New Year is the perfect opportunity to start a new chapter in your life. It’s a new adventure, a new beginning, a fresh canvas to paint your life on.
Make the coming year your best one yet with these ten intentional new year’s resolutions that are guaranteed to boost your happiness and wellbeing:
#1 Practice focused breathing
“Learning how to control your breathing is one of the most powerful and freeing neurohacks for managing all kinds of feelings and emotions,” says Stuart Sandeman, transformational breath coach and founder of Breathpod. “There are several thousands of neurons within the brainstem that are in charge of auto-generating different types of breath—regular, excited, sighing, gasping, etc. These neurons also monitor the signal they receive back from the breathing pattern and relay the message accordingly to the Locus Coeruleus, a part of the brainstem which then triggers a physiological response,” explains the breath coach. In layman’s terms, your state of mind and emotions are closely connected to how you are breathing. “When you feel stressed, anxious or afraid, your breath becomes short and shallow which activates your sympathetic nervous system—commonly referred to as the fight or flight response. When relaxed and calm, the breath is slow and full and your parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, creating a rest and digest response,” tells Sandeman. “By practicing slow, controlled, focused breathing you can send a signal of calm and relaxation to the mind and change the way you feel at any moment,” he notes. Conscious breathing can also boost your energy levels, focus and creativity at work and everyday life. Moreover, “harnessing the breath can help unlock tension, alleviate unwanted feelings, tackle unresolved emotions and release physical, mental and emotional blocks,” adds the breath-work expert. Here are a couple of easy-to-do conscious breathing exercises you can do anywhere, anytime:
Breathpod ‘Double Calm’ Breath: “This is a simple exercise to lower blood pressure and switch to a parasympathetic state of mind (rest and digest),” tells Sandeman.
How to do it:
Step 1: Inhale for a count of 4 through the nose.
Step 2: Exhale through pursed lips for a count of 8.
Step 3: Inhale for a count of 5 through the nose.
Step 4: Exhale through pursed lips for a count of 10.
Step 5: Inhale for a count of 6 through the nose.
Step 6: Exhale for a count of 12.
Pro tip: If the increase in lengths is too much, just repeat inhale for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 8.
Breathpod ‘Bull’ Breath: “This is another simple breathing technique to help offload stress and frustration,” says Sandeman.
How to do it:
Step 1: Find a comfortable position, seated or lying down.
Step 2: Place one hand on your abdomen and the other one on your chest.
Step 3: Half inhale using your diaphragm so that the hand on your belly rises.
Step 4: Half inhale into your chest so that the hand on your chest rises.
Step 5: Let out a full, forceful exhale through your nose engaging the core and pumping the navel in towards the spine. (Just like an angry bull blowing off steam!)
Step 6: Repeat this exercise seven times.
Pro tip: If at any stage you feel light-headed or uncomfortable, take a break and listen to your body.
#2 Read more books
There’s a reason why highly successful people like Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey invest their time in reading books. They not only impart knowledge but also boost your productivity, sharpen your focus and memory, improve sleep and help you become more empathetic. Researchers also believe that reading may help prevent cognitive decline as it involves active mental engagement. Moreover, according to a study conducted by the University of Sussex, reading for just six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, making it a more effective way to unwind than listening to music or having a cup of tea. Nuff said. Here are some simple ways to cultivate a reading habit.
#3 Eat mindfully
According to a recent report by Daily Harvest, nearly half of Americans define their diet as “unhealthy.” In fact, 57% of Americans don’t even look at the amount of sugar, sodium or protein in their food prior to purchase. “Being mindful of the foods entering your body isn’t necessarily about counting calories or tracking carbs, but rather approaching food in a way that evokes an awareness of what nourishes the mind, body and soul,” says Leslie Silverglide, co-founder and CEO of MIXT. “Having this awareness can help reduce binge eating and promote easier digestion, which ultimately increases the enjoyment of food and gives you full control of your diet,” she adds. There are plenty of ways to practice mindful eating in the year ahead. Silverglide recommends carving out time to create a detailed shopping list before heading to the grocery store. “By doing so, you are identifying what foods will benefit you the most and set a path for what your diet looks like for the week ahead—ensuring you are giving your body and mind what it needs to perform at its best,” she explains. Here are a few more ways to practice mindful eating this year.
#4 Learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby
Learning a new skill or activity can do wonders for your brain health. “Learning creates new neural pathways in your brain. The more you practice a skill, the more you increase the speed and strength of those neural connections. This process is known as myelination—it increases the white matter in your brain and helps it run more efficiently,” explains Dr. Gina Delucca, a California-based licensed psychologist. Think of your brain as a muscle. You need to regularly exercise it to keep it functioning optimally, learning something new is a great way to do that. “Learning new skills and keeping your brain active can also help to protect you against dementia. In addition, learning can increase your psychological well-being by increasing your self-esteem and tending to the natural human desire towards growth,” tell Dr. Delucca. So, whether it’s learning a new language, taking up an art class, dabbling in music or mastering an athletic activity, go for whatever piques your interest. “If you’re not up to taking on any new endeavors right now, you can try raising the bar on an existing activity or hobby,” suggests the psychologist. “Just make sure that the activity is challenging enough to keep you engaged. If it’s too easy, you might become distracted or bored. And if it’s too difficult, you might become frustrated or discouraged,” she points out.
#5 Be more kind to yourself
People can be hard on themselves for a variety of reasons. “For some, their critical inner dialogue may have been learned through their past experiences. Maybe they had a very critical parent or a toxic ex and they have internalized some of the negative things that were said to them,” says Dr. Delucca. “While others might believe that their self-criticism keeps them motivated or makes them tougher. In the same vein, some might view self-acceptance as a form of coddling oneself or accepting defeat,” she notes. This is why the first step towards cultivating self-acceptance is to understand what this term actually means. “Practicing self-acceptance is about accepting yourself as a human being who has strengths as well as limitations, imperfections as well as the potential for growth,” explains Dr. Delucca. “It also involves being kind to yourself and feeling good about yourself despite your perceived ‘flaws’, past experiences and life choices,” she tells. To make self-acceptance a habit, “start by paying attention to your inner dialogue. If you notice that your inner self-critic is coming out, silence it by redirecting your thoughts to a positive place,” suggests the therapist. Also, “practice talking to yourself in the same accepting, non-judgmental and compassionate way you would to a close friend,” she adds.
#6 Break a sweat
Despite its proven benefits, over 75% of Americans don’t get enough exercise for optimal health. Regular exercise doesn’t just make you physically healthy but also improves your mood, stimulates creativity, enhances memory and increases your productivity, among other things. Also, research shows that spending as little as ten minutes on working out is good enough to reap its health benefits. So, renew your resolve to get more exercise this year. Go for long runs, swim, hike, try kickboxing, whatever floats your boat. And if you prefer staying indoors, here are some basic exercises you can do in the comfort of your home.
#7 Slow down
If you think always keeping several balls in the air makes you more productive, you might want to reconsider. “Multitasking might give you the illusion that you’re getting more done and being more efficient. But in reality, your attention is divided, so your work quality might suffer and you might actually be less productive because you’re distracted and prone to interruption,” says Dr. Delucca. Similarly, overcommitting is also counter-productive and can contribute to high levels of stress. “When you make habits out of multitasking and overcommitting, you run the risk of putting your body into a prolonged period of stress which takes a toll on both your physical and mental health. This can contribute to the onset of burnout, body aches and pains, mental fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, depression and many other health problems,” tells Dr. Delucca. So, what should you do? It’s quite simple really, slow down! “One way to do that is to literally slow down each individual activity you do and focus on only one task at a time,” suggests the psychology expert. For example, if you’re eating, actually sit down to have a meal, eat slowly, and do nothing else. Put away the electronic devices, turn off the TV, remove all other distractions, and just eat. Also, try to be more present and savor the good in life. “It’s very easy to get caught up in all the negativity in your life. Often, positive experiences quickly pass you by without being fully felt or appreciated. By slowing down and being more present in the moment you can truly take in and enjoy those experiences,” notes Dr. Delucca. Thirdly, avoid overcommitting and try to find ways to simplify your life and make time for rest and leisure,” she says. However, note that slowing down the pace of your life is not like flipping a switch, it requires conscious effort. It’s a deliberate choice that you must make on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day.
#8 Get more sleep
Your sleeping habits have a huge impact on your physical and mental health. “Sleep represents a third of every person’s life and it has a tremendous impact on how we live, function and perform during the other two-thirds of our lives,” states the American Sleep Apnea Association. “It is indeed as vital as the air we breathe and the food we eat, especially for those with chronic diseases or compromised immune systems,” it adds. According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), one in three U.S. adults don’t get enough shut-eye. Frequently skimping on sleep can have an array of adverse effects on your health, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, dementia and heart disease. Bottom line: make sleep a priority. To help you get started, here are five simple tips to help you sleep better.
#9 Cut back screen time
Unplug from technology as much as possible. Shut it off, put it in another room or leave it at home or the office. “When you stay connected all the time, you’re likely to become distracted every time you get a notification. You may also feel obligated to give in to the demands of others whenever you receive a text message, a phone call or an email,” tells Dr. Delucca. Moreover, spending most of your free time scrolling through social media can have an adverse effect on your self-esteem as well. “Social media breeds social comparison, which is a natural human tendency. We can’t help but compare ourselves to our friends’ social media accounts or the Instagram models and influencers who project seemingly perfect lives. This can create a distorted perception of reality and feed into your insecurities,” notes Dr. Delucca. To cut back on screen time, Dr. Delucca recommends restricting access to your smartphone and laptop. “Having a device at the tips of your fingers can be tempting and you can easily find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media, checking your email or playing a game. Try putting your phone, tablet or computer in another room or at least not within hand’s reach,” suggests the psychologist. Also, consider deleting apps that you rarely use and unfollowing people and pages that you feel are toxic. Here are some other healthy social media habits to try this year.
#10 Prioritize yourself
“It’s important to realize that when you put yourself first, everyone else benefits,” says intuitive and transformational coach, Caroline Britton. “No one wins when you are burnt out, frazzled and grumpy. So, when you find yourself going into that frenetic pace, do whatever you need to do to get yourself out of it—go for a long walk, have coffee on your own or take a relaxing bath,” she tells. Additionally, “block out at least ten minutes a day to do something that you enjoy or find relaxing,” she suggests. It can be anything from deep breathing and making a cozy meal to journaling or coloring. Introduce these self-care habits into your life gradually, by incorporating them into your morning or evening routines. “The brain usually takes 21 days to rewire and forge a new habit. Sometimes, it can take longer than that. So be patient and consistent. Put a daily reminder on your calendar if you need to,” adds the mindset coach. Here are a few more doable ways to prioritize yourself.
Btw, Happy New Year!