When we think about New Year’s resolutions, we often think about huge life changes: losing 50 lbs, being happier.
There’s nothing wrong with these goals, except that they’re so big they’re intimidating. A better approach? Look at tiny tweaks that take a few minutes, but have big payoffs. Choose and stick with anything on this list, and 2015 could end with a much happier, healthier you.
According to Cornell professor Brian Wansink’s research, people who have fruit bowls on their kitchen counters weigh eight pounds less than those who don’t. It’s an easy way to turn mindless grazing into increased produce consumption. Try putting a fruit bowl on your desk, too, and an apple might just become your go-to afternoon snack.
Various studies find that breakfast eaters weigh less than those who don’t, and that the vast majority of people who have successfully lost weight eat breakfast. Don’t overthink this meal. Hard boil five eggs on Sunday and voila! That’s a week. Grab some string cheese and eat that. Keep yogurt in an office fridge. Buy a piece of fruit wherever you buy your coffee in the morning. That alone may ward off cravings for mid-morning donuts.
Gyms are great, if you go. Most people don’t (or else they join January 1st and quit by February). But anyone can squeeze in extra movement here and there. If, on each workday, you take 200 steps during a phone call, another 100 steps while waiting for food to heat up in the microwave, and 100 steps while brushing your teeth in the morning, you’ll walk an extra mile each week. That’s 50 more miles per year than you would have been walking.
Mornings are a great time for getting things done. But if you show up at work unsure what you want to do, you’ll waste many of these valuable morning minutes deciding. Instead, assign yourself tomorrow’s tasks before you leave work at night. Give each task a time. Yes, you’ll probably have to change this schedule more days than you don’t. But having a plan helps you make sure that important things get their due.
Anticipation accounts for a major chunk of human happiness. So take a minute or two on Wednesday night to think about what you’d like to do over the weekend. If you’d like to go to a concert, you could take this minute to order tickets, or to send a text to a friend asking if she’s free. Do this weekly and you’ll not only have more weekend fun, Thursdays and Fridays will feel better as you think about the weekend plans you’ve already made.
Studies find that the morning commute is, from a happiness perspective, the low moment of people’s days. So take a minute on Sunday night and download one podcast worth listening to during your drive on Monday morning. Ideally, you’ll find this tweak so helpful that you’ll start figuring out ways to better enjoy all your commutes. But once a week is much better than being at the mercy of morning shock jocks in perpetuity.
Getting outside is linked to better mood and concentration. Whatever time you lose in leaving your desk, you’ll likely gain back in renewed focus. Run an errand, or ask a colleague to do a walking meeting if the weather’s nice. Either way, resolve not to let a day go by without seeing daylight.
It’s cheap and turns out to work magic in terms of productivity.
You don’t have to stop watching, just change your approach. Write down what you’re going to watch before you turn on the TV. That way you’ll mindfully choose programs you enjoy, rather than watching for hours more than you intend.
For better sleep, ask yourself two questions. First, what time do I need to get out of bed? Second, how much sleep do I need? Count back your answer for the second question from your answer for the first, and then set an alarm on your phone or watch for 30 minutes prior to this time. The alarm will provide an external signal that it’s time to wind down. That means you don’t need to be the killjoy telling your partner it’s time to turn off the TV. It’s not you, it’s the alarm!
Put it far enough away from your bed that you’re not tempted to hit snooze. Sleeping in nine-minute increments is a lousy way to start the day. Be honest about it, and set your alarm for the time you actually intend to get up. Enjoy every second of deep sleep until then. Bonus: Use a real alarm clock, rather than your phone. That way you won’t be tempted to check email within 60 seconds of waking up.
If you have to type something daily, it may as well inspire you. Don’t use an easily cracked word like "happy" on its own. But taking meaningful words and putting a few characters or numbers in the middle could work.
You send dozens (if not hundreds) of messages daily. Take one minute and make one a note of appreciation, or a note of congratulations, or a note sent to ask an old friend how life is going. The replies you receive may make you look forward to checking your inbox.
You might be able to swing a surprisingly big donation every six months or so with the nickels fished out of your pockets daily. Try getting your kids involved and let them choose the recipient.
You’ve got three minutes while waiting in line. You could check your email. Or you could do something else (see our list of 17 productive ways to spend 5 minutes). Pick a fun something else (like scrolling through old photos), and aim to do this at least once a week.
If you change nothing else in your life, doing this daily will at least make your next dentist visit more tolerable.
For any of these tweaks, find someone to email weekly, maybe on Friday, to report how it’s gone. In a pinch, you can draw a smiley face on your planner as a reward for keeping a habit all week. Intentions alone don’t make changes. Doing small things repeatedly, on the other hand, really will.