5 Healthy Habits to Develop This Year (That Don't Involve Food or a Gym)
I’ve always had a soft spot for January, and the chance it gives me to get into an ambitious, optimistic frame of mind for the new year. But the inundation of "New Year, New Me!” posts is also starting to wear on me.
Just this morning, I muted a college acquaintance on Facebook because their emphatic all-caps-ness around weight loss goals was just too much. (“If YOU are ready to STOP making excuses…” 🙄)
Here’s the thing: I’m very pro personal development. You might even say I’m borderline obsessive about it — and I have the shelves full of books, planners, and workbooks to prove it. I love fresh starts, big plans, and goal setting.
But there’s also no denying the pattern of failure around New Year’s resolutions. There’s a reason year-round gym goers hate January 1, and are much happier again around the first or second week in February.
We know the reasons why; and most of it comes down to expectations and pressure.
I chatted about some of this on my good friend Marissa’s podcast last year: how so many of us get so excited that we bite off more than we can chew, try to tackle big goals at once, and then we feel like failures the first time we fall short. Before we know it the whole thing’s fallen to the wayside. Plus there are other factors at play, too — things like burnout, analysis paralysis, or a lack of real commitment out the gate.
But does that mean we shouldn’t set goals for the year at all? I can’t really get on board with that mindset, either.
When I look back at the times I found lasting traction and momentum toward my goals, and compare them to the times where they fell flat, there’s a pattern that I’m just now starting to really understand:
I’m much more successful when I obsess less about the peak I’m trying to reach, and more on the path I need to follow to reach it.
Goals versus Habits: which one wins?
I think the problem with goals is that so often, they miss the point. They focus on a lofty result that will someday signify that we’ve ‘made it’, instead of on the small shifts we could make right now that would generate more of what we really want.
Things like confidence, ease, energy, creativity, connection, and freedom.
So what if instead of piling on all that pressure to reinvent ourselves or transform every area of our lives, we focused on developing a few healthy rhythms that would support us all year long?
The great thing about a habit or rhythm is that once it’s in motion, it’s propelled by ease instead of force. It becomes natural, and (mostly) automatic. Phew.
Also, unlike a to-do list, a rhythm isn’t inherently rigid or limiting, which can remove a layer of stress. A good rhythm acts like an anchor; once it’s firmly in place, there’s room to drift away from it here and there, and still trust that the whole thing won’t fall apart.
It’s true, though, that building a new habit or finding a new rhythm feels clunky at first.
It’s new, and it’s different than what you’re used to. And what you try the first time won’t always work, so there’s usually some patience and fine-tuning involved.
But once things start to click, the rest has a way of falling into place.
Instead of getting fixated on an end result that looks like a Pinterest version of your current life — the spotless and perfectly decorated home office, the thigh gap (🙅), the never-miss-a-day mediation habit — ask yourself:
What simple, flexible habits could you focus on developing — that would give you a happier, healthier baseline?
I’ve been sitting with this question lately, and reframing the question of what I want to accomplish this way has opened up a ton of new possibilities.
I’ve come up with 5 great examples that resonate with me. Whether you want to co-opt these for yourself or use them as inspiration to build your own list, I hope this gets your wheels turning about how you can set yourself for an exciting and fulfilling 2019 without piling on unnecessary pressure, expectations, or stress.
5 Healthy Habits to Build, and Rhythms to Develop This Year
1. Single tasking — I am the self-appointed queen of having 27 tabs open in 5 different browser windows at a time. And while it can feel exciting to have a lot of ideas to bounce around between, I’ve also found it completely destroys my ability to focus or make meaningful progress. Whether we’re talking literal browser windows, tasks in your brain, or projects on deck, having just one or two things to focus all my energy on at once always helps me feel less scattered, and more productive.
TIP >> If letting go of ideas/projects or closing those browser tabs gives you minor heart palpitations like it does for me, having a place to put them so you can come back to them later is a HUGE help. I’m using Evernote to keep track of #allthethings these days, but your system could be anything — your Notes app on your phone, Pinterest boards, or a even a handwritten list in your planner.
2. Maximize calm on your commute — having a bad commute to or from work is one of those things that used to tank my mood, and my whole day. (Traffic! Rude drivers! Inconsiderate phone-yellers on the metro!) But it’s also one of the few times each day when I have some alone time without sitting in front of a computer — which means it has tons of potential to be both intentional and enjoyable time! It may seem like a stretch, but getting into the habit or layering in some things you enjoy on your commute can have a huge impact on your overall mood and stress levels.
TIP >> Think about what makes your commute feel especially stressful, and see if you can preempt them with some simple antidotes. Super tense from always running late? Try leaving a few minutes earlier, and savor the time in transit. Road rage taking over? Pick a good audiobook or ask a friend for their favorite podcast recommendations to take your mind off the anger.
3. Regular self check-ins — How we feel, what we need, and what’s working well for us are all moving targets. While it may feel like a great idea to set all these big, shiny goals at the beginning of the year, things change constantly and you may wind feel up feeling totally disconnected from those goals by June (or even by February.) Making gentle self-check-ins a regular habit — whatever ‘regular’ means to you — can help you stay in touch with all your ebbs and flows, and make decisions based on where you are right now instead of what you wanted or needed 6 months ago.
TIP >> a simple journal is a great place to start. Try keeping one somewhere you’re likely to see it and use it, whether that’s on your nightstand, your desk, next to your coffee maker, and take a few interrupted moments each day to empty your brain onto the page and explore what comes up. For more guidance on building a journaling habit that supports you, I have a free email course that will help.
4. Schedule things that make you feel good — You’ve probably heard some version of this advice before, but it bears repeating. If you’re like me, putting something on the calendar make it exponentially more likely to actually happen. So if we’re willing to do it for dentist appointments, why not do it for the things that make us feel our best? Get into a habit of looking at the week ahead and blocking off time for the things that make you feel great — whether it’s some form of movement, a Friday night pizza-and-binge-your-show-of-choice date, or a recurring happy hour with friends.
TIP >> If you’re drawing a blank on what this could look like, start by setting a recurring block of free time each week, and use it to try new things! For example, my husband and I have talked about setting aside Wednesday nights for 'TV-off, creative free time' to help us make time for all the hobbies we want to dabble in, Skillshare classes we want to take, and books we want to read this year.
5. Prioritize quality sleep — This might be the most ‘rigid’ idea on the list, but for good reason. Not only is it hard to feel our best if we’re not well-rested, but getting enough sleep has also been linked to better concentration, improved immune function, and decreased risk of illness like heart disease or stroke. Healthfinder.gov estimates that adults need 7-8 hours of good quality sleep each night. If you’re struggling to hit that benchmark, consider how you might push up your bedtime each night and/or increase the quality of you sleep with less screen time before bed.
TIP >> While the data matters, everyone’s sleep needs and habits look different. Start with a little self-assessment: how much sleep are you getting now? How rested do you feel on average? And how might
Remember: even simple changes like these take time! With that in mind, resist the urge to throw in the towel the first time it feels too hard. Discomfort and awkwardness around new habits are necessary parts of the process before things can click into place. (And if they don’t click into place later, you’ll know something needs to change!) But challenge yourself to stick with it long enough to give yourself the chance to find your “click” moment.
I want to hear from you:
How do you feel about focusing on goals vs. rhythms and habits?
What healthy habits are you focused on developing in the new year?