New year, new semester, new you… right? While turning a page in a calendar might seem like an innocuous event, there’s a reason we celebrate new beginnings. A fresh start is the perfect opportunity for trying out some new tactics and experimenting with what works (and what doesn’t). Whether you’re feeling a bit unmotivated or you’re tired of having classes online, here are a few new habits to help you feel refreshed so you can take the new year in stride.
- Eliminate That Four-Letter Word
No, not THAT one. I’m talking about the word, can’t – the go-to word of defeat. While we’re at it, let’s throw out can’t‘s undermining cousin, just. You’ve probably heard them tag-teaming together, as in, “You can’t do that, you’re just a girl.”
But words have power. Telling yourself that you can’t do something is restricting yourself to a four-letter prison. Instead, try asking yourself why you think you can’t do something. Is it because you don’t want to? Is it fear of failure, or maybe of success? Question your can’t — the answers may surprise you.
Of course, there are some things some of us can’t do. Personally, I can’t breathe under water, but I can learn how to scuba dive. Differentiating between what is true and what is challenging can help us to overcome our personal fears and misgivings. Plus, replacing can’t with can does wonders for your self-esteem.
- Make Lists
Have you ever found yourself super anxious just from thinking about all the things you have to do? Me too. Recently, I’ve started making lists of the tasks I want to complete for the day. Not only has it decreased my anxiety, but it also increased my productivity and improved my mood. According to one study, planning our tasks through list-making alleviates anxiety by eliminating distractions. For me, it has been an efficient way to decide which tasks take priority and to break intimidating activities into smaller, manageable pieces.
While making your lists, let your artistic self shine by color-coding. I am fond of my whiteboard because it allows me to use different colored markers while saving on paper. Give yourself a check mark when you complete a task, too. It might sound silly at first, but positive reinforcement is a great motivator.
- meal prep
We all get busy, and trying to figure out what to eat when you’re behind on readings and have a paper due can be really overwhelming. Enter: meal-prepping, the ultimate game-changer. Not only will meal-prepping help you stay organized, but eating home-cooked food is good for you — body, brain and soul.
You don’t have to plan a three-course meal for every day of the week, but making a few dishes can save you time, money and stress. My go-to is soup — it’s comforting, nutritious, and affordable. You can even make a double batch and freeze some for a snowy day.
But meal-prepping doesn’t have to be tedious or time-consuming, and if you’re not into cooking you can still plan ahead: try assembling your snacks the night before a long day so they’re easy to grab when you’re on the move. Organize your fridge to eliminate clutter (and waste).
Wash and store fresh fruits and veggies in air-tight containers on your day off to save time when you’re busy. And if you’re living on campus or rooming with others, try getting them involved. You might have a hidden chef in your midst.
- Have a bedtime routine
Whether you’re a night-owl, morning-dove, midday-beaver or evening-toad, having a bedtime routine is a must. I won’t lecture you about how many hours of sleep you need or tell you there’s a magic bedtime hour. However, getting a good, restful sleep every night has many benefits, like increased productivity, memory improvement and a strong immune system.
Having a bedtime routine prepares the body and the mind for some much-needed rest so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day.
One of the worst sleep disruptors is blue-light. The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off electronics somewhere between 30 minutes and two hours before going to sleep, as well as limiting light exposure. It’s the perfect excuse to light some candles and… have a hot bath, or journal, or read, or color or knit. I’m sure you’ll think of something. Just don’t forget to blow out the candles before you fall asleep!
Everybody talks about it, and after so many lockdowns we could probably do with a little more of it; exercise. As I write this article, it is a balmy -13℃ and every gym is sealed off with fluorescent yellow crime scene tape. However, you don’t have to go to the gym or run around the block with three masks glued to your face to get your exercise.
Let’s talk about NEAT; non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s burning calories without ‘exercising’, as in all the activities you do throughout the day. What’s neat about NEAT is that you can do literally any type of movement — like walking up stairs, washing the floor, jumping up and down or marching on the spot.
If it isn’t sleeping or organized ‘exercise’ (like running on the treadmill) then it’s NEAT. So once you’ve made your list for the day, give yourself a double check mark for every task that requires movement, like vacuuming. Which brings me to my next point…
- Keep A Clean Space
Between online schooling, closed venues and cold weather, many of us are spending the majority of our time indoors. For those of us who live in small apartments or cramped dorms, having a clean, organized space is a must. A study at Princeton University revealed that clutter decreases productivity, impairs focus and causes anxiety. A clean space is good for your mental health.
Try a few small steps at first, like consistently making your bed every morning or washing your dishes right after you use them. Maintaining a clean space has definitely improved my daily routine, and it means more time on the weekend to relax. Bonus points for getting some NEAT exercise in while cleaning.
- Be Mindful
You may have heard about mindfulness; in the last few years it has become somewhat of a buzzword in health and wellness articles. But what does mindfulness really mean?
According to Greater Good Magazine, mindfulness means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
Sounds a bit wonky — especially that bit about the bodily sensations — but there is wisdom in being mindful without judgement. Have you ever cringed over an experience, or felt overwhelmed by the prospect of meeting new people or unable to sleep because you have a presentation the next day?
Mindfulness can bring you back to the present and help you achieve internal balance. There are many different ways to stay mindful: meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, yoga, etc. Even mindfulness during certain tasks like eating, can anchor you in the moment and allow you to fully experience the present.
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect. Habits require practice and consistency, so take it one step at a time. You’ve got this.