Building new habits is hard; building a bunch of new habits at once is even harder. Many people are great at making a list of habits they want to change or adapt in January, but they are also great at forgetting about them.
According to researchers at Duke University, habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviors. Biting off more than we can chew is one of the major reasons why we fail to build good habits or overcome bad ones.
To form better habits or start new ones, focus on fixing one thing at a time. And break your goals down into small, digestible portions. They become easy to build and maintain. “You don’t need to overhaul your life. Just kill one bad habit. Give it a month and then move on to the next,” recommends Eric Barker.
But resolving to accomplish something doesn’t actually prompt you to act. You need to mentally prepare yourself for change, and begin with practical goals. The trick is to avoid vague goals. Design tangible steps you can take regularly, then actually follow through on those steps.
YouGov recently published a list of the most common habits people want to build this year. If you are hoping to spark positive change this year, you can start with some of these popular good habits. Let’s talk about how you can achieve them.
1. Exercise more
Exercise can reshape the ageing process. Any form of movement establishes better blood flow to your brain. It can even slow memory loss, increase brain volume, and improve your mood.
Want to refresh your brain at work, stand up every 30 or 45 minutes. Get moving, often. So many of us are chained to our desks every day,” says nutrition and fitness author Louise Parker. Make it a habit and you will concentrate and focus better on what matters most at work.
Want to get fit? Take the stairs or plan short walks on your calendar. Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. To make it easier to start, plan for just 15 minutes long walk. Leave your phone at home — just observe the world around you and think.
2. Save more money/spend less money
Deciding to save is a common wish. But not many people can actually save. Research shows that 15 per cent of British people have no savings at all, rising to more than half of 22- to 29-year-olds.
It can be hard to start saving, especially if money is tight generally. The good news is that you can still build a savings habit no matter how small your income. Start planning your meals to cut unnecessary spending on the grocery — set a small weekly budget.
Cancel services can want but don’t really need. Get into the habit of logging into your online bank account once a month to monitor or analyse your spending habits and get rid of expending direct debits, and look for cheaper alternatives.
For cost-intensive items, do your research for better deals. And most importantly protect your savings by investing it a cost-effective index fund so that it continues to grow instead of spending it each month. Set up an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck to a savings or investment account.
3. Eat more healthily
Apart from everything else you know about eating healthy — more vegetables, fibre, fruit, oily fish, and reducing saturated fat, you can also start cutting back on foods with added sugar. It’s one of the best things you can do for your health this year. Reducing your sugar intake is a good thing for your metabolic health.
“Sugar turns on the aging programs in your body,” Dr Lustig says. “The more sugar you eat, the faster you age,” says Dr Robert Lustig, professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of California.
Cutting added sugar isn’t easy, but once you slowly limit your sugar intake, you’ll start to feel more energetic, more focused and less irritable. You might even lose weight. And remember to drink more fluids to stop you from getting dehydrated — not only can drinking a glass or two before a meal help you to feel full sooner (resulting in eating fewer calories).
4. Lose weight
Losing and maintaining weight loss is a huge problem for many people. According to one study, only 5pc of dieters who lose weight manage to keep it off for the proceeding five years.
“Most people can lose weight but the real trouble people have is maintaining that weight loss,” confirms dietitian Helen Bond.
If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t make a radical change to your diet, especially if you can’t sustain it. Aim to reduce your portion size first — eat from a smaller plate. And then start adding healthier options whilst you reduce unhealthy fats.
You could adopt bodyweight exercises push-ups, pull-ups, body squats, lunges, and jumping jacks to improve your muscles or burn calories faster. Start and stick to what you can sustain. The key is to choose an approach that fits easily into your lifestyle. “Make sure any changes you will make are realistic for you and your lifestyle,” Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., NASM-CPT and founder of The Wellness Whisk.
5. Reduce stress
According to Gallup’s 2019 data on emotional states, Americans are among the most stressed-out populations in the world — fifty-five percent reports experiencing stress during the day — every day.
If you’re chronically stressed, you can get into the vicious cycle irritability, tension, stomach pain, headaches, anger, or frustration.
If managing stress is on your “to-do” list this year, start slowing down — focus on one task at a time. Learn to take deep breaths. “Taking 10 deep breaths can be a simple way to take you out of that fight-or-flight state,” says nGuy Meadows, managing partner at the Sleep School. “Socialising is another powerful way to relieve stress, ” he adds.
Starting drinking tea. Research has found that drinking black tea leads to lower post-stress cortisol levels and greater feelings of relaxation.
6. Get more sleep
Getting quality sleep is incredibly important to our well-being, especially when we will be spending (on average) 1/3 of our lives sleeping.
Healthy sleeping habits is a balance between behaviour, environment and circadian rhythm. Watch out for caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. According to a recent study on sleep, all three of these are pretty awful for sleep.
“Other factors may include social contact, stress due to mental workload, and constant lighting which could lengthen the awake/sleep cycle, ” the authors said.
Switch off from work earlier and screens earlier. “Disengaging from work, email and your phone for at least an hour prior to bed can be helpful,” says Riha, who is also co-director of Sleep Consultancy Ltd.
7. Read more
Reading can be a hard habit to adopt, especially if you have a tight schedule. While reading isn’t a race, planning and putting it on your calendar is a good place to start for those interesting in reading daily.
The next thing to do is to make sure you start off small. Don’t plan long reading sessions. You won’t commit to it. Instead, try reading for 15-minutes a day on topics you enjoy.
It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make reading an important part of your daily experience.
8. Learn a new skill
Learning a new skill is one of the best ways to advance your career. To get started as soon as possible, create a curriculum for yourself based on areas you want to improve. You can ask your colleagues for advice on what to improve.
Check out relevant courses, books, webinars, and events that can help you learn without disrupting your work schedule. Set aside chunks of time for your personal learning. Put the dates on your calendar — schedule time every week to work toward your personal learning. Apply what you learn by teaching others or starting a side project if you can.
Learning a new skill takes time — at least, it will if it’s a skill worth learning. Give yourself that time. Even resolving to work on a skill for one hour every week can go a long way.
Most improvements you make in one area of your life will have a positive impact on another area. So where is a good place to start? It depends on your personal goals. But no matter the goal, having an action plan with clear steps makes a huge difference.
This article first appeared on Medium.