Every January, we vow to be different in a hundred different ways, and by the following January, most of us haven’t succeeded. I have fallen into this trap in years past, making long lists of things I’m going to do to improve my personal fitness, career, relationships, and so on—so many things that there was no way I could achieve them all. But in recent years, I have taken a more focused approach—limiting myself to one or two things that I’d like to accomplish—and it’s made all the difference.
This year, I’m focusing on one thing at a time with these 12 rules to live by, which you can incorporate over the course of the year, too.
January: Cut Out Sugar
January is famous for “New Year, New You” health resolutions, which typically involve eating better, losing weight, and generally getting healthy. There are a million and one ways to make that happen, but the latest scientific research shows that the one rule you can follow that will have the most positive impact on your weight, nutrition, and overall health is cutting out sugar. How to do this? Limit sugar to 25 grams per day, cut out the artificial stuff, use Sweet Defeat, and read labels. And you can join the 30-Day Sugar Reset!
February: Practice Gratitude
Only one month into the new year, and the short days often send us into the winter blues. As part of these doldrums, we’ll often focus on aspects of our life that make us unhappy. But incorporating a simple gratitude practice into your daily routine can make all the difference: get a small notebook or start a note on your phone. Every morning when you wake up, write down three things you are grateful for. This can be as small as someone smiled at you yesterday or as large as getting a big promotion at work. Research shows that a gratitude practice can rewire brain chemistry and make us feel happier. It changes our thought patterns to focus on positive things rather than negative things. And doing this activity in the morning sets the intention for the whole day.
March: Eat More Greens
In honor of National Nutrition Month, eat more greens and get lean! Leafy greens such as romaine, kale, butter lettuce, arugula, and spinach are loaded with nutrients like iron, vitamin K, folate, and more. They are also excellent sources of fiber, which makes you feel full and aids digestion. In addition, when you focus on filling your plate with greens, you’ll make better choices overall—salad instead of fries, greens instead of potatoes, arugula instead of rice. After only a week, you’ll feel amazing: satisfied by your meals, energized rather than sluggish, and no bloating. I eat greens at almost every lunch and dinner, and this month will focus on including them in my breakfasts, too!
April: Get Organized
In the spirit of spring cleaning, I’m going to take on an organization project. Order in our lives relieves stress, saves us time, and gives a feeling of accomplishment. Maybe you need to better organize your schedule, start a new routine, or tackle an overflowing closet. Maybe you just need a better rhythm for grocery shopping, or maybe your purse or briefcase is a total mess. Clean and tidy spaces allow for better focus and space for relaxation. I’m planning to to donate a bunch of things I no longer wear to free up more space in my apartment.
May: Maintain Relationships
Mother’s Day is a reminder of how important relationships are in our lives. This month, I’m going to call three longtime friends I haven’t been in touch with for a while. You can find a way to personalize it for yourself—text a photo of a fun memory to family member, perhaps write a thoughtful email, or go the extra mile and hand-write a note. Another option is to focus on new friendships. Find an event to attend, or just start a conversation with someone you see often at the gym or in the neighborhood walking the dog. Relationships both old and new enrich our lives and create a personal and professional support network that is priceless.
June: Drink More Water
In the summer, it’s all the more important to stay hydrated. This month, I’m going to aim to have a liter of water before lunchtime. Drinking water is great for our skin, muscles, and heart—and often when we think we’re hungry, we’re actually just thirsty! If you’ve ever felt lethargic but not necessarily sleepy, try drinking a big glass of water. Dehydration feels a lot like fatigue but doesn’t require a night’s sleep or massive amounts of caffeine to correct. Drinking a big glass of water might be the surprising pick me up you need!
July: Set a Fitness Goal
Summer is a great time to improve physical fitness! Goals are motivating and visualizing ourselves achieving them reminds us why we set the goal in the first place. Something I do when I set a fitness goal is write it down on a sticky note and put it on the mirror in the bathroom so I am reminded about it every morning. This July, I’m going to run my first 10K road race postpartum. Think about what you might want for yourself: working out five days a week is one option, but it’s also fun to decide to run a 5K, do 50 push ups every day, jump rope for five minutes without stopping, or learn to waterski. Set a goal and put a date on the calendar, tell your friends, and maybe they’ll even join you in your plan.
August: Focus on a Positive Mindset
A positive mindset can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: When you visualize a positive outcome, you are happier in your day-to-day life and more likely to achieve the outcome you desire. Similar to a gratitude practice, a positive mindset can help you overcome difficulties. Have you ever noticed that when you are having a terrible day but when someone asks you how you are and you smile and say, “I’m good,” you actually feel better? Smiling and verbalizing positive affirmations is known to improve your mood. My goal this month is to turn around bad days with my attitude.
September: Be Punctual
Ever feel like you’re constantly running behind or apologizing for being late? That’s me. I’m going to arrive at work or a dinner dates 5 minutes early this month. I never regret being early, even if it’s hard! Being early to a party means you get time with the host, getting to work early means you get quiet time and a head start on the day, and going to the field early to pick up your kids from sports means that you might get to see the end of a practice game.
October: Read a Book
Reading definitely gets deprioritized these days with social media and busy schedules, but it’s such an enriching activity to do alone or with your spouse or children. I aim to finish two books this month. Join me in this goal! Make a list of books you want to read and start one–it’s a relaxing activity before bed, gives you something interesting to talk about with friends and colleagues, and gives you the chance to expand your vocabulary or broaden your thinking.
November: Brush up on Cooking Skills
With Thanksgiving this month and the holidays around the corner, what better time to invest in cooking skills? I’m planning to take a cooking class this month with my husband for a date night. Cooking can definitely be a burden, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to tackle anything complicated like pastries. Just pick a recipe with a new cooking technique that sounds delicious, then review the steps, shop for the ingredients, and set some time aside to prepare the dish to share with family and friends.
December: Practice Self-Kindness
We put all kinds of pressure on ourselves, especially during the holidays. Find the perfect gift, host the perfect party, or get the perfect holiday card out on time. It’s important that we are kind to ourselves, even if we’re ambitious and driven. This month, I’m going to take one afternoon just for myself! Join me and make some time for yourself or even buy yourself a small gift. Let the perfection go and leverage your gratitude practice from February to give credit to your own skills and talents, use some of your organization skills from April to start early on projects so you can set achievable goals, and feel good about the outcome. It’s important in our busy lives that we are kind to ourselves; it will make us better family members and friends to those we love.