Raise your hand if you’ve ever set a crazy-ambitious New Year’s resolution (run a triathalon! write a book! travel around the world!) only to lose sight of it around February or so, when you realize you might have bitten off a little more than you could chew.
Yup, definitely raising my hand right now.
So yeah, time to change things up. The key isn’t to not set New Year’s resolutions at all—it’s to set the right ones. These New Year’s resolution ideas—all curated by experts in their field—are small enough to be doable, but big enough to still give you that hell yeah feeling of satisfaction when you realize it’s March (or even November!) and you’re still going strong.
Plus, we’ve attached them to those big, overwhelming goals that you might have made in years past so you can translate those into a game plan that you can crush, no problem.
If your resolution is to get in better shape this year, make it more specific with one of these smarter resolution ideas:
1. Plank two to three times a week.
Instead of resolving to just “get fit” (vague much?), target your core—the center of all your movements, suggests Christi Marraccini, certified personal trainer and instructor at NEO U in New York City. “Having a strong core translates to [strength in] so many other movements,” she says.
To make it happen, work on mastering a high plank—holding your body in a straight, strong line for 60 seconds. Then take it to your forearms, maintaining good form for one minute there, too. Aim to do this once a day, two to three times a week, and you’ll see great results in the long run. “Try to do them in front of a mirror or take a picture or video of yourself to make sure you have good form,” Marraccini says.
2. Plan your workouts week by week.
This one’s easy: Choose a number of workouts per week you’d like tackle. (Think: three to four to start) Then, at the start of each week, plan your fitness schedule, Marraccini says. “This is a much easier goal to accomplish on a daily basis, compared to a long-term goal of weight loss,” she says. But in the end, you just might see the scale budge thanks to your newfound regular, consistent workout routine.
While that can be as simple as: I’m going to do a Spin class on Tuesday, do an arm workout at the gym on Wednesday, and then go for a run on Saturday, you can also check out this 28-day workout plan if you need even more inspiration.
3. Walk 1,000 more steps a day.
If you haven’t jumped on the fitness tracker bandwagon yet, it’s time. “I tell my patients to walk everywhere,” says Nicole Weinberg, M.D., a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Even if you live in an area where you drive to get from place to place, parked in the parking lot far away from the door and walk there.” Walking won’t just help keep your metabolism humming along—it’s also great for heart health, brain health, joints, and more.
Granted, you’re not going to be able to go from couch potato to 10,000 steps a day overnight. Instead, aim for adding 1,000 steps to your daily routine. When that feels easy, add another 1,000—and see if you can get up to 10,000 or even a bit higher.
4. Spend nine minutes waking up your body.
We’re not saying you need to go for a run every morning, but kick off your day with a little movement, says Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Le Sweat, and you’ll feel so. much. better—and maybe even more awake. Atkins suggests doing what’s called controlled articular rotations (a.k.a. CARS), which includes arm circles, hip circles, cat-cow, or simply bending and flexing your joints.
A good New Year’s resolution idea: Two times a week, take time in the morning to do three minutes each of neck rolls, ankle rolls (both either standing or seated), and hip circles (from an all-fours position), Atkins suggests. This will hit all the typical tight spots, helping to improve mobility.
If you’ve failed at past resolutions to start eating a better, healthier meal, ditch the diet mentality and try one of these goals instead:
5. Eat one plant-based meal a day.
Lots of us don’t get enough vegetables in one day—so this should help improve your overall nutrition over time, says Amy Shapiro, R.D., founder of Real Nutrition. It’ll also help you get enough fiber (hello, better digestion!) and it’s good for the environment too. This might spark a desire for more produce and less animal products, as well.
6. Prep one meal or main dish a week.
Sometimes it’s seriously difficult to get in a whole week’s worth of meal prepping, so start small instead, says Shapiro. Opt to make grilled, marinated chicken, a big batch of slow-cooker soup, or a dozen hardboiled eggs to eat throughout your week. Whatever you choose, it’ll be a meal in the right direction for healthier blood pressure, a lower risk of heart disease, potential weight loss, and even some money saved.
7. Go dry for seven days.
Dry January might seem like a chore (and not a fun one), so try it for seven days instead. Or, opt to have a bev or two on weekends only. “After the holidays, it might be the right time to shave back on your alcohol consumption,” Shapiro says.
8. Eat something with probiotics every day.
Want better gut health? Aim to have a serving of at least one fermented food (think kimchi, kombucha, or sauerkraut) or a food with live and active cultures (like yogurt) each day, says Pam Bede, R.D., a sports dietitian specialist and expert for SwimBikeRunEat.com.
9. Swap out one sugary food from your diet per day.
Everybody seems to want to cut back on sugar—and it’s a good New Year’s resolution idea that will help improve your own health and can also help with weight loss (or management). But instead of trying to ignore your sweet tooth altogether, Bede suggests swapping one sugar-sweetened treat a day for something with fewer empty calories. For example, switch your typical chocolate chip cookie for an apple dusted in some cocoa powder.
If your resolution is to lose weight:
In addition to the resolutions listed above for eating better and getting into shape, try some of these ideas.
10. Make one healthy date with a friend or family member per week.
Trying to accomplish a big goal on your own can be tough, but enlisting support from friends can make it feel more achievable and keep you motivated, says Peter LePort, M.D., medical director of MemorialCare Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center. “Tell your family and friends about your ‘get healthy’ goals,” he says. “Invite them to go for walks, runs, and bike rides with you.”
Or if you can’t find friends to go on fitness dates with you, consider making dinner plans at a healthy restaurant or hosting a potluck dinner, where guests (and you!) can have a chance to try various nutritious dishes and get ideas for recipes to make at home. If you make healthy choices part of your social life, it’ll be so much easier to adopt them as a permanent lifestyle.
11. Go to sleep at the same time each night.
Improving your shut-eye habits has been linked to improved weight loss and maintenance—not to mention a ton of other benefits. “Study after study has shown that even an hour or two less sleep each night for just a few consecutive nights can have effects on the brain that last longer than those few days of disrupted rest,” says Vernon Williams, M.D., a sports neurologist and founding director of the Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
A good place to start is establishing a tranquil sleep environment by making small changes, like setting a bedtime for yourself (no devices allowed afterward!), investing in blackout shades for your bedroom, or adjusting the thermostat to a comfortable temperature to ensure more restful sleep. And make sure to wake up at the same time each day, too, which will help you get into a regular sleep pattern, says Williams.
If your goal is to save money or get out of debt this year:
12. Make “free” plans every month.
Switch up your dinner date with a friend once a month for “frugal joy,” a.k.a. a free activity like a picnic in the park or a visit to your local museum during free admission hours. “Frugal joys are free or inexpensive things that make us really happy,” says Ashley Feinstein Gerstley, founder of thefiscalfemme.com and author of the forthcoming The 30-Day Money Cleanse. “Brainstorm activities or experiences that are free or cost very little and have them replace something that costs money.”
13. Spend only in cash for a week every month.
“We have a tendency to put our head in the sand when it comes to our spending,” says Gerstley. “This is even more true with apps like Lyft or Amazon, which make it easy to disconnect from where our money is going because they remove the pain of paying.” Your New Year’s resolution idea: Take at least one week a month to spend in only cash (or at least use your debit card), so you reconnect to where you’re dishing out dough. “You’ll be surprised how something so simple can have such a big impact on your finances,” she says.
14. Create a “future expense” fund.
Want new digs? Need a new car? Start saving the difference between your current rent or car payment and what the new cost would be, says Shannon McLay, founder and CEO of Financial Gym, Inc. If your rent is currently $800 and the apartment you want is $1,200, that means you’d set aside $400 a month in a new apartment fund. In six months, you should have the first and last month’s rent you need to score a sweet new den.
15. Cancel your expendable auto-payments.
Don’t stop your automatic bill payments, but re-think those accounts you have linked up to monthly payments for data on Google Drive and other services you might not be using on the regular. Before you know it, you could be saving hundreds of dollars a month, says McLay.
If your resolution is to focus on self-care, mental health, and increasing self-confidence this year:
16. Start single-tasking for 20 minutes a day.
You don’t always need to eat while you’re writing emails or check your email in the middle of prepping for a presentation. Our brains actually work better when we focus on just one job at time, rather than trying to be a multi-task master. So, Campbell suggests you set aside about 20 minutes each day to solely pay attention to one single task. That means you shut down email, turn off your wifi, and hide your phone if you need to. “Allow yourself to focus on just one thing, and see how much more you can accomplish,” she says.
17. Give yourself 30 minutes of “me time” a week.
Relieving stress is a great goal, but pretty hard to grab if you don’t pinpoint how to do it. One way: Set aside 30 minutes a week for some quiet time by yourself, says Campbell. You can use this time to meditate, journal, walk in nature, or simply just breathe. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution idea you can probably get behind.
18. Move your social media apps off of your phone’s home screen.
The problem with spending too much time on Facebook or Instagram? “We live in a tech-obsessed world, so it can be easy to fall into the compare and despair trap if you spend all of your free time looking at everyone else’s ‘picture perfect’ moments,” says Jessica Abo, author of Unfiltered: How to Be as Happy as You Look on Social Media.
That’s why Abo suggests moving social media apps into a folder, so they’re not front-and-center on your home screen: You get to become “the star of your own life,” Abo says, adding that you should also consider turning off alerts and notifications in order to be more present throughout the day.
19. Commit to at least one night in per week.
Have you heard of JOMO, a.k.a. the joy of missing out? There’s definitely something to it, says Dana Campbell, a CEO, leadership coach and career expert. As tempting as it might be to say yes to every last invite you get, Campbell says you’ll want to avoid a 24/7 commitment to the meetup circuit. “Making plans night after night drain you of the much-needed energy,” she says.
20. Switch up one element of your routine each month.
“Sometimes we need to shake up our daily habits to get off autopilot,” Abo says. Consider going to a different coffee shop, trying a new class at the gym or picking a fresh after-work hangout spot to break out of your normal flow. “You’ll be forced to say hello to new people, be out in the world experiencing what your neighborhood, commute and community have to offer, and possibly learn something new about yourself,” Abo says. “Plus, you never know who you could meet or run into by restructuring your day.”
If your New Year’s resolution is to get a promotion, raise, or new job:
21. Check in with old coworkers once a month.
Set a calendar reminder to send an email just checking in with someone you used to work with once a month. Or use it as an opportunity to share an article that made you think of him or her. “Relationships are everything to your career, so be intentional about continuing relationships with former teams and companies,” says Campbell.
Hey, you never know when they’ll be asked to recommend someone for an open position—and if you’ve already made an effort to keep in touch with them, then you’ll be top of mind if (or when!) that happens.
22. Take time once a month to write down everything you’ve accomplished at work.
Campbell says while your tendency at work might be to focus on everything you didn’tdo, but it’s important to take time to regularly reflect on your successes. “Even if there are team wins, pay specific attention to what your contribution to each win was, and then tuck that list away somewhere for future reference,” Campbell says. “The key here is to celebrate and focus on everything you did do.” Then, when you’ll need to talk those points up with your boss—or add them to your resume—you’ll have them at the ready.