The reason resolutions fail? They're broad (lose weight) and lack clear action steps (organize your house). But not these. Top experts weigh in on the one little change you can make to see big results — and feel good about your success in the process
Most people can function pretty well on seven to eight hours of sleep, says Alcibiades Rodriguez, M.D., a neurologist and the medical director of the Sleep Center at NYU Langone Health. But getting less than six hours a night can lead to decreased attention during the day, a lack of focus, and in the longterm, health issues like high blood pressure. "Treat sleep like your diet, exercise, and work," Rodriguez advises. (Speaking of which, try not to do work, eat, or drink alcohol two to three hours before bed.) Trouble sleeping? Don't look at the clock, Rodriguez says. Get up, sit on a chair under a dim light, and read something really boring. Then try falling asleep again (but don't try too hard!).
The best time to start planning your next trip is the end of the year, when your family is all together during the holidays, says Eric Hrubant, president of CIRE Travel. Just be sure to focus on the kind of vacation you all want, not the destination. Discuss what activities you'd like to do, figure out what kind of accommodations everyone wants, and discuss the general vibe you're all going for — then pick the place that ticks off as many boxes as possible. Once you have that done, start booking flights and hotel rooms. Whatever you book first, "Do it in a refundable manner," Hrubant recommends. Once you have that squared away, keep an eye out for deals on the portions of your itinerary you have yet to book. "It's cheaper that way," says Hrubant.
If you want to start saving money but have no idea where to start, don't freak out. There are a ton of financial apps that make saving money foolproof. Farnoosh Torabi, a personal finance expert and host of the podcast So Money, says apps like Digit keep track of where your money goes, then, based on that information, send you a text recommending you put away a certain amount every week. "People love it because it takes the accountability away from you and has someone else do it for you," Torabi says. "Who can argue with saving $4, $6, or 89 cents? At the end of the month you could have $100 that you wouldn't have saved on your own." If you're not into the idea of an app, Torabi suggests asking a friend to help keep you on track the next time you're contemplating another Starbucks break. (Think of her sort of like a workout buddy for your wallet.)
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How do they look so polished all the time? In large part, by layering, testing out different lengths and ways of finishing outfits. “Try a flowy top with a slim pant or legging, or add a pop of color by wearing a long, bright top underneath another,” says celeb stylist and Style Is Instinct author Lori Goldstein. “Pairing a sweater with a top peeking out below has a casual vibe, while adding a shorter jacket or scarf makes the look slightly dressier.” And updating your style doesn’t mean a brand-new, totally not-in-the-budget wardrobe. Spend a few hours trying on pieces you might not normally choose and take pictures from a few different angles. “Don’t feel pressure to add too much at once. Go one piece at a time. And style is about instinct, so trust yours,” adds Goldstein.
Even if you’re all about downloading books to your e-reader or tablet, chances are you’ve collected loads of hardcovers and paperbacks over the years. Having them scattered throughout the house isn’t exactly contributing to your decor—but it can. “Organizing your books by color makes a great design statement and adds pop to any room,” says TV personality and interior decorator Cortney Novogratz. “You can reorganize an entire bookshelf in an hour, make it a game for your kids, and the results will be stunning. It’s basically transforming everyday clutter into art.” Well, that was easier than claiming you’d redecorate sometime this year, wasn’t it?
Yes, cooking at home is healthier, less expensive, oh, and can feel like a major burden. Sunday brunch is one thing, but after a long Tuesday, the idea of spending two hours in the kitchen whipping up something your whole family will enjoy can be more daunting than relaxing. That’s why culinary nutritionist and Weeknight Wonders author Ellie Krieger’s one-two-three approach is so brilliant. She’s discovered that an under-30-minute meal requires three things: a quick-cooking or no-cook protein like shrimp, a can of beans, or a chicken breast; a quick-cooking whole grain like quinoa (it takes half as long to make as brown rice does) or bulgur; and zero-effort vegetables, such as pre-washed spinach you can throw in a pan without slicing.
Sure, it’d be good for your hair to lay off the blow-dryer, but if it’s what makes you feel put-together in the morning, that’s just not going to happen. Instead, vow to coat your hair in a heat protectant before drying or ironing it, says celebrity stylist Larry Sims, who recommends Smooth ‘n Shine Diamond Luster Glistening Conditioning Gel ($3.99), a product made without alcohol, grease, or wax that also helps fight frizz. “If you don’t use a heat protectant, you risk internally damaging hair follicles and causing harm from the inside out,” says Sims. “Over time, you’ll have to cut off hair because strands will fray or break.” In a pinch without a heat protectant on hand? Leave-in conditioner can do the trick. And before you turn on the tools, let your hair air-dry as much as possible, and consider investing in a flat iron with ceramic plates, which do a bit less damage.
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Of course you appreciate all the things he does for you, but that message is easily lost in the daily squabbles about packing lunches and astronomical electric bills. So starting right now, find one positive thing about your hubby each day—whether it’s that he turns on the coffeepot in the morning, is a good listener, or takes care of locking the doors at night—and relate it to him. “The important thing is that you do it on a daily basis so that the heart and the mind start to understand the message,” says Barton Goldsmith, author of The Happy Couple. “You have to reassure your partner, and that’s a lot harder than getting unassured. No two people can live together without bumping heads, but this is a tool to reinforce your connection and foundation.”
Is it cheese? Ice cream? Peanut butter? Instead of resolving to eat healthy, work to pinpoint the food that derails your good intentions by digging into why it holds such significance, says Tosca Reno, author of The Start Here Diet. “People generally think that foods are good or bad, but once you understand the emotional attachment you have to something, you can program other behaviors in.” If you’re convinced you’re going to eat a box of Girl Scout cookies, resolve to go for a walk around the block or write down what’s behind your craving, then revisit it. “Once you identify a trigger, you’ve begun taking control of your food choices in general and can learn to eat that food in moderation. It’s not so scary anymore.”
If it feels heavy, oily, or like you’re putting a film on your face, you’re not going to load up on SPF. But new formulas that easily fit into your morning makeup routine make it easier than ever to protect yourself from the sun, which, yes, you should be doing even if it’s winter, and regardless of whether the only time you spend outdoors is walking from the parking lot to your cubicle. “You slow down aging, minimize freckling and discoloration, and, by keeping your skin looking young and healthy, you ultimately end up needing to wear less foundation and concealer,” says celebrity makeup artist Troy Surratt. He’s a fan of Chanel’s UV Essential line ($55), Supergoop Sunscreen Wipes ($12.39), and Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen ($10.49) in addition to the SPF-loaded BB creams and tinted moisturizers out there. “If you’re worried about sensitivity to sunscreen, use an exfoliating brush at night, especially if you choose a long-wear product, which can sometimes clog pores and cause breakouts,” he adds.
We’ve just come off the holiday season, which means that in addition to the usual glut of catalogs and bills, you’ve likely received solicitations from hoards of worthwhile charities, all of which you can’t possible support. Don’t let it happen again next year, says professional organizer Barbara Reich, who encourages everyone to join the Direct Marketing Association’s registry ($5 fee), which removes you from mailing lists in one fell swoop. “These piles of mail take up loads of space, and take time and energy to go through,” she says. “When it piles up, it becomes stressful and overwhelming, and can feel nonstop. Getting rid of junk mail is the resolution anyone can keep.” Bonus points for helping the environment while you’re at it.
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Consider this your official permission to do less—and ditch the guilt about it. After all, the added stress isn’t helping your health, your relationships, or your many commitments. “Take an evaluation of the four categories of your life—professional, family, personal, and fun—and how much time is allotted to each,” says Dr. Lawana Gladney, an emotional wellness doctor. “If things are out of balance, take control by giving up a volunteer position, an extra project you agreed to manage at work, or a social group of which you’re a part.” Afraid of upsetting someone? It’s all about being honest. Everyone knows what it feels like to push themselves to a breaking point, and once they understand that’s where you’re at, they’ll likely respect your authenticity and self-understanding. “A single change can make all the difference,” adds Gladney.
When you hear “tissue,” you think Kleenex. When you need lip balm, ChapStick comes to mind. Wouldn’t it be great if people made a similar automatic association at the mention of your name? “This year, taking your professional life into the digital world is going to be essential,” says LinkedIn career expert Nicole Williams. Whereas not so long ago it was about keeping inappropriate things off the Web, now it’s become about strategically positioning yourself so that employers can see you’re qualified, actively engaged, and knowledgeable. If you’re a creator, put together an online portfolio. If you work in an office setting, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. Contact reporters or news outlets and offer to be a source in your field—it’s impressive when a search of your name shows that. None of this replaces face-to-face relationships, but ideally, the two should supplement each other. “Your in-person relationship-building is going to grow exponentially by what you do digitally, and vice versa,” says Williams.
Worried about that jiggly underarm fat that seems to pooch out under every tight-strapped tank? Think your butt could be higher up? Instead of telling yourself that you must work on all these things to look your best, assign each a day of the week, a time period—say, three months—and give it your all. “I believe in an allover workout, but when people have a specific body part to work on, it gives them purpose,” says Dolvett Quince, The Biggest Loser trainer and author of The 3-1-2-1 Diet. “The specificity of it is motivating and allows you to be more successful.” So if Monday is arm day, do a circuit with a resistance band, a short bout of cardio, another arm circuit, and some more cardio. The combination will you have you saying, “What jiggle?”
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Kids need rules, but the new school of thinking is that parents are much more successful when they decide upon policies with their children as opposed to instigating them, no questions asked. Nowhere is this more true than with screen-time limits, something with which pretty much every parent is struggling. “Sit down with your kids and realize that while they aren’t your equals, they have great insight,” says Melinda Blau, author of Family Whispering. “Admit what’s hard for you, like signing offline when you come from the office, because they can see what you’re doing just as you can see what they’re doing. The result should be a rule that everyone follows.” That could be designating 7 to 8 p.m. as tech-free family time each night, or ruling no gadgets in the bedroom. Whatever it is, the key is to be genuinely open and share feelings so that the whole group is on board and invested in whatever you decide.