Feeling pressured by New Year's resolutions? It’s common to be overwhelmed by grand goals as the New Year begins.
But wait... Instead of overhauling your life, focus on small, daily habits for meaningful change. This sustainable approach fits even into a busy schedule.
Explore alternatives to traditional resolutions that promote a happier, healthier lifestyle (even with just 10 minutes a day)!
One worthwhile activity that only takes a few minutes and can be done from anywhere is the practice of self-reflection. Reflecting on a specific achievement or even a general area where you have made progress can promote growth and encouragement.
Not only can this practice help you realize how far you’ve come, but it’s also backed by science. Since reflection can be applied to many aspects of life, research suggests it has the potential to boost essential areas of focus, such as academic or athletic performance. Surprisingly, reflecting on past stressors can be transformative since studies propose this may strengthen resilience and promote long-term healthy emotional development.
Even if you don’t have enough time for formal resolutions, reflecting on your accomplishments for a few minutes can be a great way to spend New Year’s.
Write a Gratitude List
Similar to a reflection practice, in many ways, is the practice of writing a gratitude list. This activity can prompt you to reflect precisely on things, people, places, or events you are grateful for. While popular around Thanksgiving time, it’s (luckily) not limited to a specific time of year and can be a positive way to celebrate New Year’s Day.
Beyond being a great way to honor the past year, writing a quick list of what you’re grateful for can promote a positive trajectory for the new year. Gratitude can help orient your life towards positive outcomes and shift your focus to what feels rich and abundant in your life (as opposed to focusing on what you feel you lack). In other words, practicing gratitude during the new year can give you a fresh start.
If you want to make gratitude part of your daily practice but don’t know how some planners and journals (like the Day Designer or Five Minute Journal) have a space dedicated to writing down a few things you’re grateful for each day. If you’re tech-savvy, you can also take to social media! Sharing what you’re grateful for with others online can act as a sort of online journal and may help inspire others to be more grateful.
Set Daily Intentions
For some, setting New Year’s goals can be intimidating. When you fall behind on the schedule you set for yourself at the beginning of the year, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed or that your progress didn’t amount to anything. Even though these statements aren’t factual, they can feel true.
An alternative idea to year-long resolutions for the upcoming year is to simply set a daily intention instead of detailing exactly how your goal will get accomplished that day. This is great for more vague goals, such as trying to be more kind in your interactions with people.
Another great aspect of intentions is that the specific ways you fulfill them can change daily according to your schedule! For example, if you have a day at home, your intention may be to be kind to your family members, such as your spouse or children. If you have a busy day outside the home, your intention may be to be more kind to strangers you meet throughout the day.
Regardless of the specifics, daily intention setting can make overarching goals seem more achievable. They can also be more rewarding, since they allow you to judge yourself by your best intentions rather than your moments of weakness (which everyone has on the path to achieving their goals).
Commit to One Daily Habit
Along with setting a daily intention, committing to just one daily habit can be helpful. The efficacy of this practice is especially evident when you look at a method called habit-stacking, which involves linking a new habit to an established one. For example, one example of a habit stack could be to meditate for two minutes each morning while you brush your teeth. Since you (hopefully) have already brushed your teeth for two minutes each morning, the theory is that you’ll be more likely to keep up with your new goal (meditation).
The key to this practice is picking a tiny and practical habit. It may not be feasible for you to make it to the gym daily, but you can commit to hitting your watch’s “step goal” by the end of the day. In essence, tuning into these daily habits can help you focus on consistency rather than intensity. Ultimately, the consistency of small actions can compound and cause big changes in your life.
Practice Deep Breathing or Mini Meditations
Studies in many areas, from physical to mental health, confirm what some traditions have suggested for centuries— breathing and meditation are powerful ways to center the body and set a calm tone for the mind.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sign up for a meditation or yoga class to reap the benefits of deep breathing. You can tap into the serenity of your breath from wherever you are, including your home or office. Taking just a few deep breaths can physically lower your blood pressure and can mentally create a safer, more productive place from which you can make better decisions.
As mentioned above, meditation can also occur alongside daily tasks (such as brushing your teeth or walking the dog). This makes it an excellent practice for busy people who want to feel more at peace in their daily lives. Since celebrating the New Year’s festivities can bring a lot of mixed emotions, there’s no better time than now to implement a breathing or meditation practice.
Remember, even mini meditations (5 minutes or less) are believed to benefit a mind-body connection. If you’re wondering where to start or feeling silly in your efforts, try guided meditation or breathing techniques for beginners. There’s no shame in starting with (or returning to) the basics!
Take Mindful Moments
Often combined with meditation and breathing is the practice of mindfulness. Although mindfulness is defined in many ways, it’s commonly referred to as a non-judgmental awareness. It’s a sense of presence that allows you to tap into what’s happening around you while it is happening.
Mindfulness looks different for different people, but can be as simple as taking a “mindful moment” each day to pause, observe your surroundings, and ground yourself in the present moment. It may sound too simple, but mindfulness exercises can quickly and effectively relieve stress.
Over time, participating in a moment of mindfulness each day may have profound effects for your physical and mental health.
Create a Mini Vision Board
It’s great to have a goal in your head, but putting your goals on paper can be even more helpful. Vision boards display images, words, or symbols that inspire. They are usually put in a place the user regularly sees as a visual reminder of their goals.
Typically, images and words in vision boards are cut out from books, magazines, or other sources and glued or pinned together to create a collage. However, a digitally created vision board can be just as effective.
Recently, vision boards have even been used as a therapeutic intervention. There’s no limit to their size (they can be big or small), and can include various aspects of life, from overall values and “bucket list” items to specific school, work, or relationship pursuits. Plus, they can be created quickly, providing lasting direction and inspiration.
Read Inspirational Quotes or Books
Speaking of inspiration, if you’re feeling a lack of it, looking to the words of others can help. Beginning or ending the day with an inspirational quote can steer you in the right direction and give you a positive affirmation to look to in times of trouble.
Short passages are especially effective since they can be memorized or recited from memory! Some people find it especially helpful to tape a motivation to their mirrors, so it’s the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see in the evening.
Journal for One Minute
Journaling can be a great way to combine many of the above methods, including reflection, gratitude, mindfulness, and intention. It can also act as a “brain dump,” where you can write down anything and everything on your mind. This can be a great way to clear your thoughts and be done any time of the day so that you can focus on the portion of the day ahead.
If you aren’t currently journaling or it seems too time-consuming, try aiming for just one minute of journaling daily. This small time commitment can help you quickly express the most essential things on your mind and heart. Eventually, a minute can become more extended time (if you’d like).
As with many other tasks, often the most challenging part of journaling is just starting! Starting small can help you achieve your goals by reminding you to take it one day at a time.
Write a Letter to Your Future Self
An exciting, personal, and intimate way to keep yourself motivated is to write a note to your future self. What do you want the “future you” to learn, know, or be? Set the timer for a few minutes, and write.
Putting pen to paper (or typing a letter on your computer or phone) can be a quick and powerful way to express your intentions, hopes, and dreams for the year or years ahead. This can even become a fun New Year’s tradition, where you read the letter you wrote to yourself a year ago and see how many predictions came true. This can provide perspective and allow you to picture your future and put steps in play to get there.
What to Do Instead of New Year’s Resolutions Recap
The pressure surrounding New Year’s goals can make setting realistic timelines for resolutions difficult.
Instead, focusing on small, daily practices can create habits over time. These tiny shifts in routine can be more sustainable, meaning you’ll be more likely to continue doing them (instead of calling it quits by February).
Taking 5-10 minutes today to implement a simple, quick practice can work wonders over time.