It’s cliché, really—you charge into the new year, armed with ambitious New Year’s resolutions to work out, lose weight, eat well, write the Great American Novel, achieve world peace, fill in the blank here. You have a plan, you have the passion, you have three weeks of impressive progress. Then life sets in; your resolutions die a quiet, premature death; and just like that you’re back to the same ol’ you.
Or, like many people, you’re so weary of that depressing cycle that you don’t bother to set goals at all. Unfortunately, both approaches produce an identical result: the same ol’, unimproved you.
Sad news, yes. But despair not, dear reader. There is another way.
It’s what I call Can-Do Resolutions, and the idea is simple: Instead of shooting for the moon, opt for a small, super-doable, but life-improving goal that you really can achieve.
Cynical types might call this “setting the bar low,” but I consider it “building confidence.” Because once you experience actually making a lasting change, you may just discover the skills and commitment you need to push the bar up a teensy bit next year. Yes, even you slackers out there—you know who you are.
To get started, pick one of these realistic New Year’s resolutions:
- Add 10. Whatever your current activity level is, add 10 minutes per day. They don’t even have to be consecutive minutes. Do a few sit-ups during commercials. Take two five-minute walk breaks during the workday. Stretch for five minutes at either end of your day. If you hit even five days of the week, that’s an extra 50 minutes of weekly activity—and 43 extra hours for the year!
- Single swap. Major diet overhauls are daunting—and usually unsustainable. Instead, identify one regular “baddie”—maybe doughnuts or diet soda—and restrict it to a once-a-week occurrence (or cut it out entirely, if you’re bold). In its place, opt for a satisfying, but better-for-you treat—dark chocolate (try this mousse), perhaps, or maybe iced tea—whatever pleases your palate.
- Plan a getaway. This one could be a life-or-death matter: Studies show you’re up to eight times more likely to die prematurely—especially of heart disease—if you don’t take vacations. So, get out your calendar and mark out time for a vacay—even if it’s just a staycation or a long long weekend. Worried about your work? Science says don’t be. Employees (and employers, for that matter) who take vacations are more productive overall than those who don’t.
- Write a note. OK, actually 12 notes. Planning is the key to the success of this resolution. Stop what you’re doing right now and order a box of cards and a book of stamps. Put a reminder in your calendar for the first (or whatever day you’d like) of each month. When your calendar dings, sit down and pen a short note of gratitude, admiration, or encouragement to a person of your choosing. Slap a stamp on it, drop it in the mail, and know that in five short minutes you made the world a better place.
- Make your bed. Credit for this one goes to U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven. In a commencement speech at the University of Texas (and later in a book called Make Your Bed [Grand Central, 2017]), McRaven passed along wisdom he’d learned as a lifelong Navy SEAL: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
In other words, even if all your other resolutions go the way resolutions so often go, just make your bed—and all will be well with the world.
Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).