Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash
Humans usually mark the passage of time by their own growth. As children, it’s physical growth, like the markings etched into the wall of your childhood home indicating your height from one year to another. As adults, our growth is less guaranteed but just as important. We go into each new year hoping to grow in a way that betters our physical and mental states of being, our relationships, our careers, and the lives of the people around us. We just want to improve.
What follows is a list of ideas to help you get better and feel better as long as the number of days in a year. Your future, your health, your work life and your contributions to your fellow humans are all covered. But some of the most impactful ones are the small, simple things you can add or cut from your daily life. Growth can be subtle in that way: You might not notice it, but you can improve every day.
Living a Healthy Life (1-61)
Stretch daily. Try yoga. Or try the more intense hot yoga. Or the quirkier goat yoga. Buy a foam roller.
Go on a run by yourself to collect your thoughts. Or join a running group. Maybe even sign up for a half-marathon. Take a kickboxing class or tai chi or indoor rock climbing. Go kayaking. Sign up for a Barre class. Start riding your bike, but wear a helmet.
Drink two liters of water a day. Drink more tea. Cut out sodas completely. Don’t drink alcohol on weekdays. Keep pistachios in your desk drawer. Eat eggs for breakfast. Eat fruit before noon.
Walk places when you have the time. Be more conscious of your posture. Get a massage once a year. Get acupuncture. Swim laps. Open up the blinds and get natural sunlight. Take vitamin D supplements. Set a sleep schedule. Don’t go to sleep right after a stressful experience: Our brains process things like a super computer while we sleep. Psychologists advise that soldiers who experience trauma wait five hours before sleeping to limit the chances of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Get a yearly physical exam. Get your flu shot. Go to the dentist twice a year. Floss your teeth. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
Learn to cook more meals. Or be a helpful assistant when someone cooks for you. Sign up for Blue Apron. Grow your own vegetables. Sprinkle cinnamon on some foods: It’s been shown to boost metabolism. Go to a farmers market. Cook with olive oil. Replace fatty salad dressings with raspberry vinaigrette.
Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry. Try to stay near the walls of the grocery store: They usually keep the processed food in the aisles.
Keep thorough medical records and be aware of your family’s medical history. Pack a lunch for work. Pack a meal for flights. Meal plan for the week or keep a food journal.
Get a fitness tracker. Go on a hike in the mountains. Or a walk on the beach. But wear sunscreen. Work with a personal trainer, but write down your workouts so you can continue working out without the personal trainer. Hide your scale to avoid obsessing over instant results. Do as many push-ups as you can every day. Take 20-minute “coffee naps”: Scientists say a quick nap after drinking a cup of coffee is better at eliminating grogginess than a nap or a coffee alone.
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Taking Care of Your Mind (62-82)
Meditate. Write a morning journal. Come up with a personal mantra. Leave the house every day.
Delete social media from your phone. Stop comparing yourself to other people.
Talk about your personal struggles with friends and family or with a professional therapist. Remind yourself that you don’t have to pretend everything is OK when you’re struggling—you’re allowed to be frustrated. Make an “angry playlist”—but make it short. Maybe even break something that’s safe and replaceable. Allow yourself a good cry.
Put sticky notes with one-word reminders on your desk or bedroom mirror that say things like “Smile,” “Breathe” and “Listen.” Occasionally take time to reflect on hard times that you made it through.
Do crossword puzzles. Keep a smooth pebble or guitar pick with you to turn over in your hand to avoid more noticeable nervous ticks like nail biting. Buy adult coloring books. Get a weighted blanket for anxiety.
Listen to a cat purr: Studies have suggested that the purr of a cat can lower a human’s stress and blood pressure. You may have to adopt a cat for this—don’t steal someone’s cat just to hear it purr.
Studies have suggested that the purr of a cat can lower a human’s stress and blood pressure.
JAROMIR CHALABALA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Furthering Your Career (83-144)
Make sure you have an office chair that’s built for ergonomics and ask if your company will provide you with a standing desk. Don’t sit at a computer for consecutive hours without standing up. Replace your work shoes once a year to avoid plantar fasciitis.
Seek out a professional mentor. If no one volunteers mentorship, remember that you can have numerous mentors if you treat your interactions with more established colleagues as lessons. Be a mentor to others. And follow your own advice to them.
Bring donuts or bagels to your first day at a new job and bring donuts or bagels to your last day at a job. Arrive to work 15 minutes early on busy days.
Respond to emails immediately: If you wait, you’re only adding to your to-do list. But put restrictions on when you are allowed to check your emails. If you don’t have time to respond then don’t waste energy checking your inbox. Resist checking emails in the first hour you’re awake. Proofread your emails.
If doable, move closer to your place of work to avoid long commutes. Don’t be the quietest person in the office or the loudest person in the office. Men: Own a blue blazer—it’s affordable, goes well with plenty of outfits, and can be worn in casual and formal situations.
Treat everyone you meet like they could help your career: Maybe they can, and wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all behaved this way? Treat anyone who works under you like people who have their own lives and problems and worries outside of work—because they all do. Avoid professional jealousy. Get to know your co-workers and continue to ask them about their personal lives and families.
Work with the ambition of an intern and treat your interns like your colleagues. Engage in meetings you would normally just sit though. Get the degree or qualification that your colleagues don’t have.
Close out the unnecessary tabs on your computer. Take advantage of alternative workplaces besides your desk so you don’t feel so confined. Do something you enjoy for the last 10 or 15 minutes of your lunch break.
Stay ahead of deadlines. Never stop asking questions: People who think they’re experts never become experts. Learn the basics of growing tech trends that may be part of your job in a few years. Keep a list of ways your company can improve, and look for organic opportunities to bring them up. When giving a presentation, provide a narrative instead of an info-dump.
Keep a few LEGOs at your desk: Your mind needs distractions. LEGOs won’t drain your mental energy like surfing the internet will. Curate an ever-changing playlist for when you have monotonous tasks to work on.
Reach out to people whose work you admire and tell them so: You can think of this as “sincere networking.” Don’t discuss a project over email if you can talk on the phone. Don’t discuss a project over the phone if you can meet in person. Get business cards made, even if you don’t work for a company that provides them. Promote yourself and your work in creative ways like starting a newsletter or a podcast. Don’t work in the same room you sleep in. Ask to shadow people in fields you’re interested in.
Tell your boss when you’re feeling overextended and it’s beginning to disrupt your personal life. If you feel the urge to complain about a co-worker, do it to someone you don’t work with and get it out of your system. Don’t participate in office gossip. Put your name in the ring for a promotion even if it’s a longshot. Stop thinking you’re too young for an open position, and stop thinking you’re too old to change careers or start your own business. Tailor your cover letters to each job.
Try to develop a comfortable relationship with human resources and make sure they can help you fully understand your 401(k) or your health insurance or any benefits or opportunities that your company may offer and you’re not taking advantage of. Keep the receipts for any business expenses and never be too timid to make sure you’re reimbursed.
Women: Tell someone if a man in the office is treating you inappropriately or making you uncomfortable. Men: Be an ally to the women in the office and try to see their work experience through their eyes.
Download These Apps (145-151)
Unstuck: In-the-moment problem solving
Headout: Recommendations for a day or night out
Habit Tracker: To-do list and goals reminder
Clarity Money: Track and monitor your finances
Handy: Connects you with cleaning or repair services
Acorns: Easy investments
Headspace: Meditation prompts
Nurturing Your Relationships (152-193)
Find, make, and maintain friendships outside of work.
Organize a monthly game night with friends.
Call or text someone who’s in a different state as you every day of your life: It’s easy for our perspectives of ourselves to shrink. It’s a nice safety net to know there are people in places all over who care about or like hearing from you
Reach out to people you know who are grieving the loss of someone. Don’t wait for your friends to ask for favors; offer them. Greet people you know and love with a hug. Make eye contact when you speak to people. Call or text people on their birthdays instead of settling for a Facebook post.
Call your grandparents and your parents: Some people reading this won’t have these options, which should be good enough motivation for those who do to heed the advice.
Reach out to teachers from your past who you’re grateful for and thank them. Combine your circles of friends by making introductions.
Don’t insert a complaint about someone when changing subjects will suffice. Apologize for things hanging over your conscience, but don’t over-apologize when you’ve done nothing wrong. Forgive people even when you know an apology isn’t coming your way. Forgive yourself.
Remember that good conversations are free. Go fishing to catch up with a friend or go fishing by yourself to clear your mind. Get lost somewhere with someone you love: GPS will always be there if you need it. Pose questions with no answers for the sake of conversation.
Take the time to make a list of people you love. Circle the names of anyone on that list who might not know you love them. Tell those people you love them.
Ask that guy or girl you like out on a date. Surprise your significant other with a spontaneous date and never stop trying new things with him or her.
Identify your relationship flaws, and write them down on an index card, and be conscious of them when communicating. Don’t be afraid to ask for favors, and don’t keep score of favors. Don’t beholden yourself to negative people.
Smile at cashiers and waiters. Thank them. Tip well. Speak what you mean instead of being passive aggressive. Send ‘thank you’ notes.
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Investing In Your Future (194-242)
Become financially literate. Open a savings account in a different bank than your checking account to make them feel more separate. Put 10 or 20 percent of every paycheck into your savings account. Set a weekly or monthly budget. Pay your bills immediately. Shop for better insurance deals. Research product reviews for expensive gadgets. Meet with a financial advisor.
Write down your goals, but also write down why you want to accomplish each one. Revisit them every six months, and be willing to reevaluate or tinker with them depending on how they reflect your values. Know your values.
Take night or online classes. Try something that will fail just to see how far you can get. Write down your mistakes. And don’t be ashamed of them. Take a public speaking course.
Embrace the “Wide Net Theory”: the idea that if you throw yourself into a lot of projects then they’re all equally valuable because you can’t yet know which might succeed. Remember that being scatter-brained gets you farther in life than being closed-minded. Speak your ideas into your phone’s recorder.
Start a small business, but think of something that doesn’t require a lot of capital, and manage your expectations, but don’t do anything until you’ve written a business plan. Don’t make generalizations about millennials, baby boomers, Gen X or Z or any other generation.
Identify people you’re comfortable getting constructive criticism from, and elicit that criticism.
Cut out a bad habit for 30 days every month. Make a to-do list at the beginning of every week. Buy essentials in bulk. Stop buying expensive brands. Keep $20 cash in your car in case of emergencies. Stop replacing things that can be fixed: Don’t contribute to a throwaway culture. Start a vacation fund. Get your taxes done before April. Buy a physical calendar. Change your car’s oil every 5,000 miles.
Read your local newspaper. Go to city council meetings, and vote on issues that affect you. Don’t let national politics make you disillusioned about the importance of local politics.
Study the market before you invest, and diversify your investments. Buy a file cabinet and organize car records and home records in it.
Write a letter to your future self. Confront your fears.
Read These Books (243-251)
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The Heart Is a Shifting Sea by Elizabeth Flock
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon
And go ahead and “steal” Kleon’s advice of keeping a “Praise File,” a document of compliments and praise that you’ve been given over the years for you to look back on when your self-esteem is low.
Living for More Than Yourself (252-263)
“Pay it forward” by buying the coffee or ice cream for the family behind you in line.
Volunteer at least one hour each week.
Be a volunteer dog walker at the humane society. Donate blood. Become a volunteer baby cuddler at your local hospital: Yes, they are needed, and you can sign up! Foster an animal. Recycle.
Donate your old books to the library. Organize a fundraiser for a cause you’re passionate about. Sign up to deliver Meals on Wheels. Take in a foreign exchange student.
Keep a case of bottled water in your car to give to people you happen to drive by in the heat: Whether homeless or working construction or loading groceries, everyone needs to stay hydrated, especially in hot climates.
Enjoying Life (264-364)
Find a podcast you love and listen to it every week. Join a community or club of people interested or passionate about the same things as you. Listen to whole albums instead of just songs. Read poetry. Write poetry.
Read more books. Keep a “book journal.” Lend books to people you know would like them. Join a book club. Go to the library. Listen to books on Audible.
Learn to play an instrument. Sing in the shower. Take care of a plant. Research your genealogy. Learn a new language. Consider diversity in the things that you choose to read and watch. Support local theatre. Embrace others’ religions and let them teach you a thing or two. See live music, especially free cover bands. Go to art museums. Eat from a food truck. See live comedy. Visit Asia or just go to an Asian restaurant and try a dish you’ve never tasted. Go to an aquarium. Go to a botanical garden or nature preserve. Get consumed by a period in history. Take a painting class.
Check your city’s Creative Mornings chapter to learn about the free breakfast and creative lecture series.
Handwrite letters to people. Take a road trip. Take advantage of public transportation. Take advantage of public recreational classes and activities.
Go to a movie by yourself. Go to dinner by yourself. Go camping. Eat dinner outside. Put your phone on “airplane mode” for an hour each day. Install a birdhouse outside. Have a picnic. Get up and watch the sun rise. Watch the sun set. Go stargazing. Lay in a hammock.
Bake cookies: It’s relaxing, your place will smell great, and you get to eat them.
Play rec league sports. Coach youth league sports. Take cold showers in the morning. Take hot baths when your body needs them. Take dancing lessons. Play chess. Travel to see your favorite sports team play in another city. Go whale watching. Go to Friday happy hours.
Say “yes” to more opportunities and invitations. Say “no” more often when you feel overwhelmed. Get rid of things you don’t need. Keep your car uncluttered. Have a garage sale. Shop at a garage sale. Have scheduled cleaning days. Keep a hands-free phone dock in your car. Unpack your suitcase right when you get home from a trip.
Have side projects. Share your side projects with others. And support the side projects of others. Seek out opportunities to collaborate. Take advantage of free speaking sessions in your city. Write personal essays and fiction.
Whenever you feel the urge to criticize something you don’t like, use that energy to promote something you do like. Have moments to reflect and be grateful. Don’t lie. If you catch yourself lying, correct it instead of carrying it around with you.
Leave a destructive relationship or job environment. Have the courage to respectfully speak your mind and the strength to live with how it’s received. Learn to laugh at yourself. Don’t get angered by traffic: You’re just as responsible for it as everyone else.
Embrace all genres of music and the effect they can have on your mood. Listen to Leon Bridges. Listen to Tame Impala. Listen to Miles Davis. Listen to classical music.
Watch less than eight hours of television a week. Cancel the streaming video service you use the least. Remember you don’t have to watch every show people talk about and you don’t have to finish a series that you don’t enjoy. But you should definitely watch Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.
Print your favorite photographs and frame them. Don’t argue with strangers. Acknowledge life transitions. Laugh at nothing every once in a while. Live in the moment and not through your camera phone. Embrace your weirdest qualities. Take “Does this make me look cool?” out of all of your decisions.
Understanding What Is Most Important (365)
Self-improvement is gradual and different for everyone. You’re already great. Remember not to be too hard on yourself.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of SUCCESS magazine.