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January 20, 2017

Map out your best year ever

The tone of your New Year’s resolutions can set the tone for your entire year.

How inspired are you by your New Year’s resolutions? Everyone’s set a resolution or two that gets ditched by February, probably because it was too vague or daunting. “Goals that you’re passionate about—things you really want to do—are so much more fulfilling,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of Better Than Perfect. This New Year, put together an inspiring to-do list that includes travel, friends and fun fitness feats to make this year your most fulfilling yet. Here are some ideas.

Take a vacation by yourself.

Sure, you may travel often with friends or family. But switch things up by tackling a destination by yourself. Going your own way as opposed to traveling with others can be refreshing, challenging and inspiring. “In our busy, stressful lives, the greatest luxury is having downtime alone,” Lombardo says. “Solo trips help you identify what’s important to you and what brings you joy.” Experiencing new cities also opens up your world and sparks creativity.

Get started. You don’t have to go to Phuket for two weeks to score the benefits of solo travel. (But you can!) Book a weekend or even one night away in a nearby town. Or tack a personal night or two onto a business trip. Explore museums, go for a bike ride, relax with a glass of wine or a good book. Cheers to you!

Sign up for a race.

Whether you’re contemplating your first race of your life or just of your year: do it. “You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when you cross the finish line, and that’s powerful,” Lombardo says. You’ll strengthen your heart, too. Even runners who hoofed it for 50 minutes or less a week had 41 percent lower odds of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with nonrunners, a study found.

Get started. Pick a race that has a fun theme, or one that benefits your favorite charity. If you’re not a runner, Karen Meadows, a running and triathlon coach in Panama City, Florida, advises you to start with a run-to-walk ratio of one to one for 15 to 20 minutes three times a week. Once that feels easy (usually after a few weeks), bump it up to a two-to-one ratio. 

Set a quitting time—and stick to it.

Work of high quality is more valuable than face time in the office, says career expert Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots. Leaving the office on your own terms makes you feel in control and sends the message that you have a life outside work, she says. It’s good for your mind and body, too. Long hours make you more likely to suffer depression, research shows. And one study found that working three to four hours of overtime a day increases your risk of heart disease by 60 percent.

Get started. Watch what time everyone else leaves and aim to depart at the midpoint. “You shouldn’t be the first or last one out the door,” Levit says. If you want to leave by 6:00, start sending your last emails of the day and finishing up projects at 5:00. But don’t go home just to sit in front of the TV or computer. Put your free time to good use. Exercise (a bona fide stress buster and brain booster), have dinner with a friend, sign up for volunteer work or take a continuing ed class in something that interests you, like photography or cooking.

Disconnect and get back to nature.

You’re scrolling through email, Instagram and news apps before you’ve even gotten out of bed in the morning. Sound familiar? Bundle up and go for a walk to pick up a newspaper instead. “Spending less time with electronics and more time exposed to natural light outside is my strong medical recommendation,” says Danine Fruge, M.D., associate medical director and director of women’s health at Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami. “We were made to interact with our environment. Light is very important in the regulation of the hormones that affect our sleep cycle, metabolism and energy.” Not getting enough has even been linked to obesity.

Get started. Aim for 15 minutes of outdoor time twice a day at minimum. The first should be within an hour of waking up to reset those critical hormones. The second is up to you. Get out of the office for a coffee or lunch run; pay attention to your surroundings instead of your Facebook feed when you walk your dog. Carry your phone with you in case of an emergency, but resist checking it until you get home.

Reconnect with an old friend.

“Finding an old friend is like getting in touch with your old self. This person has memories of you that maybe no one else has, so she gets you in a way that newer friends might not,” says Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., author of The Friendship Fix. Reaching out to someone from your past can also help you understand why you lost touch or make amends if things ended badly.

Get started. It’s so easy to friend your old pal on Facebook and leave it at that, but try to actually get together in real life. “It’s the true test to discover if you still have a connection,” Bonior says. Go ahead and send a Facebook message and say you would love to grab coffee. If she seems interested, follow up with specific dates. Hopefully, you’ll soon be cracking up about how ridiculous you looked going to your sophomore formal.

Fix your finances.

You open your wallet and are shocked to find only $20 left of the $100 you took out at the ATM two days ago. That’s the problem financial gurus are addressing when they say, “Know where your money goes.” If you’re not spending deliberately, you’re not saving deliberately. That’s bad, because you’ll find it tough to reach for big goals, like a down payment on a house or a new car, says Jacquette Timmons, a financial behaviorist and author of Financial Intimacy. Plus, you risk overspending, which can affect your bottom line—and your waistline. People with money woes are more likely to be overweight, research shows, possibly because the related stress makes it harder to keep up healthy habits like exercising and eating and sleeping well.

Get started. Monitor your cash flow using an app that aggregates purchases into categories and tracks your spending history, providing a big-picture view of your habits. You’ll be able to see where you can scale back, like eating out, maybe, and where you need to ramp things up, like adding to the vacation fund for that solo getaway you want to take. Ka-ching!

Used with permission. © Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved.