The most common New Year’s resolutions tend to be vague goals like losing weight, eating healthier food, or exercising more.
But most people don’t successfully follow through on their resolutions – largely because they’re so general and non-specific.
That’s where science can help. Using specific, science-backed resolutions, you can boost your chances of successfully transforming your life in the New Year.
These are some of our favourite resolution ideas, all backed by recent science. Some have to do with fitness, others with diet or health, and others with boosting productivity. A few are simply intended to help you maximise happiness.
You don’t need to attempt all at once, but pick one or two that will get you closest to your goals.
This post has been updated. Kevin Loria wrote an earlier version, which was published in December 2017.
To help you lose weight, eat healthier, and feel better, resolve to fix your sleeping habits.
Some research shows that getting enough sleep makes it easier to avoid cravings for unhealthy foods, keep off excess weight, and that it’s key for psychological health.
In the long run, sleep could be even more important: in several studies published in the summer of 2017, researchers demonstrated that after disrupted sleep, individuals had higher levels of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia in the brain.
And as sleep expert Matthew Walker, author of the book, “Why We Sleep,” previously told Business Insider, you really can’t get by on six or seven hours of sleep – the vast majority of people need an average of eight hours a night.
To improve your sleep, experts recommend going to bed and getting up at the same time every night, improving your sleep environment, and avoiding screens for at least a half hour before bed, if not longer. If you’re struggling with insomnia, there are science-backed tips for that too.
Resolve to get moving.
Exercise resolutions are common, and for good reason. Along with fixing your sleep, little else will have as transformative an effect on your life as working out.
Exercise provides such a laundry list of physical and mental health benefits that it’s basically the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.
Exercise can improve your heart health, up your sex drive, improve your sleep, and boost your mood.Research has also shown that working out may help keep the brain young, improve memory, and fight cognitive impairment.
The trick is figuring out the targeted exercise resolution that’s going to work for you – saying you’ll just “go to the gym (more)” probably won’t cut it.
If it fits your schedule, make an early morning cardio workout a new habit.
Morning workouts aren’t for everyone, but experts say that if you can get some morning exercise that will get your heart going and expose you to some morning sunlight, that will kickstart your circadian rhythm, which will wake you up for the day and make it easier to sleep at night.
Getting a good amount of cardio exercise is strongly linked to many of the biggest benefits of exercise, and some research suggests that morning is best time of day to work out to lose weight.
To provide motivation to actually get out of bed and complete your morning run, swim, or ride, experts suggest working towards a goal (like a race), training with a friend, or adding in an element of competition.
But the best exercise resolution is one you can keep, so pick something you’re likely to stick with.
Don’t make a resolution you know you won’t keep. If you hate the morning or simply don’t have time to work out then, start an evening routine.
There’s a reason why approximately 60% of the gym memberships people start in January never get used – they’re started by people with good intentions but who don’t really enjoy making gym visits a part of their life.
Experts recommend finding an activity that you like enough to do regularly.
For some people, that might be rock climbing, for others, running or swimming. Join a soccer league if the team bonding and competition involved encourage you to stick with workouts week-in and week-out.
If you’re going to try a diet in the new year, pick a way to eat healthy that’s backed by science.
An abundance of recent research supports the idea that if you want to cut back on one popular ingredient, it should probably be sugar – and not fat, as many used to think.
Sugar consumption is more strongly linked to heart disease and overall risk of death than fat consumption is, according to a major analysis published in August 2017.
If you want an official “diet” that’s highly praised by researchers, you could also consider the DASH diet, which has dieters cut sodium levels and switch from sugary foods and red meats to whole grains, lean proteins, and produce.
But an even simpler approach that many experts favour is just eating “real food,” meaning nothing overly processed.
One easy resolution to eat healthier could involve vowing to cook a meal using no pre-prepared ingredients at least once more per week.
Another way to transform your diet and health is to set a resolution about what you drink.
A healthy resolution could be eliminating sodas or other sugary beverages from your diet. Much of the average person’s sugar intake comes from what they drink. In a November 2017 study, scientists revealed how data indicating that sugar consumption increased risks for cancer and heart disease had been hidden from the public for decades.
When it comes to booze, moderation is the safest best. Some studies indicate that moderate, regular alcohol consumption is linked with lower risk for diabetes or cognitive decline. But any amount of alcohol likely increases cancer risk, so a resolution limiting your consumption is probably a good idea.
If you want to be more productive, resolve to take more breaks and work less.
Contrary to what the workaholics of the world might believe, humans have limits.
There are some times when we can grind away at a project hour after hour, but we can’t work like that all the time.
In fact, psychologist K. Anders Ericsson told Business Insider that for the most part, we can only engage in heavy mental work for four or five hours at a time – not eight or 10 or 12.
In their book “Peak Performance: Elevate your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive with the New Science of Success”, published in 2017, performance experts Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness wrote that most people who want to be more productive at work should learn to take breaks.
In the short term, that means that when your energy is running low, you should get up and go for a walk or do something else to really gives your mind a rest. In the longer term (if it’s possible), research indicates you might be best off setting yourself up to work fewer hours every week.
You could also resolve to start reading regularly.
There’s psychological evidence that reading – especially literary fiction – can make it easier to empathise with others or to imagine other lives in the world.
Luminaries of the tech and finance worlds like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett agree about the myriad benefits of books. They often attribute much of their success to regular reading habits.
Plus, reading is simply a fun, easy way to pass the time and take a break from the internet-connected world.
Pick a goal – one book each month or even one per week, depending on how much you already read. Create or join a book club if the prospect of chatting with friends (likely over snacks and drinks) will encourage you to turn the pages.
Finally, if you simply want to be happier, resolve to make choices that will give you more time to enjoy life with family and friends.
It can seem like we all have a million tasks to complete and needs to meet, leaving little time for relaxation. While it’s important to meet our obligations, a significant amount of psychological research indicates that people who have more time and who make decisions that prioritise time over money are happier.
In a study published in the summer of 2017, researchers found that people who spent money on a time-saving purchase instead of a material item got a small but significant happiness boost. That corresponds with a growing body of existing research.
In a 2017 TED Talk, psychologist Adam Alter suggested that one reason many people feel like we have so little free time these days is that we spend many precious free minutes flicking through our phones. Give yourself your free time back – and use it to cook a meal, get in a workout, or do some reading. It will be one step towards a better 2019.
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