By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
After the indulgences of the holidays, in January we repent. We pledge to exercise more, eat less, save money, work harder. Sometimes we even extend these noble pledges to our spouses, sweethearts and kids.
No wonder a third of New Year’s resolutions fizzle before February hits. They are vague. And, worthy goals as they may be, they are bummers.
But self-improvement needn’t be a sad homework assignment demanding prudence and sacrifice. Perhaps we’d be more inclined to follow through if we resolved to be kinder to ourselves, to make our lives easier, to lighten our load.
Wish to be tidier? Promise to hire a maid to come to your house twice a month. Want to be more efficient on the job? Sign up for a class that requires you to leave work by 5:30 p.m.
From travel to food to love, a constellation of experts from varied fields offered advice for easing stress in the coming year.
Get centered before each segment of your day. Sit up straight, close your eyes and take three deep breaths so that you can channel your attention fully into the present moment.
Doing this between projects, or as you transition from work life to home life, will help you be more efficient and connected to your purpose within each relationship or experience. —Terri Cooper, CEO of 305 Yoga & Outreach in Miami and founder of the Yoga Gangsters, a nonprofit that brings yoga to at-risk youth
Make a list of all your commitments and find a few to eliminate. Just send an email explaining that your plate is too full and you can’t commit anymore. —Leo Babauta, founder of ZenHabits.net
Making your time count
Identify the areas/endeavors in life that mean the most, and work for the “A-plus” there. In the other areas, let a “B” or even “C” work for you. Sometimes “good enough” is indeed just that.
Get back to basics and figure out what you love to do, and commit to bringing that passion forward in any way you can. At the minimum, invest one hour a week doing what brings you utter joy and fuels your passion.
The more creative, frivolous, exciting, outlandish and enlivening, the better. —Kathy Caprino, owner of career coaching firm Ellia Communications in Wilton, Conn.
Get in the habit of turning off your screens when you do not have a definite purpose for using them. The biggest time-waster in modern life is what I call “screen-sucking,” (which) refers to time spent in front of a screen of any kind, mindlessly sending and receiving messages and images of all kinds. One remedy is TIO: Turn it off. —Edward Hallowell psychiatrist and author of “CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!” (Ballantine)
Learn to cook a few simple sauces (that can be) the base for several dishes. For example, a tomato sauce can turn into marinara sauce. A marinara sauce can be used as the base for spaghetti sauce, chicken Parmesan, spaghetti and meatballs, tomato bisque, etc. —Susan Harrell, personal chef, personal trainer and owner of My Cuisine Coach in Jacksonville, Fla.
Take turns planning downtime. Reciprocity is a great way to strengthen your emotional connection. Each partner writes down a date idea and you exchange notes. Maybe his idea of a fun night out is bowling. Hers might be a foreign film. Balance your time off together by alternating plans. When one partner is always the planner, you can get in a rut.
Also, share a brand-new activity. Research shows that engaging in an activity that is new to both partners triggers emotions that are similar to the ones you had when you first met.
So, at least once a month do a new or novel activity with your partner. Go to a new restaurant. Visit a nearby museum you’ve never been to.
Take a cooking class or go out dancing. This new activity will feel like a first date — and you and your partner will get to feel excited all over again. —Terri Orbuch, marriage therapist and author of “5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great” (Random House)
Set clear and high expectations without any unhealthy pressure. While we want to be informed parents, we don’t want to tie ourselves in knots trying to do everything just right.
For example, you can encourage your kids to eat healthy without turning into the food police.
Have a bowl of fruit on the table and a bowl of cutup veggies in the refrigerator.
To encourage exercise, choose video games that make your child move. We want our kids to learn self-discipline and the importance of effort, but we don’t want to run our family like a boot camp.
Remember, parenting is a delayed gratification activity. We should consider whatever rewards we get along the way as bonuses. However, the payoff does come — when our kids turn out to be the kind of adults we can be proud of. —David Walsh, Minneapolis-based psychologist, author of “Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids” (Free Press)
Consider a day pass in your airline’s VIP lounge. You’ll relax in comfortable chairs while almost everyone else is sitting in hard chairs bolted to the floor in the gate area. Use miles to upgrade, or pay to fly business class. The extra space (and attention) you get upfront is the ultimate de-stresser. —David Ourisman, California-based independent travel consultant affiliated with luxury agency Brownell Travel
Take a step back and evaluate how you and your partner interact about financial issues. Do you meet regularly to touch base about the family money? Do you argue about money? Do you hide certain purchases from your spouse? There are five “money personalities:” Spender, Saver, Security Seeker, Risk Taker, Flyer. Understanding your — and your partner’s — money personality takes the mystery and stress out of day-to-day financial interactions. (Find out your money personality at themoneycouple.com.) —Bethany and Scott Palmer, financial advisers and authors of “First Comes Love, Then Comes Money” (HarperCollins)
Automate. If you aren’t automatically paying bills every month, set it up with your bank so you never miss a payment deadline. Use a free site like manilla.com, which helps you track all of your monthly accounts on one page. Link your checking account to a savings account and make a regular contribution every time you get paid.
Also, create a Financial Rule of Thumb. Whether it’s “no jeans over $75” or “no more pricey beverages when dining out,” we humans gravitate toward rules of thumb. We like having guidelines to fall back on because making decisions is sometimes difficult. —Farnoosh Torabi, author of “Psych Yourself Rich” (FT Press)
Get your guests involved. If you are hosting a potluck dinner, ask your guests what dish they want to bring and what task they want to do that evening. Will you set the table? Be in charge of the flowers? How about signing up for taking out the trash? These assignments will allow the host to actually enjoy the gathering. And take the focus off trying to be the perfect host, and channel that energy into finding one or two things that pay a small tribute to your guests. For example, serve their favorite wine, or incorporate something on the table such as a napkin treatment that plays to their hobbies or special interests. —Cheryl Najafi, Arizona-based party planner, creator of CherylStyle.com
Many people think a walk on a leash is enough exercise for a dog. It’s not. Make the time for a good, hard play session (fetch, tug, “find it”), a hike off leash in a safe/legal place or some other form of canine aerobic exercise. Not only does exercise use up some of the energy your dog might otherwise apply to inappropriate activities (so you can relax without worrying about what he might be getting into), a good round of aerobic exercise causes a release of feel-good mood-regulating endorphins that will help your canine companion be a happier dog. —Pat Miller, owner of Peaceable Paws dog training in Fairplay, Md.
By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz