Lose weight, stress less, and find happiness- the most common new year resolution.
Every January 1, it’s the same deal. I’m eager to write out a resolution list and get started on my goals, because this year I will drop 10 pounds, stress less, save more money, and be the most giving person I can be. Fast-forward a few weeks, or even several days: That list is now located under a mountain of papers on my desk, and I’m back to my same old routine of going to costly, caloric happy hours with friends, rushing through workouts, and stressing over deadlines.
Sticking to your goals isn’t easy. Time-management firm FranklinCovey reported that almost 80 percent of those who make resolutions eventually fall off the wagon. So why do we even bother? “Goals create vision and purpose in our lives,” says Colorado psychotherapist Alyson Schwabe, LPC. “Without goals, we’d all be depressed and bored.”
I can relate. There’s no doubt I feel much happier and more fulfilled when working hard to achieve something, whether it’s training for a 10K or saving up for an adventure abroad. With that in mind, I asked experts nationwide how I can tackle my goals this year without tiptoeing around them or losing steam after a few weeks. Here’s their advice on how to lose weight, stress less, and find happiness—for real this time.
Goal 1: Lose Weight
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, two-thirds of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. So chances are high that your No. 1 resolution this year is to shed pounds, whether it’s 5 or 50. For tips on weight loss follow our weight loss action plan.
Goal 2: Stress Less
Try Mindful meditation. Stress triggers the body to release stress hormones, which can throw off your hormone balance or worsen any preexisting imbalances, so it’s important to find ways to manage your response to stressors. “We don’t have much control over what stresses us out—a loved one who is sick, the economy—but we can train our minds and hearts to notice and modify our own reactions to the stress,” says Jeff Brantley, MD, director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine. What is mindful meditation exactly? “It can be as simple as stopping every hour to take deep breaths at your computer,” says Brantley. “The key is to develop your natural ability to stop and check in with your body every few hours to notice if you’re tensing your shoulders or feeling overwhelmed in general.” Another way to check in with the body? Tape notes that say “breathe” or “relax” to your mirror, computer, or car dashboard to remind yourself to pause and take a few breaths. Brantley also says reaching out to friends and family through Twitter can give you a boost.
Write it down. If you like to write and find that making lists helps you feel in control, consider starting a journal. “Journaling is a powerful tool for self-awareness and can help reduce burnout as well as promote personal growth,” says Brantley. Whether you want to write about each day, list your goals, or simply jot down what you’re grateful for, remember that the point is to organize your thoughts, relax, and have fun. Putting your thoughts down on paper will reduce stress and help you reflect and reevaluate your life.
Relax and Recharge.
We all need to be reminded that unplugging from work and splurging—within reason—on a vacation or short getaway can do wonders to reduce stress. “There’s a lot of value in taking longer periods of time off,” says Jeff Brantley, MD, of Duke Integrative Medicine. “Whether you’re going on a weeklong getaway with the family or spending a weekend at a spa or spiritual retreat on your own, it’s important to really get away from everything—it’ll renew your heart and soul.”
Goal 3: Get Happy
Losing weight, getting fit, saving money, and almost every other resolution all amount to achieving a state of happiness—and isn’t that the biggest goal of all? Here are a few simple and surprising ways to up the joy factor in your life:
Step out of your comfort zone. At a certain point in life, almost everyone develops a set schedule filled with the same daily activities and familiar people. “We try to create homeostasis, meaning a routine or structure, but that ends up limiting and suffocating us,” explains Schwabe. Signing up for a photography class or joining that salsa dancing club may be just what you need to break out of a boring, old rut and feel alive again. “Trying new things actually stretches us and pushes us beyond ourselves,” says Schwabe. “Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but it’s a great recipe for meeting new people and sparking happiness.” To break out of a rut, make a list of your interests and things you’ve always wanted to do. Next, hit the Internet: Art museums, colleges, and bookstores in your area likely have adult classes. Also check out meetup.com, which can help you connect with people who love what you love, from poker to pug dogs.
Work On your relationships. Just because you’ve known your best friend or spouse for 25 years doesn’t mean you can put that relationship on autopilot. In fact, it can be even more important to remind that person—and yourself—why he or she is so important to you. “You have to practice presence, appreciation, and honesty in any relationship,” says Schwabe. To do this, really focus on what your relationship is now (not what it was years ago), learn to appreciate everything about that person—even the stuff that annoys you—and be honest about anything in the relationship that needs work. “It doesn’t always feel like happy stuff, but being honest is one of the quickest ways to improve a relationship,” says Schwabe.
Focus on others. Whether volunteering or donating money, most people realize how important it is to give back to the community. It can be something simple like sending an e-card to a friend having a rough time. Once you shift your mind-set to giving, you will notice there are opportunities to do good deeds all the time. And it didn’t take me long to realize that others’ happiness may be the biggest gift of all.