Get Real for the New Year

Don't make just another New Year's resolution. Change a daily habit -- and improve your physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

healthy-habits-2Lately, New Year’s resolutions have been getting a bad rap. And sure, the ubiquitous weight-loss goal is easy to ridicule, since it always seems to fail.

The essential problem is that New Year’s resolutions are big, dramatic, turning-point goals. But our health is not a matter of big dramatic choices we make. Instead, it’s all about the habits we slide into.

Yet a “new year” still holds so much inherent appeal — the feeling that things can be different, that we can make a fresh start.

You can have the best of both worlds. Why not apply the momentum of the new year to a realistic habit change?

After all, when you find ways to improve your physical well-being, your mental and spiritual well-being will follow. When you’re healthier and better balanced, you have more energy to serve others.

Here are a few healthy, doable ideas — beyond weight loss — for feeling better this year.

Sleep. We know when we feel zonked, and we know how to load up on coffee. These are functions of our modern sleep routine. But if you get to know your sleep cycle better, you’ll be amazed at how much better you can set yourself up to feel.

Try writing down exactly how much you sleep each night, and summing up your outlook in a few words the next day. Then look for patterns. You might find you feel great with six or eight hours, but drag with seven. Plan your bedtime and wake-up calls to match.

When you find ways to improve your physical well-being, your mental and spiritual well-being will follow. When you’re healthier and better balanced, you have more energy to serve others.

Other steps to consider are eliminating the snooze button (the New Yorker recently came out with a great article about why) or trying a sleep device like Lark, an electronic bracelet that gauges your sleep cycle and wakes you up accordingly (Ariana Huffington swears by it).

Balance. Do you get your energy from within yourself, or from the company of others? This year get to know yourself more thoroughly as an introvert or extrovert, then plan your schedule to better suit your needs.

If you’re an extrovert, you may think you have it easier. The United States, with its competitive fast-paced economy, idealizes extroversion. But not only introverts should consider the number of social moments in their workday and week. Keep tweaking until you find the quantity that helps you feel the most energetic and productive.

And if you’re an introvert, fear not — American culture may prize extroversion, but others, like the Chinese, value introversion more. Try reading a book like The Introvert’s Way or Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking to understand and harness your inward focus.

Then track the number of social events you can handle per week without feeling drained. Don’t overextend yourself — cap your activities at that magic number per week, and build in solo time between to recharge.

Exercise. Don’t pressure yourself to “work out” at the gym if you have no experience lifting weights or using a personal trainer. Don’t make yourself run marathons like so many friends if you hate pounding the pavement. And don’t try to go from zero to six workouts per week.

Instead, decide whether you prefer individual or team activities; take it from there in choosing an activity you’ll enjoy. Local sports leagues are often a fun and inexpensive way to begin. You’ll have a team counting on you, and many have post-game social hours to look forward to. (Volleyball is an easy starter sport if you have no team experience.)

And remember, exercise can come in sneaky ways. Gardening, golfing, ice-skating, dancing and horseback riding all count. And practices like taking the stairs every time you see them, or parking at the far end of every lot, are easy ways to nip off calories.

Whatever you do to improve your well-being this year, make it more than a resolution — make it a habit, and take it one day at a time.