Movement matters, from a game of tennis to walking up escalators. Photo / Getty Images

New Year, New Resolve: The Small Life Changes That Can Make A Big Difference

Drastic new year’s resolutions are hard to keep, instead try these small ways to change your habits

When it comes to New Year resolutions, hope springs eternal, despite overwhelming evidence they simply don’t work for most of us. An Australian study found 80 per cent of people who make New Year resolutions will have dropped them by the second week of February, while data logged by fitness tracker Strava was even more pessimistic, suggesting most people are likely to ditch their plans on January 19.

So this year, rather than setting yourself up for failure, we’re proposing small changes, whether your goals are to save the planet, get more active, sleep better or just to be happier.

These are, as Alex Allan, a nutritional therapist puts it, “simple changes that will make a big difference in the long term, because long-term habit changes are the only thing that works”.

Lifestyle coach Anne Iarchy says: “Doing something is always better than nothing. Start making small changes consistently and build up. Most people are all or nothing; if it’s not perfect they feel like a failure. But every small change you make over time will make a big difference.”

Make 2022 the year that you change your life for the better, without even noticing it.

WELLBEING WONDERS

Write a thank you letter every month
Professor Martin Seligman, a psychologist who has written several self-help books, has researched countless interventions to see which really work to make us happier. One of the tasks he discovered produced the highest levels of positive emotion for a month after is writing a letter to someone who has somehow improved your life. It can be to anyone who’s done something big or small: just write the letter, and send it.

Acknowledge compliments
New Zealanders are used to brushing off compliments, but learning how to enjoy them rather than just bat them away can help improve your self-esteem. “Next time you receive a compliment, say, ‘Thank you’, then take a breath,” says Lee Chambers, a psychologist and wellbeing consultant. “We rarely learn how to receive feedback. Acknowledgement gives us the space to accept and benefit from the positivity that can resonate when we receive a compliment — saying thank you and then pausing gives us the space to do just that.”

Cleanse your social media feeds
For all its benefits, social media can be a toxic space. Suzanne Samaka, founder of #HonestyAboutEditing, which campaigns to make it law to label images that have been digitally edited online, advises muting or unfollowing accounts that make you unhappy about your body image. The same applies to anything on social media that riles you, whether it’s your bragging colleague on Facebook, or the envy-inducing travel pics of a schoolfriend on Instagram: if it makes you feel bad, unfollow.

READ: Vitamin Infusion: How To Know Which Skincare Vitamin Is Right For You

Call, text or email a family member or friend every day
Research from Harvard University suggests that meaningful relationships can help improve emotional, mental and physical health and although there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, making the effort to stay in touch with a family member or friend each day is a good way to strengthen bonds and get a boost of happy hormones.

Commit to a random act of kindness every week
Research has shown that being kind to people increases our levels of happiness. And it doesn’t matter who those people are — buy an extra coffee for the next person in the cafe; leave a book at the bus stop with a note in it; tell someone’s boss when you get great customer service; leave coins by the parking machine for the next person.

Go screen-free
Technology makes our lives easier in so many ways, but there are also concerns about the impact so much screen time has on everything from our ability to concentrate to our mental health. A day-long digital detox might be too much to aim for, but you can decide that at certain times — every meal and overnight, for example — you put your phone on aeroplane mode and don’t touch it.

Take one deep breath
If you’ve failed to get your head round meditating with a phone app, don’t panic. “Meditation is beneficial, but even just being more focused on breathing really helps,” says meditation teacher Chloe Webster. “Just start with one deep breath and then three: the next thing you know, you’ve activated your parasympathetic system (which sends a signal to the brain to let the anxious part know that you’re safe and to hold off on the fight, flight or freeze response) and you’re on your way to feeling calm again.”

Opt for a sleep mask, or a lavender-scented sleep spray. Photo / Getty Images

SLEEP SOLUTIONS

Brain dump before bed
So often we’re kept awake by thoughts racing through our brains, whether it’s tomorrow’s to-do list or knotty problems we’ve been avoiding. To get them out of your head — and your bed — scribble everything down in a notebook, or record in a voice note on your phone, before you get into bed.

Use a lavender-scented sleep spray
You might have dismissed lavender pillow sprays as more unnecessary mumbo jumbo, but the plant contains linalool, a chemical with anaesthetic properties. What’s more, research by professor Tim Jacobs of Cardiff University found that not only do lavender sprays help you sleep, but if you use them nightly, over two to three weeks, your body also associates the smell with sleep, so you sleep even better. Relieve the day's tension with a spritz of Crushes Lavender Sleep Spray, $25. The tincture is handmade locally using a blend of lavender essential oils and natural ingredients to settle you into a peaceful sleep.

Wake up at the same time every day
Our bodies work on 24-hour cycles and don’t know the difference between a Wednesday and a Sunday, so if five days of the week you get up at 6.30am and for two days you don’t get up until 10am, it’s going to make the 6.30 starts even harder. Up to an hour extra is just about okay, so set your alarm for 7.30 at weekends — and if you get up to get a cup of tea and go back to bed with the paper, don’t go back to sleep.

HEALTH IS WEALTH

Drink one extra glass of water every day
Forget trying to drink litres every day, start by drinking just an additional glass of water, suggests nutritional therapist Wilma MacDonald. “Research has shown that around 75 per cent of adults are chronically dehydrated, which means that feeling sleepy, unmotivated and having difficulty concentrating is a default setting which can be switched by drinking some more water. “Being hydrated will also keep your joints lubricated, your bowels moving, support your heart to pump blood more efficiently and regulate your body temperature.”

Make half your dinner plate vegetables
We know we should be eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. MacDonald says you’re more likely to achieve that if you simply fill half your dinner plate with vege. “Vegetables are the best source of vitamins, minerals and fibre that your body knows what to do with,” she says. “Fibre keeps your gut happy and bowels moving freely, while vitamins and minerals repair, protect and keep your body functioning.”

Switch up your evening G&T
Booze-free beverages are on the rise worldwide and New Zealand is no exception, with brands like Ecology + Co, Seedlip, AF Drinks and Yes You Can offering alcohol-free alternatives that are a delight to drink, and that have us feeling like we’re sipping on something exciting, rather than a sparkling water or ginger ale. The benefits of switching to an alcohol-free alternative are many — more clarity, better sleep, fewer headaches, not to mention a decreased chance of cardiovascular disease and some relief for the liver.

Have soup for lunch
Research suggests eating the same food in soup format rather than as a plate of items makes you feel fuller for longer and less likely to snack. This is thought to be because the liquid in the soup is held in the stomach while the solid nutrients are digested, stretching the stomach wall and suppressing production of the hunger hormone, ghrelin.

Commit to not eating in front of the TV
If you are distracted while eating, your brain is less likely to recognise how much you are consuming or realise when to stop. Research from the University of Birmingham shows that we eat up to 25 per cent more when we are not focusing on our food — so cutting out mindless TV snacking really helps.

MOVEMENT MATTERS

Stand when you can
Many of us live incredibly sedentary lifestyles, which causes levels of inflammation in the body to rise and actually ages us quicker. The answer is to stand whenever you can. Can’t quite face a standing desk? Commit to standing on your commute instead, aim for standing meetings, or even stand for half of your favourite TV programme.

Pick things up with your feet
Eliza Flynn, personal trainer and founder of The Warrior Method — a system for training your mind and body for everyday “battle” — points out that neglected feet can result in fallen arches, which can cause constant pain. To give them a workout, go barefoot in the house and use your toes to pick up everything from socks to dropped cutlery. It will also help build better balance and co-ordination, and in the long-term, reduce your risk of injury.

Walk up escalators
You’ve heard it all before: take the stairs when you can and walk up escalators. According to fitness coach Liam Cavanagh, it’s not just about burning extra calories, it’s something that helps you identify as a healthy person — and the more you identify as a healthy person, the more likely you are to adopt other healthy habits.

Sit down, stand up
Next time you get up from a chair, notice whether or not you use your hands. If you do, try to stand and sit unassisted. Mastered that? Try it using just one leg. “This helps work on your core, leg and back strength,” says Eliza Flynn. “The single-leg sit and stand is fantastic for building leg strength and core stability.”

Start your day with an eight-minute stretch
Rosaria Barreto, a sports scientist and personal trainer, recommends that if you do nothing else, a daily stretching routine will improve your range of movement, reduce joint pain and minimise muscle tightness. This means that as you get older, you are less likely to fall and more likely to remain independent. Find a routine on YouTube, or look up the Five Tibetan Rites — a form of yoga.

PLANET SAVERS

Turn your thermostat down to 19C
According to Every One of Us, an organisation that makes it easier for you to make eco-friendly decisions, your thermostat should be set no higher than 19C. Turning the thermostat down by just 1C saves 3 per cent of energy. It may not sound like much, but if yours is currently set to 22C, you’ll save almost 10 per cent, and still shouldn’t feel cold.

Buy secondhand clothes
Every year tonnes of clothing is binned, but if putting yourself on a buying ban seems extreme, swapping where you shop might be more practical. Apps such as Depop and Vinted, and sites like The RealReal, Vestiaire Collective, and Ebay, and locally Crushes.co.nz, Dovehospice.com, Gojorecycledstore.co.nz, Paintedbird.co.nz, Huntinggroundstore.com, Vintagehustle.co.nz and Wavesvintage.com, are a treasure trove of barely worn, high-quality clothes, so make them your first port of call. Buying second-hand saves you money and helps save the planet.

Swap shampoo and shower gel for bar versions
Ditching liquid shampoo and shower gel helps in multiple ways. Less water is used in the production of bars, they are lighter — meaning less carbon is used to transport them — and they normally come in environmentally friendly paper or card instead of plastic bottles. They also last longer. Consider Davines Love Smooth Solid Shampoo Bar, $40, a must-have for those with coarse or frizzy hair. After wetting the shampoo bar under the shower, work into a lather before applying to wet hair. Follow with your preferred solid conditioner, remembering to store both in a cool, dry spot (or inside a tin if you have one) to extend their shelf life. Available from selected salons or Themarket.com.

READ: Is Going Waterless The Way Forward For Beauty?

Stop leaving your gadgets on standby
“Appliances such as printers, speakers, TVs, games consoles and laptops can use up to 90 per cent of their power even when in standby mode,” says Sonia Lakshman, co-founder of Every One of Us. “To make life easier, plug them into a single power strip you can turn off with the flick of a single switch every night.”

Freeze food rather than binning it
Food waste is an ongoing issue and one of the easiest ways to make sure that doesn’t happen is to use your freezer. Around 24 million slices of bread are wasted a day, so think about freezing your loaf. If vegetables start to look past their best, lay on a sheet, pre-freeze, then put in a freezer bag (this will stop them sticking together). Find more top tips to avoid wastage at Lovefoodhatewaste.co.nz.

Subscribe to a vegetable or fruit box
There are now hundreds out there, from Fruit Guys, to Clevedon Herbs & Produce, Ooooby and Naturally Organic. You will minimise plastic packing and, by buying excess or organic stuff, you will also be doing good for the planet.

Keep micro plastics out of the ocean
Washing synthetic fibres, such as fleeces and sportswear, results in tiny fibres making their way into the oceans, where they cause havoc with sea life. Using a GuppyFriend — a mesh bag that you place your synthetics in pre-wash — means you can capture these microplastics and dispose of them safely.

BEAUTY BENEFITS

Commit to double cleansing
We’re long-term devotees of the double cleanse, and now’s your chance to jump on the bandwagon. Effectively cleansing your skin at the end of each day will keep breakouts at bay. Start with an oil or balm cleanser to remove makeup, Viva loves Eve Lom Cleanser, $123, and follow with a cosseting cream cleanser like Tatcha The Rice Wash, $56, to leave skin baby soft. 

Wash your makeup brushes at least once a month
We won’t pretend we wash our makeup brushes once a week (we should) but this year we’re committing to giving them a thorough cleanse once or twice per month. Makeup brushes are a breeding ground for dirt and bacteria, not to mention using a dirty brush can hinder you from achieving a flawless makeup finish. Regularly wash your brushes and reap the benefits of a healthier complexion, airbrush-finish makeup, and brush longevity.

Limit your use of hot tools
All in the name of hair repair in 2022, we challenge you to drop your curling wands, straighteners and hot brushes and learn to embrace your natural hair texture. If you can, limit your use of hot tools to once or twice per week, and reap the benefits of hair that’s more naturally glossy, stronger and less prone to frizz.

– Telegraph Group Ltd

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