Twelve Small Changes with a Big Impact

Ditch the too-big resolutions in favor of small changes that can make a real difference.

If you’re like me, you gave up on big, ambitious New Year’s resolutions years ago. Grand pledges for sweeping changes set me up for failure one too many times. (Giving up fried foods? Really, Kathryn?) This year, why not take a more measured approach to a happier, healthier you? From your office to your bedroom to your car, these small changes can have a big impact on your life.

1. Wake up ten minutes earlier. When you start your morning in a frantic sprint, you set a stressful tone for the day. (I’m speaking from experience here.) Even ten extra minutes in the morning can help you feel more calm, collected, and ready to face the day.

2. Spend five minutes in silence or meditation. You’ll soon realize, whether it’s in the morning or evening, that five minutes of sitting quietly with your eyes closed feels a lot longer than five minutes. But just this short respite can foster a tranquility that carries through the day. When things go off the rails (as they inevitably do), simply close your eyes and recall that earlier quietude.

3. Make your bed. I once heard the saying, “Messy bed, messy head,” and it’s true. I wasn’t always a bed-maker, but once I started I realized what a difference just pulling up the sheets and straightening the pillows made in my general outlook for the day. Plus, a made bed is much more inviting to climb into at night.

4. Walk. Is there one trip you’d normally make in the car (to work, the gym, the store) that you can make on foot? Walking saves money (good for you) and gas (good for the environment) and burns calories (around 2,000 steps equal one mile). Need motivation? Take a pedometer (there’s one on many iPods and phones) with you.

5. Swap your latte for tea. Those sugary coffee drinks we suck down can actually drain our energy, as well as our wallets. A Starbucks grande latte with skim milk has 150 mg caffeine, 130 calories, and 18 grams of sugar and will set you back almost $4 (or over $1,000 a year). Avoid a sugar crash and ditch your caffeine crutch by switching to tea (black has just 14-61 mg caffeine). Spice it up with lemon and honey or agave syrup instead of sugar. Save even more money by brewing it yourself.

6. Swap your Coke (or Diet Coke) for water. Studies have linked soda (particularly of the diet variety) to kidney damage, weight gain, tooth decay, and bone loss. Especially if you consume more than one a day, consider trading a can for a cup of water.

7. Compliment someone. Don’t wait for one. Give one. Compliments are great conversation starters, and when you give a lift, you feel a lift.

8. Tell someone you love them. Life is never long enough to say this as many times as it should be said. Whether your mother, a friend, a significant other, or, heck, your dog, make it a habit to tell someone at least once a day that you love him or her. While it may feel strange at first, you will never regret it.

9. Sign up for an automatic savings account. Setting aside a portion of your paycheck each month can be painful. But if you sign up to have your bank save a little bit for you every day (for example, Bank of America’s Keep the Change program, which rounds every debit purchase up to the dollar and automatically deposits the difference into your savings), you’ll hardly even notice. It’s not a retirement plan, but it’s something.

10. Turn out the lights. Taking just two minutes to switch off your lights and electronics when you’re going to be away from home (or the room) can save you hundreds of dollars a year on your electricity bill. Plus, it’s earth friendly. Everybody wins.

11. Stand (or sit) up straight. Good posture prevents back and neck pain and projects—and even boosts—confidence. One trick when driving: tilt your rearview mirror up a bit. You’ll have to sit up to see. At your desk, the top of your computer screen should be at eye level. Put a small cushion in the curve of your lower back, and your spine will fall into alignment.

12. Replace your pillow. A lumpy, overstuffed, or flat pillow could be keeping you from a good night’s sleep. (Not to mention the gross statistics about dead skin cells and dust mites.) Experts say quality pillows should be replaced every two to three years; cheap ones more often. Here’s the test: fold your pillow in half and hold it like that for 30 seconds. If it doesn’t spring back when you release it, it’s time to shop for a new one.

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