A new year is a powerful moment, a time to hit the restart button, and to make big, sweeping resolutions that will magically transform our lives.
And yet, studies consistently show that resolutions don’t work.
By February, they are all but forgotten — or worse, they cast a shadow of failure, causing us to feel worse than if we had never made any to begin with.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a healthier 2021.
I’ve found over the years that small changes add up to big results. You can turn your desire for renewal into smaller, more incremental changes. Over time, those tiny changes can really add up, and before you know it, you’ve reached that greater goal, and in a way that’s actually sustainable.
Here are 15 tiny changes you can start to make today that can have a big impact on your wellbeing in 2021 and beyond.
1. Add a new vegetable to your plate.
Try something new at the grocery store (kohlrabi, anyone?). Or toss something green on your plate when you wouldn’t normally — say, sautéed spinach instead of toast with your scrambled eggs. Whip up a creamy hummus and dunk vegetables in it for a snack.
2. Take a deep breath.
Slowing and deepening your breathing is proven to help in moments of extreme stress, but it also can improve your health in other ways. It can lower blood pressure, increase lung endurance, improve immunity, and boost your mood. There are many methods for deep breathing. The easiest way to remember to do this is to set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take some deep breaths a few times a day.
3. Say something nice.
Acts of kindness can reduce stress and anxiety, diminish pain, lower blood pressure, and boost both your mood and the recipient’s. A gesture as small as paying someone a genuine compliment counts.
4. Get some daylight in the morning.
Light is the signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up and be alert. Getting daylight into your eyes first thing helps set your circadian rhythm, making you more alert during the day and better able to sleep at night. Step outside first thing in the morning if you can, or just stand by a window. If you wake up before the sun, turn on a bright light.
5. Hydrate first thing.
So many of us reach for coffee first thing, but having a glass of water upon waking is a better idea. We’re dehydrated after all those hours of sleep, and water can help wake us up, get the blood flowing, dilute stomach acid, and more.
6. Read for fun.
Take a break from work and Netflix and curl up with a good book. Reading for pleasure is correlated with everything from better sleep and reduced anxiety to improved creativity and increased empathy. If you’re having trouble focusing on books right now, put some headphones on and listen to an audiobook while you take a walk.
7. Call a friend.
Human beings need connection. Socializing can help stave off loneliness, keep your memory sharp, boost cognitive skills, and give you an overall sense of wellbeing. While in-person contact is difficult right now, get your dose of connection by calling a friend or loved one. Make regular dates with friends to keep everyone feeling better on the regular.
8. Eat some gut-friendly foods.
Gut health has gotten a lot of press in recent years, and for good reason. A healthy microbiome is linked with improved immunity, metabolism, mood, and sleep, as well as disease prevention and more. To get your gut in fighting shape, enjoy fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha and miso.
9. Meditate for a minute.
People have been meditating for thousands of years, and no wonder: It can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety, help with focus and concentration, and so much more. Even just one minute can help, though making time for 10 to 15 minutes is even better.
10. Do a set of two.
If getting stronger is one of your goals, commit to doing a set of two of something each day: two pushups, or sit-ups, or squats. You may do more, but you don’t have to. According to Stanford behavior scientist Dr. BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, committing to something small means you’ll keep it up even when your motivation wanes, and that’s what helps you maintain it over time.
11. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier.
Bedtime procrastination, i.e. staying up late when we know we need to get to bed, is a common problem. Rather than trying to convince yourself to get into bed hours earlier, make it just 15 minutes. When that time becomes your new normal, move it up 15 minutes again. The goal is to have a regular bedtime that will net you the optimal 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. This gradual change can get you there.
12. Clean up your beauty routine.
Just as you read food labels, you should be doing the same with your beauty products. What you put on your skin sinks into your bloodstream in a matter of seconds. Our skin is the last place we want to be putting toxins or contaminants. After much research, I found a line of skin care products that are free of over 2500 banned or questionable substances that are found in so many other lines on the market.
13. Season your food.
Herbs and spices make food taste better, which is reason enough to use them, but they also bring numerous health benefits. Some reduce inflammation, some boost heart health, others fight cancer, but rather than trying to tease out which ones play which role, use a wide variety for maximum benefits. If you’re not sure where to start, buy some seasoning blends, such as Italian seasoning, herbs de Provence, curry powder (yep, it’s a blend) and za’atar.
14. Have a mocktail.
Many of us found ourselves drinking more during the pandemic. No judgment here — but know that cutting back can help you sleep better, improve your mood, boost your energy and focus, and improve your long-term health. Try instituting drink-free days (start with just one a week), incorporating lower-alcohol drinks or cocktails during your normal drinking times, and using leftover wine in recipes instead of sipping it – lol.
15. Laugh every day.
Aside from being fun and making life more enjoyable, laughter has real health benefits! (I talk more about that in my book Eat Real, Live Mindfully, Laugh Often). It increases your oxygen intake, which helps your heart, lungs, and muscles, and causes a release of feel-good endorphins. Long-term, regular laughter can help boost immunity, relieve pain, and soothe depression and anxiety. Find shows or podcasts that make you laugh, or better yet, call or FaceTime a funny friend.
I’d love to hear what tiny changes you’re making this year!