6 Baby Steps to Take Now so Your New Year’s Resolutions Aren’t an Emotional Shock, According to Experts

published Dec 17, 2020
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The new year is just around the corner—are New Year’s resolutions on your mind? Despite the fact that we’re living in something like a time warp, where days pass slowly but months fly by, there’s a new year on the horizon and with it, thoughts of a “new you,” so to speak.

In 2019, Inc. reported that about 60 percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but only eight percent actually stick to them. If you’ve attempted a resolution or two in the past, you’re probably familiar with the initial motivation and the slow slide back into your regular habits.

The key to sticking to your resolutions is to start slow. It may be easier to “baby step” your way into 2021 and make big changes gradually—starting now—so Jan. 1 doesn’t come as such a shock. We chatted with a variety of experts about common resolutions and simple ways to start them off on the right note.

Resolution #1: Exercise more

Your baby step: Decide what time you want to work out each day.

Starting a workout routine is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions year after year, but if you’re an exercise newbie, it can be extremely intimidating to get started—especially these days, when gyms are closed and group fitness classes have migrated online. Peloton instructor Aditi Shah says that the best way to begin is to experiment with different types of exercise until you find something that resonates with you.

She advises attaching a “meaningful purpose” to your resolution, whatever it is. But her biggest tip to success is making exercise a part of your weekly calendar. “After you’ve identified what you enjoy doing, make a scheduling commitment you can easily keep. Working out two to three times a week is a great place to start,” she says.

She also recommends being realistic: “Don’t promise yourself you’ll work out six days a week for an hour if that’s a tough time commitment for you,” she notes. “If you miss a day or mess up, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be compassionate to yourself and begin again.”

Resolution #2: Eat more vegetables

Your baby step: Add (more) vegetables to one meal or snack each day

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘You can be anything, but you can’t be everything,’ and this is never more true than when trying to make long-term behavior changes,” says functional nutrition and lifestyle design coach Andrea Gharritt.

To start making healthier choices, Gharritt advises starting with simple swaps to your daily routine. “Prioritize adding veggies to a single meal or snack or swap out a sugary beverage for an unsweetened option,” she says, adding that you can also try to make a baby-step resolution drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. She also recommends using technology to help you continue the habit, suggesting setting reminders in your phone and on your calendar to keep you focused.

According to Gharritt, there are plenty of ways to sneak more produce into your diet, including by adding greens to smoothies; doubling the amount of veggies needed in a recipe; bulk roasting vegetables for a few days’ worth of meals; and keeping easily prepped produce, like pre-cut veggies, on hand for snacks or easy meals. And when in doubt, make a big pot of soup. “Excuse my enthusiasm but this is a biggie for me, especially in the colder months,” Gharritt says. “You can pack a lot of veggies into a soup, and what is more satisfying on a cold winter day? Answer: nothing!”

Resolution #3: Prioritize positivity

Baby step: Have a solo dance party the next time you feel down

Between a fraught election, global pandemic, and so much more, 2020 was a lot to deal with. If you want to embrace a more positive outlook and make time for mindfulness in 2021, there are several small methods you can easily put into practice every day.

“I believe mindfulness is really about being aware of your energy and knowing how to care for it, Doug Marshall, a writer and life coach, tells Apartment Therapy. “When you change your energy, you can change the world.” He also felt the ups and downs of 2020, but turned to mindfulness to help him navigate the many changes. “I made less money, some trips I planned didn’t happen and I’ve barely seen anyone, but because I have a mindfulness practice, I feel more secure in my life than ever because I really had to work on my emotional well-being,” he says.

While Marshall has several techniques he recommends for daily mindfulness, one of his tried and true methods is simply dancing it out. “Did you know just one minute of dancing can completely lower stress? When we get stressed out, a tiny part of our brain called the amygdala releases all these hormones like cortisol and we feel amped up on stress, which leads to feeling boxed in,” he explains. “You start breathing deeper, blood gets flowing and then you calm down. A one-minute dance is mindfulness, I promise.”

Another method to implement is what Marshall calls “It’s Good to Feel Good.” As he explains, “When you see yourself falling into negative thought patterns, catch yourself and change the internal narrative.” Think about something that makes you happy, from YouTube videos to moments with friends, then repeat a mantra out loud. Some that Marshall likes include: “It’s good to feel good. When I think of this, I feel good. I’m okay in this moment. I’m going to focus on feeling good. I want to raise my energy. I want to feel better. I choose to think of things that make me happy. The minute you focus on something good in the middle of something that feels bad, you shift your thinking pattern, you shift your mindset and your mood elevates,” he says.

Resolution #4: Grow your savings

Baby step: Aim to spend 10 percent less in one category

Credit cards, student loans, impulse shopping… money is stressful, no matter how you slice it. If saving more money or chipping away at debt is on your resolution list this year, take it from a pro and baby step your way to better spending and saving habits.

Jen Smith, creator of Modern Frugality, says that the key to financial success is going back to basics. “Just have the goal of getting 10 percent better every month,” she explains. For Smith, this means making a budget, really examining where you’re spending, and trying to get 10 percent better in one area, whether that’s spending 10 percent less online or at the coffee shop, she says. Once you’ve identified patterns, she recommends prioritizing places you want to be putting more money to, from your IRA to an emergency fund to a dream vacation fund.

If you’re trying to dig yourself out of debt, Smith’s best advice is to pick up a side hustle to help make a larger impact. “Even if it’s something you do for a few hours on the weekends and make an extra $100 and you put that towards your credit card debt, you will save hundreds of dollars in interest just by doing something,” she explains. “That’s one easy little change you can make and it will have effects that compound.”

Resolution #5: Shop more sustainably

Baby step: Take a little more time to think about your purchase before you buy it

The impact of consumer shopping—whether through “fast” fashion or an accumulation of single-use plastic in our homes—has a major impact on our climate and environment. As the world continues to grapple with climate change and interlinked environmental issues, the idea of shopping more mindfully and sustainably grows in popularity. How do you start shrinking your footprint while still sourcing the things your home needs?

Bobbi Barron, owner of sustainable and ethical clothing store Hazel & Rose in Minneapolis, Minnesota, advises patience and thoughtfulness when shopping instead of buying in the moment just to feel something. “Go home, think about it, see if it really belongs in your closet or home,” she says. “Do you already have something similar? How often will you use it? If you’re still thinking about it after 24 to 72 hours, give it more consideration. In my experience those are things I truly want or need. My second recommendation is to look or research if you can find it secondhand or thrifted. Circular consumption is always going to be the most sustainable!”

Secondhand shopping is a great way to find things you need at a discount and keep them out of landfills. Barron suggests honing your thrifting muscles by shifting your mindset and habits. Instead of wandering around aimlessly in the thrift store, go with purpose, the way you would a grocery store,” she says. “Make an intentional list on your phone of things you want to look for. Pop by your local thrift store once a month or so and see if you can find some of those things before relying on your big box retailer.”

Credit: Jessica Rapp

Resolution #6: Stick to a skincare routine

Baby step: Reacquaint yourself with the basics

Want to put your best face forward (pun intended) in 2021? Celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau is here to help.

“The goal of a great skincare routine is to improve and enhance the look of your skin,” she says. That doesn’t mean you need a complicated, 10-step routine; Renee’s biggest advice is to keep it simple, especially if you’re just experimenting with the skincare world.

Rouleau’s basic skincare routine recommendation starts with just four products: a cleanser, a serum and two kinds of moisturizer. “During the day, the moisturizer should have an SPF, and at night it should be a non-SPF moisturizer for your skin type,” she advises. “Beginning a simple skincare routine will get your skin off to a great start so you can be on your way to healthy-looking and more balanced skin.” Her hero product is sunscreen, which should be used every day, even when it’s overcast. She recommends a lightweight formula so you can apply it generously, and one with a built-in moisturizer helps you simplify your routine while maximizing results. And don’t forget your neck!

As Rouleau notes, skincare is about more than just how you look in Instagram Story selfies—it’s another way to prioritize self-care. “What I know for sure is that beauty is more than skin deep. Something as simple as washing your face and applying cream is a way of showing yourself that you are important,” she says. “When you care for your skin, you are caring for yourself.”