‘Tis the time of year for making new year’s resolutions—or at the very least, to assess what isn’t working in your life, and strategize on how best to make adjustments so that it does. Yet as tempting as it may be to dive headfirst into a major lifestyle change, career and mindset coach Kenitra “Keni” Dominguez says taking an all-or-nothing approach isn’t always the smartest route.
“The best way to approach life changes or transitions is from the point of view of a beginner,” Dominguez tells Apartment Therapy. “Understanding that the changes you wish to make can happen incrementally helps remove the pressure of feeling like you have to figure it out all at once.”
Whether you’re hoping to pay down outstanding debts or simply exercise more in the new year, career coach David Wiacek of David the Fixer says setting small, practicable goals for yourself is key. “Pick one small task or challenge and work on it for a couple of days. Once it becomes a habit (and requires less effort to maintain), you can add a new task. Otherwise, you run the risk of too much change too quickly, and you might abandon the whole pursuit altogether.”
Curious what easy yet effective steps you can take to improve your quality of life in the new year? From budgeting tips to picking up a new hobby, here are six simple life upgrades that career, life, and financial coaches say anyone can make in 2021.
How to: Improve your financial health
Whether you’re in debt or working on building an emergency fund, Tina Hang, a certified financial trainer at The Financial Gym, says there are several simple steps you can take to save money in 2021. “A great place to start is to review all of your credit cards and checking account statements to figure out where your money is going every month,” she says. “Once you identify your spending patterns, you can decide what expenses are necessary and which ones you can cut out, and then work on becoming more mindful with your spending in the new year.”
In addition to cutting back on unnecessary spending, certified financial trainer Kadri Augustin of The Financial Gym recommends opening a separate bank account devoted solely to your obligatory expenses, like rent, bills, and loan repayments.
How to: exercise more
A little physical activity can make a big difference in how good you feel. Peloton instructor Aditi Shah says there’s no better time than now to design a weekly exercise plan that actually motivates you to work out. “The key to consistency is finding a way of moving your body that you enjoy and that doesn’t feel like a punishment,” she says. “The first step is just experimenting with different types of exercise and finding something you like.”
If you’re new to exercising at home, there are tons of online resources for finding a fun fitness routine. Apps like Daily Workouts and Sworkit offer hundreds of simple but effective exercise routines you can access free-of-charge from your smartphone while streaming sites like YouTube and Fitness Blender are teeming with beginner-friendly fitness videos, ranging from 10-minute yoga flows to 15-minute cardio workouts, you can try out for free.
Once you’ve identified some exercise routines that you enjoy, Shah recommends creating a weekly workout schedule that you can easily keep. “Working out two to three times a week is a great place to start,” she says. “Don’t promise yourself you’ll work out six days a week for an hour if that’s a tough time commitment for you.”
How to: Pick up a new hobby
Whether it’s starting an indoor garden, learning how to knit, or practicing guitar, research shows that pursuing a hobby in the new year can help reduce stress levels and improve your mental and physical health. “Creative interests can help you unwind and balance out your logical side,” says life coach Julie Melillo. “Along with being emotionally satisfying, spending just a few minutes a day engaging in an enjoyable pastime can lower your blood pressure and boost your mood.”
However, with all the creative outlets to choose from, picking up a new hobby can be intimidating. If you aren’t exactly sure which pastime to pursue—or you’re worried about dropping it a few days into investing in the materials—consider revisiting one that you enjoyed when you were younger, like putting together jigsaw puzzles or decoupage. There are also free online personality assessments you can take, such as the Strong Interest Inventory, that can help you identify your key interests and offer insight into what types of hobbies you might enjoy.
How to: Prioritize your peace of mind
No matter how busy you may be, Dominguez says it’s crucial to take time to relax and unwind every day to prevent future feelings of burnout.
To help ensure you hold space for yourself in the new year, Dominguez recommends incorporating designated downtime into your weekly schedule. “When making your weekly to-do list, set aside time to recharge and practice self-care,” she advises. “Whether it’s a weekend rom-com marathon or a daily meditation exercise, taking time out for restoration can alleviate feelings of exhaustion and help you stay grounded.”
How to: Start a gratitude journal
Research shows that being thankful can help lower stress, reduce anxiety, and improve self-esteem, which is why life coach Lisa Oglesbee recommends starting a gratitude journal in the new year. “You can start by simply writing down three to five things each day that you are grateful for,” she says.
If you’re struggling to come up with positive occurrences to write about, Melillo says that jotting down five things that happened to you that day—both good and bad—can also help you stay grateful and grounded. “This way, you can look back at your journal overtime to get a more balanced view of your life—complete with the ups and downs, and the difficult things you have overcome,” she explains.
How to: Identify your goals… and actually stick with them
Making a handwritten list of your personal goals for the new year can help motivate you to take action. “Studies show that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down,” Oglesbee explains. “Start by identifying one or two main goals you hope to achieve and give yourself a feasible deadline for each.”
Once you’ve determined what goals you’d like to work towards, career strategist Jasmine Escalera recommends writing out three to four measurable actions you can take to make each of those dreams a reality.
“Make sure those steps are specific and tied to a date, so you will prioritize them,” she advises. “For each step, also consider any challenges you might face to achieving it or the people in your network who can help you make it happen.” Breaking down your goals into bite-sized tasks allows you to focus on one thing at a time and keep track of the progress you make along the way.