A woman stands with thought bubbles around her with her New Year’s resolution ideas including eating healthier, running on a treadmill and spending time with family.

For most of us, 2021 was a long and difficult year. And after so many unexpected challenges, it’s natural to think about the future and any personal goals that fell by the wayside.

But before you start making big plans, do yourself a favour and reduce your expectations. Be “real with yourself,” says Sarah Haller, a clinical psychologist (supervised practice) at The Therapy Centre in Oakville, Ont. Rather than creating a long New Year’s resolution list, focus on one area of your life you want to improve and make bite-sized changes to your daily habits. (We even have printable worksheets to help you make it happen.)

To inspire your small-scale life renovation, here are 20 reasonable New Year’s resolution ideas to help you make positive strides toward your larger goals. The best part? You only need to choose one.

To start, pick a general goal:

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1I want to eat healthier.

Food is a source of nutrition and comfort—especially in times of stress. If you’ve leaned on comfort food over the past year, you’re not alone. “Many of us may have established a few new negative habits to cope,” says Haller. “Chip away at those slowly.”  You don’t need to kick carbs or go vegan overnight. Instead, introduce small substitutes over time to put you on a track that makes you feel good.[1]

Resolution 1: Swap in fruit or veggies once per week.

We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables (around two to four cups per day[2] or half of each meal,[3] according to Canada’s Food Guide), but it’s easier to replace a habit than stop it altogether. Start with swapping out one of your standard foods for a fruit or vegetable alternative just once per week.

Your Go-To The Swap
Pasta Zucchini noodles
Butter in baked goods Mashed banana or avocado
Wheat pizza crust Cauliflower crust
Ground beef in burgers, chili and pasta sauces Mushrooms

Resolution 2: Try Meatless Mondays.

Protein is an important part of a healthy diet, but it’s best to choose plant-based proteins when possible and limit red meat, processed foods and sweets.[4] Chip away at your red meat intake with one meat-free day per week (we’ve rounded up nine kid-friendly vegetarian recipes), then slowly bring the amount down to the recommended maximum of three servings per week or less.[5]

Resolution 3: Eat protein at lunch.

Well-rounded meals filled with protein, carbs and healthy fats set you up better for the days. To create nutritional balance, start by making sure your midday meal contains protein. Add fish, chicken, nuts, legumes or Greek yogurt[6] to your lunch each day and you’ll stay fuller longer and reduce your chance of pre-dinner snacking.[7]

Resolution 4: Ensure half your plate is filled with leafy greens.

It’s the rare person that craves a plate of spinach or kale, but greens are so packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre[8] that you might want to force the issue. One meal per day, make sure half your plate is filled with leafy green vegetables like romaine lettuce, cabbage, microgreens, kale or spinach. (Here are some ideas for adding more greens to your meals!) If once per day feels too drastic, start with just one meal per week and increase over time.

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2I want to exercise regularly.

If you want to start moving or get moving again, that goal is well within your grasp. It also comes with a whack of physical, emotional and psychological benefits. But there’s no need to get into marathon mode. Choose an activity you enjoy—from dancing to fat biking—and introduce it into your schedule in short bursts instead of rearranging your whole day around it.

Resolution 5: Take lunchtime walks.

Getting healthy doesn’t mean you have to head to the gym for hours on end. Simply taking regular strolls can have huge benefits. To make walking part of your regular routine, take a 30-minute walk at lunchtime each day and rack up around 4,000 steps, which is the approximate baseline for earning positive health rewards.[9]

Resolution 6: Try the seven-minute workout.

It’s easy to use “I don’t have time” as an excuse, but you can probably squeeze just seven minutes into your day, three times per week—especially if you make it a priority. The seven-minute workout is a series of 12 exercises designed to give you a complete, full-body buzz in a short amount of time. Lace up your running shoes, put in a little effort and you’ll work up a sweat and get that post-exercise glow, too.

Resolution 7: Take a hybrid approach to running.

If you want to make running a regular part of your life, start slowly with Olympian Jeff Galloway’s run-walk method. It involves using a 1:1 timed ratio. For example, you would run for 10 seconds, walk for 10 seconds, and so on, building stamina as you go.[10] Eventually, you’ll be able to run for 10 minutes at a time, then 15 minutes, 20 minutes and so on.

Resolution 8: Move any way you want for 20 minutes.

Make daily physical movement your goal, no matter what it entails. You could clean up the basement, take your dog for a hike, have a dance party in your kitchen while making dinner or stream a workout on YouTube. All it takes is 20 minutes of moderate physical activity per day to meet the 150 minutes per week recommended by the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology.[11]

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3I want to feel less stressed.

For many, 2021 was a year of unrelenting stress and you may have reached the point where adding anything onto your plate feels like an insurmountable feat. It’s good to be honest about your capacity for effort: “Take into account your personal situation,” says Haller. “Maybe there are real limitations [on your] individual stress levels and mental resources. We’re all quite tired at this point.” But if you do have the capacity, now is a great time to take a look at your coping strategies and introduce one of these healthy habits to your life.

Resolution 9: Unwind at the end of the day by listening to jazz.

After a stressful day, turn up some tunes. Easy-listening music—especially jazz or classical—and anything with a strong beat or rhythm[12] has a soothing effect on your brain and can lower blood pressure and reduce the presence of the stress hormone cortisol.[13]

Resolution 10: Eat salmon once per week.

What you put in your body can affect what goes on in your head. Oily fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to regulate mood and reduce the symptoms of depression.[14] So, eat fish like salmon, mackerel or trout at least once a week and give your brain the ammunition it needs to get through another day.

Resolution 11: Watch a rerun when you’re anxious.

Yes, we recommend watching TV as your New Year’s resolution! If you’re having a rough day, make a point of re-watching one episode of a TV series that you enjoy. Knowing exactly what to expect from the show (and the plotline!) will calm your brain.[15]

Resolution 12: Say no.

Say “No” when you mean it instead of “Yes” when you don’t, since an assertive communication style is associated with less stress.[16] It sounds easy, but it is one of the hardest habits to master. Start by isolating a task, chore or event in your life that feels like a minor pain in the butt. Consider why you feel the need to say “Yes” to it and decide if it’s worth the stress. Are you able to say “No” and get a little free time back in your life?

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4I want to spend more quality time with family.

In 2021, moments of genuine connection seemed even harder to come by in between life’s stresses. To improve the time you spend with the people you care about most, try making these small changes to your daily or weekly interactions.

Resolution 13: Set a recurring brunch date.

Families that eat together get a quick hit of good feeling and are often better able to maintain healthy weights.[17] If you can’t manage to eat dinner together every night, try planning a weekly (or monthly) weekend brunch and encourage the kids to help out with prep.

Resolution 14: Take a class together, even if it’s online.

The long list of day-to-day tasks that keep a family running smoothly can result in petty arguments, feelings of stress and even boredom. For a change of pace, sign up for a fitness class or workshop together. New experiences build confidence in kids, plus they offer a chance to create lifelong memories.[18]

Resolution 15: Hug before every goodbye.

There are many ways to show your partner and kids that you care, and physical affection is one of them. This year, make it your goal to share a hug before you leave the house. Demonstrable warmth is a shortcut to a better relationship since a gentle squeeze causes the release of oxytocin (a.k.a. the love hormone).[19]

Resolution 16: Make eye contact before shuteye.

It’s easier to connect than you think. Make a point of looking into your partner’s eyes before bedtime. Eye contact has been shown to increase feelings of attraction and closeness.[20]

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5I want to spend less money.

If thoughts of drawing up a budget, saving 20 per cent of each pay cheque or giving up coffee makes you feel like melting down, then kick them to the curb. For now, look for small-but-satisfying tricks for chipping away at your weekly expenses.

Resolution 17: Get to know your local library.   

Dust off that library card and familiarize yourself with the services of your local library. There are likely newspapers, magazines, books and DVDs that you can reserve online, or e-books available for free download.

Resolution 18: Limit takeout to once per week.

Trying to eliminate takeout from your life is probably unrealistic. Instead, set just one night a week when you can order your family a little treat. Make sure it’s the night when you’re most likely to be tempted to dial in dinner.

Resolution 19: Stick to bargain grocery finds.

Instead of looking to food blogs for inspiration, plan your meals around what’s on sale at your grocery store. You’ll end up buying more of what’s cheap and less of what looks pretty.

Resolution 20: Download a price-matching app and actually use it.

Apps like rebee or Flipp can help you price match different products so you can find out where you’ll get the best deal and where you’ll end up paying more for the exact same item.

Do any of these resolutions resonate with you? Pick just one and make it a priority in your life. The printable resources below can help.

Follow these 6 steps to create a new habit

A step-by-step guide to building habits based on “How to Build a New Habit” by James Clear

Download and print this "habit reset" worksheet to help on your journey

A printable worksheet for breaking big goals into manageable habits when making New Year’s resolutions

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