11 Resolutions For a Better You—Proven by Science


“Good habits make all the difference.” —Aristotle

It is wise for each of us, from time to time, to stop and evaluate our lives as we seek to make the most of them.

The start of a calendar year provides an opportunity to look back at the decisions that shaped our lives during the past year and gives us an extra push to make adjustments for the next one. Every new January represents a natural opportunity to evaluate the direction of our lives, adjust course if necessary, adopt new habits, or make healthy changes. Birthdays can often serve the same purpose.

Regardless of the time of year, self-reflection is important. Consider then, these 11 resolutions for a better you—proven by science. It is, after all, our habits that determine the course of our lives.

1. Exercise. Most of us recognize the benefits of physical exercise: healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy confidence. Some studies indicate exercise contributes to a positive body image even prior to any body weight or shape change—with as little as two weeks of regular exercise. And with increasing study centered around the effectiveness of minimalist workouts, each of us should be able to find the time to get started.

2. Less television. Those seeking intentionality realize the negative influence television has on their mind: it impacts our worldview, encourages consumerism, oversimplifies life, and results in less life satisfaction. Even more drastic, scientists are beginning to discover the habit of watching too-much television may be negatively impacting our life expectancy as well. Nobody is telling you to throw your television in the nearest dumpster, but deciding to cut back in the next year may be one of the best decisions you could ever make.

3. Go outside. According to recent studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, simply spending time outside with nature contributes to increased energy, wards off feelings of exhaustion, and results in a heightened sense of well-being. Of course, simply walking from your front door to the car door doesn’t count. So make a point this coming year to find an excuse to be outside—you can always start with a simple walk around the block each evening.

4. Read fiction. Recently, researchers have begun studying the physical impact reading stories has on our brain. As you might expect, they are discovering reading results in heightened connectivity and brain activity—sometimes, even up to 5 days after the book has been completed. If you read fiction, you already know this to be true. If you don’t, this could be your year to start. You may enjoy beginning with The Hunger Games or Divergent.

5. Give. Numerous studies show charitable giving boosts happiness and reduces stress—especially when the generosity promotes positive social connection. If you don’t already, find a cause or person you believe in and offer them consistent monthly support. They will benefit. You will benefit. And the world will be a better place.

6. Serve. Volunteering provides great value for our lives and the lives of those we choose to enrich. One study from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard Business School, and the Yale School of Management found that when a person volunteers his or her time, they begin to feel like they have more time and are more efficient. Additionally, volunteers feel better about themselves, experience lower stress levels, and develop a deeper connection with others. The golden number appears to be 100 hours per year (2 hours/week).

7. Buy less stuff and more experiences. In studies presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, researchers suggest that buying life experiences rather than material possessions leads to greater happiness for both the consumer and those around them. Decide today to spend less money this year on possessions and more money on meaningful, memorable experiences. You’ll be glad you did in more ways than one.

8. Display gratitude. Psychologists have scientifically proven that one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in your life is how much gratitude you show. And it can be experienced with as little as three expressions each day (“Thank you for…”). Getting started is so easy and  beneficial. It could be the easiest decision you make all year.

9. Practice smiling. In a fascinating study conducted at the Michigan State Business School, customer service professionals who fake a smile throughout the day worsen their mood. But people who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts improve their mood and withdraw less. Simply put, one easy way to improve your mood throughout the next year is to intentionally recall pleasant memories or think more positively about your current situation—and then smile because of it.

10. Stop and just play. Our world is becoming increasingly busy and the temptation to measure our worth by external factors continues to grow. As a result, taking time to slow down and just play is becoming increasingly rare. But play is fun and enjoyable. Play enriches the lives of children by exercising their mind and body. And it has the same positive effect on adults. So make an extra point to just slow down and play constructively with your friends or kids.

11. Determine to be happy. Two experimental studies published in The Journal of Positive Psychology this past year offer ground-breaking research on the cultivation of happiness. Based on the experiments, participants who listened to “happy” music and actively tried to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood afterwards—more so than those who simply listened to the music. In other words, determining to be happy is a productive decision towards achieving it.

Adopting 11 new habits at one time is almost certainly too much to ask. But choose one or two specifically. And then, give it 29 days. You’ll be surprised how quickly they become habit.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I still hate exercising (working on that one!), but I’ve been improving in the areas touched upon by your other suggestions. Just wanted to let people know those studies are right – it has made me much happier and at peace with myself and the world.

    • says

      Christy, I start my morning w. my ipod and dance around the house for about 1/2 an hour. I then added some breathing exercises given to me by my Eastern doctor. After that, the blood is flowing, the mood is up, and I can stay on the floor for 40 minutes doing situps, pushups, stretches… I call it my play time.

    • Matthew Stellato says

      Don’t just excersize find a sport you like and do that for exercise and or exersize to improve I agree. Exercise is boring but skiing Mt. Biking golf adventure hiking are phenomenal

      Matthew S.

  2. says

    Great list once again Joshua. The one I’ll be working on is reading fiction. It’s never been my thing but it’s something I want to change. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  3. says

    Simply moving, creating with our hands and feet is a great way to develop skills that are useful as well as soothing. You are right, we need to remember play for all ages!

  4. Jacalyn E. says

    Josh, you have such inate, God-given understanding of what we need to be focused on in this generation. Thank u for following your passions, I really needed to read this, very inspirational. Change is slow, steady, and worth the success it brings.

  5. says

    My big one from this is smiling – I have been told several times by friends and family that I need to smile more. In my enthusiasm to accomplish goals and do so many cool things, I forget that life is also about having fun, not only about getting things done. I have resolved to myself to smile randomly without any reason throughout the day. I have read somewhere that if you smile, even if you are not happy, the act of smiling itself will cause the production of endorphins in your body, causing happiness. I am going to put that into effect this year. :)

    • Keith says

      I think this is one of those items on the list that is a cascade catalyst, meaning that by practicing smiling you will either cause yourself to do another item or positively reinforce doing it.

      For about ten years, since our two daughters became part time restaurant servers to pay for school, I have always made it a point to smile, say hello and ask how our server’s day has been going for them.

      90% of the time they light up, give me a tid-bit of how their day has been going, and thank me for asking… that’s all it takes!

  6. Keith says

    Thank you for the clear and concise list.

    Interesting how each of the items are encouraged to us in the Bible.

  7. Becky says

    Read the hunger Games trilogy, now on the third Divergent book….good fiction for all ages, enjoy discussing them with my teens.

  8. says

    I read a lot of non-fiction, but tend to gravitate towards the television when I am looking for entertainment. Read more fiction for fun is a goal for me this year.

  9. thixotropic says

    Regarding the advice to read fiction: iirc the study reported that these wonderful results came from books that challenged the mind — literary fiction — not just lightweight summer trash. Which makes sense, when you think about it — a book that requires no thought won’t provoke it, either.

  10. says

    I find that the single most fulfilling thing for me is to genuinely help someone. By that I mean that I provide something they really need or help them to be able to do something they have trouble with. I don’t count it when I show how to do something over and over again because they don’t get it since that is really not helping them. But it is a fantastic feeling when I assist someone or provide to someone and they thrive in it. I am in IT for the State and work with a lot of current/new technology. Yet, contrary to many tech people, I don’t find joy in working with technology but instead finding ways to make technology work for people. For a time I was working in user support for our agency and loved it, but have since been reassigned to behind the scenes support and don’t like it so much. I can still do things for people outside of work though, so that helps to keep me going.

  11. Zuma says

    Resolutions seems anything but minimalist. Another example of the minimalist movement being co-opted into the productivity business cult. Do more and more and more is their mantra. To what end? As a minimalist, my aim is to take it easy with what I have and definitely not follow some arbitrary and potentially dangerous set of resolutions. Dangerous? Reading fiction, especially the late capitalist tomes of the Hunger Games will just keep us entrenched in the social structures that have us groping for minimalist in the first place. Heaven forbid we read some continental philosophy and think critically about our world and it’s crippling economic structures.

  12. says

    This is so practical and can be done. I remember as an elementary student back home (Philippines), our teachers used to give us an assignment to list our New Year’s Resolution (literally first day of school in every New Year) and most of the time those resolutions never put into action.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  13. Queen Mary says

    Ah, well, if science says so, it must be true! I jest of course, but it does seem that common sense supports this list with much more credibility than the vagaries of scientific research — at least for me. Who wouldn’t rather a walk outside rather than television inside?

  14. Nic Grobler says

    All very good and I agree . Only one thing missing , the spiritual aspect.Have a moment of prayer and Scripture reading to fill your mind with a positive and confident believe .God is in control no matter what.

    • Dhyana says

      Developing an inner life — meditation and prayer — even 5 minutes a day — will CHANGE your life for the BETTER — over time, exponentially… aum, peace, namaste…

  15. says

    I remember my elementary and high school year, after a two weeks of vacation. Teacher always give us an essay for What is our New Years Resolution. As far as I remember, my stated resolution is to be good for the whole year…Now that I am an adult my resolution is to loss weight, do some exercise as I have gain weight..Hope I can do it..

    Nice post, doing list for a resolution… the thing is if I do some list, can I follow or it will be all in the list..hahahhahha.. its a matter of discipline, I guess!!!

    Philip :)

  16. says

    What is Karma? Karma is the Sanskrit word for action. It is equivalent to Newton’s law of ‘every action must have a reaction’. When we think, speak or act we initiate a force that will react accordingly. This returning force maybe modified, changed or suspended, but most people will not be able eradicate it.

    This law of cause and effect is not punishment, but is wholly for the sake of education or learning.

    A person may not escape the consequences of his actions, but he will suffer only if he himself has made the conditions ripe for his suffering. Ignorance of the law is no excuse whether the laws are man-made or universal.

    – See more at: http://www.trulymind.com/12-little-known-laws-of-karma-that-will-change-your-life/#sthash.Kbj86hrR.dpuf

  17. says

    I like these suggestions, I’ve practiced some along the way of life, but have let some go due to external factors. This week has reminded me how far I have come in changing my priorities in life, and your post helps me understand that I’m still on the right track when it comes to what is most important in life. Faith, Family, & Real Friends.
    Thank you

  18. Joy says

    Great list. Like them all except reading fiction. Of course, I have no problem with anyone who does, but I consider it a waste of time. I’d prefer to read something like your blog which encourages me to be a better person and deals with reality rather than fantasy.

  19. Alex says

    For number 8. Display gratitude, try this site: http://www.hapyr.com. Its an online journal that reminds to write down things you are grateful for and list a happy memory daily. Its goal is to get you in the habit of thinking that way.

  20. Theresa caples says

    I’m 64, Ive decluttered several times over the years, it felt great. Here I am on New Years Eve, looking at full closets, cabinets, drawers again, weighed down with stuff. It gets harder to do the physical cleaning, packing up, so I may hire some help. I really understood what someone said about sorting through relatives things and seeing all the stuff, things that I guess we hold to memories or some promise. We keep a few things we really cherish or need, then leave the rest. This blog really helped me think.
    But I too have regrets, maybe just our age, all the things,memories ,
    Time, money wasted..more years behind us than before us. It served a purpose at the time I guess..now, no longer..have to move forward, just remorseful, like you younger people, I didn’t maintain the decluttering, and fell into it again.

  21. Robin Finlay says

    These are excellent principles to live by. Children need to be actively encouraged to embrace them from the earliest age possible. Less time on the couch, playing with others, solving their own problems and away from our ever present gaze.

  22. says

    Thanks for this list. I agreed to less television. My life is better and I am happier now. TV commercials and crappy soap operas are such a waste of time, and even news are not worth watching.

    I will consider reading Divergent. I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy last year.

    Happy New Year!

    • says

      hi, I found your article to be refreshing as well as wise. I enjoyed it so much I mentioned it on my blog along with some of my responses to your ideas. I hope you do not mind my doing that.
      You have some great ideas which were all things that I’d recognized as being beneficial but which could use some of my attention once more. Sometimes we have to mindfully put in to practice things which we know to be good, but which can get lost in the hassles of life or merely from our own depression. Here the “act as if” rule would definitely apply and would most likely be effective in raising our spirits.

  23. Joshua Becker says

    Cool this article came up when I tested a search of “Joshua Becker University of Pennsylvania” — due to the text in #6. Oddly, I have considered doing similar research myself, because of all my time spent volunteering. And of course I absolutely LOVE the golden number (3.618033…) — the spiral was on the chuppah at my wedding!

    Small world.

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