins, whole grains, and produce for your health here.
- Consider becoming a flexitarian: Or simply cut back on the amount of meat you eat. It’s great for the planet and your overall, long term health.
- Take a vacation: It can even be a staycation, but studies show that vacation time can actually help lengthen your life.
- Start a new hobby: Creative practices help limit feelings of depression. So pick up that paintbrush, camera, or guitar– and enjoy the process!
- Build a puzzle: Interested in a fun activity that is also great for your brain? Begin puzzling to improve focus, concentration, visual-spatial reasoning, short-term memory, and problem solving skills.
- Floss: Along with helping your smile shine, flossing removes plaque and tartar buildup, stops tooth decay, freshens breath, and can even help reduce the chance of developing heart disease.
- Eat oatmeal (or some other high fiber food): Fiber can help lower cholesterol and increase levels of healthy gut bacteria. Opt for steel cut oats, 100% whole grain bread, or foods like broccoli, cauliflower and popcorn.
- Give yourself the gift of time: Dr. Jack Groppel, who writes about maximizing performance says “give the best hours of your day to yourself.” Think about which part of the waking day you feel your best (most productive, most energetic, or most alert). Then, for the highest form of self-care, choose to use that time to do something for yourself.
From small additions, such as adding a morning bowl of oatmeal to your diet, to bigger steps like outlining SMART goals, there are myriad ways to embrace mindful and mentally healthy living in the year ahead. However you choose to start off the New Year, we wish you a happy and a healthy one!
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