By Megan Marples, CNN
Sleep longer. Eat healthier. Exercise more.
Becoming a “better” version of yourself can quickly turn into a nearly endless list of tasks, leaving you overwhelmed.
We often decide to try and tackle multiple habits but end up unable to master any of them from the sheer effort it takes to do them.
If you’re failing your New Year’s resolutions almost as soon as you’ve started them, don’t be hard on yourself. About 64% of people give up on their New Year’s resolutions by the end of January, according to a 2021 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Luckily, science tells us that in order to achieve more, we should actually do less.
It seems counterintuitive, but it’s easier to work on one or two habits rather than striving to improve all aspects of yourself at once. At least according to Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist based in Dallas.
Changes in thinking and behavior take about two months to build, she said. When you divide up a year, that is five to six goals you can reach every year.
Leaf recommended people find one to two specific goals to work on in nine-week increments. Then break it down even further so you have a small goal to accomplish each week.
“As a result, the small changes that you make each month won’t feel so intimidating, and you won’t feel as worn out by achieving them,” Leaf said.
Where to begin
If you don’t know where to start, it’s a good idea to begin by selecting a theme for the year, she said. For Leaf, her 2022 theme is having a “possibilities mindset.”
After that, assess how you feel when you work on a negative habit, she said. Then, reflect and write down how it’s impacting you and why, Leaf explained.
Once you decide on a theme and a couple goals to support it, prioritize which goals should be completed first. Some may need to meet self-imposed deadlines while others may have external deadlines already set, such as writing a book that needs to be sent to the editor, she said.
Need some inspiration for your goals and ways to tackle them? Here are some ideas.
Getting enough shut-eye
Many people want to sleep better. Without adequate sleep, your body cannot perform at its best for exercising and eating healthier.
A recent global study of 22,330 adults from 13 countries found the rate of insomnia associated with the pandemic is 36.7%. This is significantly higher than the rates of anxiety (25.6%) and depression (23.1%) related to the pandemic.
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to go to sleep, wake up or go back to sleep if you’ve woken up in the middle of the night, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you’re having trouble getting quality sleep, Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, recommended to start by removing certain items from your evening routine.
Say goodbye to televisions and electronic devices in the bedroom, he said. It’s important to also sleep in a room that’s free of noise and light, added Avidan, who is also a UCLA professor of neurology.
“The bed and bedroom should not be a place for thinking, problem solving or ruminating,” he said.
Instead, aim to make the bedroom your sanctuary. There should be a comfortable bed with curtains and ambient light, Avidan said. If you want to exercise before bed, he recommended yoga to initiate a restful night’s sleep.
It’s also not a good time to start an argument, he advised. Your bedtime routine should be relaxing, so try and avoid upsetting conversations and don’t dwell on problems before bed.
For more ideas to get quality sleep, sign up for our Sleep, But Better newsletter series.
Making healthy food choices
After weeks of eating salads and drinking lots of water during the first few weeks of January, do you eat all the sugary snacks you can get your hands on? Many people who’ve tried to eat healthier know that scenario all too well. The guilt sinks in, and it seems like your lofty goals of healthy eating this year are in jeopardy.
Instead of feeling like you have failed, it’s important to remember that these moments do not solely determine your success, said CNN health and nutrition contributor Lisa Drayer.
“In fact, the long-term goal is to learn how to enjoy these foods and beverages in moderation,” she said.
Instead of making several diet changes at once, Drayer recommended introducing one mini goal each week, so it seems less overwhelming. You could add a vegetable with every meal, eat two fruits a day or drink a glass of water with each meal or snack.
Drayer makes sure to eat a healthy breakfast each morning. It includes Greek yogurt and a clementine, a meal that is rich in protein, calcium and fiber, she said.
To learn more tips on how to create a healthy diet, sign up for our Eat, But Better: Mediterranean Style newsletter series.
It’s two weeks into an intense workout program and you’re ready to throw in the towel.
Many people try and skip exercising basics in the hopes of achieving faster results. Instead, people need to build a foundation on understanding their body and approaching exercise with a positive attitude, said CNN fitness contributor Dana Santas, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.
To start, begin walking and doing body-weight exercises, she said. Once that is mastered, learn weight-training exercises. This helps add muscle while increasing your metabolism so you can burn more calories, Santas explained.
Lastly, experiment with different types of exercises to find the one you like the most.
“When you actually enjoy exercise, you will do it more consistently, so it’s important to determine what resonates most with you,” she said.
Another way to incorporate fitness into your routine is through habit stacking, Santas noted.
Habit stacking involves looking at actions you already do, such as brushing your teeth or putting on your shoes, and stacking a new exercise before, during or after the habit.
“For example, I do 20 pushups before getting in the shower and 50 body-weight squats or a wall sit while brushing my teeth,” Santas said.
When she started doing pushups before her shower, she could barely do 10 pushups. Over time she increased it to 12 pushups, then 15 and finally 20.
And if you fall off the wagon, you can forgive yourself and get right back on. Every day is a new day to start including fitness in your life, she said, regardless of the day of the year.
For more ideas on how to incorporate a balanced exercise routine into your life, sign up for our Fitness, But Better newsletter.
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