Every year at about this time, magazines, newspapers and websites (including ours!) publish their usual articles on how to keep your New Year’s resolutions. We all seem to forget that many people — perhaps even most of us — make such resolutions partly in jest, partly understanding that while our intentions are good, they are not meant to be hard and fast rules.
So this year, we thought we’d try and do something a little different. Instead of offering you 10 things you can do to help keep your resolutions, we’re going to share with you 10 things you can do differently today that will help change your life. None of these will blow your mind, but they will help make a positive impact.
1. Change your routine. Sometimes all we need in our lives is to alter something in our daily routines that hasn’t been working for a long time. We convince ourselves it would be too difficult to change, or that it would require something we don’t have. Making the commitment to change, however, often brings about insight — and resources — that we don’t always initially have.
2. Eat better. While not exactly a revolutionary suggestion, eating just a little better than you have in the past can have a significant impact in your life. We’re not saying do away with the fast food altogether or switch to eating nothing but bran flakes for the rest of your life. But make a commitment to everyday choices that are just a little healthier for you. For instance, opt for a smaller cheeseburger instead of the Big Mac. Eat two cookies instead of five. Eat one day at Subway instead of Burger King or McDonald’s. Don’t deny yourself the pleasures of eating, just try and make healthier decisions everyday when it comes to your food choices.
3. Have a real conversation. So much of our everyday activities are driven by things outside of our perceived control — going to school, work, or taking care of the kids. We seem to be pawns in a life not of our own making sometimes. One way to regain a little sense of control is to stop and have a real conversation with someone about something meaningful. Not every day. Not every conversation. Maybe just once a week, with a friend, a coworker, or your significant other. Talk about something important to you, something meaningful. You’d be surprised at having such regular, real conversations can help better ground you in your life and give it some meaning.
4. De-clutter. Nearly everyone has a clutter problem. While some people seem to have magical abilities removing clutter from their lives, the rest of us seem to live in a constant state of mostly manageable clutter levels. And that’s fine. Nobody should attempt to be Mary Poppins if their lives more often are akin to a tornado’s passing through a town. But if you make a conscious effort to reduce the amount of clutter, that can help you feel more in control of your life. For instance, deal with junk mail the minute you pick it up (don’t keep stacking it until it resembles the leaning tower of Pisa!). Have your children put their own things away once a week. Ask your significant other to help out with de-cluttering your life just a little bit.
5. Exercise. Yeah, yeah, we all know we should exercise more (unless you’re already hitting the gym 5 times a week!), and we all vow we will. But did you know a simple 15 minute walk every day will help significantly improve your long-term health? You don’t need a gym membership to stay a little more fit than you are today. Sometimes people feel the only way they can do something is if they do it 110%. But the easier solution is to find that 15 minutes a day to do something simpler and more likely to happen.
6. Listen more. We all think we listen when others talk to us, and most of the time, we do. But in this fast-paced, multitasking world, we often don’t really listen when someone speaks to us. The closer the person is to us, the more we often don’t really listen to what they’re saying. You can’t just stop not listening, because it’s something most of us have inadvertently learned to do over the years. We pretend (even to ourselves) that we’re listening, but we’re actually doing something on the computer, watching TV, or reading an article or book. Be a little more aware of when you’re doing this, and stop yourself from doing it once in awhile. Listen. While you may think that what you’re doing is more important than what the other person is saying, you may also find that the other person’s words have meaning… If for no other reason than because they are coming from someone you care about.
7. Have some fun. Some of us are very good about having fun, and doing it regularly. But some of us, especially as we get older, forget to have fun. We think we’re having fun watching TV or playing a video game — and some of us really are — but many times we use these activities as stand-ins for actual pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that you should also make room in your life for real fun too! While there’s a time and place for taking life seriously, there’s an equal time and place for forgetting your troubles for a few hours a week and really enjoying yourself.
8. Enjoy the journey. Many of us are so focused on getting to where we’re going or where we think we should be going that we forget that the journey is often just as important (and fun!). Life is a full-time, 100% learning experience. Even when we think we’re in the midst of the most mind-numbing, repetitive and boring experience, life is trying to teach us something. The problem is that a lot of the time we don’t realize this. We negate the experience, and in the process, we negate a part of our lives. Embrace the journey, even if it’s just once in awhile, and understand that everything is a part of living a full and meaningful life.
9. Read an entire article. The Internet has been a wonderful boon to our lives, opening up doors and breaking down barriers that have plagued our society in so many different areas. But in one area, it has dealt us a bit of a setback — reading skills. The Internet values the interconnections (or “surfing”) one makes back and forth, all over the world, from website to website. But it doesn’t value sitting there and reading a full-length article from start to finish. Whether you do it online or in a local newspaper or magazine, sit and read an entire article, from start to finish. It teaches us to value good writing (rather than what passes for writing on so much of the Internet), appreciate the nuances of a well-told story and a very good writer, and often challenges us to think outside of our comfort zone. Skimming articles – what most people do online – gives us the gist of the information with none of the nuance or character of careful reading.
10. Try another stress relief. Like all patterns of behavior, we often adopt behaviors over time without giving them much thought. If it comes naturally, it must be okay. How we deal with stress is one of those things that we learn by watching others in our life — on TV, our parents, and our friends. We learn to do positive things, such as exercise or writing in a journal, as well as negative stress relievers, such as drinking too much or bottling it up inside ourselves, letting it simmer. Look at how others around you deal with stress and pick just one different, positive way of dealing with stress and try it out. It may feel a little unnatural at first, but give it a week or two and you may find it is another helpful alternative to place in your stress relief arsenal.
And remember to live. Aren’t we doing that already? How can I do that differently? You know, so many of us spend our lives in “quiet desperation.” That is, we live from day to day without giving much thought to our lives’ meaning. We yearn to do something more, something different, but most of us never spend much effort to achieving that. But you can take little steps, instead of giant strides, to live a life that has more meaning to you. What that meaning is, only you can decide. But instead of putting off getting to that meaning, you can make a start — today — toward it.
Perhaps you’d like to be in a different career, so start thinking about the careers that interest you. Perhaps you’d like to be in a new relationship, so start thinking about what qualities you truly appreciate in another person. Perhaps you’d like to be a better parent, so start finding little ways you can improve your parenting skills. Perhaps you’d like to write a poem or book, so start writing — it doesn’t have to have form or function, just desire.
Sometimes the greatest challenge we face in changing something about our lives is the actual act of doing. We put up barriers within ourselves to stop ourselves from even trying to do something different, because we believe we will fail, it is too difficult to change, or it will take too long. We never even start.
So don’t start today. Don’t start tomorrow. But start just one of these things within the next month, and you’ll find that you will succeed if you only try.