20 Easy, Everyday Things You Can Do to Improve Your Life in 2016

Vague, uplifting picture of me frolicking on the beach at sunset. San Clemente Pier // San Clemente, California.

Vague, uplifting picture of me frolicking on the beach at sunset. San Clemente Pier // San Clemente, California.

Happy New Year! This piece was published on the Huffington Post today. Go here to give it some social media love. 

1. Write down three things you’re grateful for every day. Taking the time to thoughtfully consider what you’re thankful for reminds you that you already have many of the things you want—and that’s worth celebrating. 

2. Gossip less. Frequent gossiping can be detrimental to your relationships and mental health. When you feel yourself on the brink of sharing something unkind or participating in unnecessary negative chatter, pause and switch the subject to a lighter topic or ask someone an easy-to-answer personal question. 

3. Do 5-minute phone calls with friends and loved ones. Don’t stress out about setting aside an hour of your day to catch up with your sister or best friend. Instead, opt for a quick 5-minute call to say hi, ask what’s going on, or wish them luck for an important project or event. A few minutes of casual conversation with someone you care about lifts your spirits without sucking up your time. 

4. Only complain when you can offer a solution to the problem. Sometimes you need to vent to let off steam, but complaining for complaining’s sake is counter-productive and can make you feel angry or upset in the process. If you have something to gripe about, follow it up with a solution that will minimize future complaining. 

Your Internet connection is too slow? Can you make a quick phone call to your provider and try to get that straightened out? The traffic on the way to work is terrible? Can you leave earlier or take a different route? There’s always a way to remedy a problem, and if you can’t find one, then the situation is likely out of your control and complaining won’t help, anyway. 

5. Look people in the eye when you speak. Maintaining eye contact is easy to do when you’re listening to someone, but try doing it when you speak as well. Looking someone in the eye builds confidence and helps foster connection between you and the person you’re talking to. It also makes you appear more trustworthy, self-aware, and self-assured. 

6. Spend five minutes cleaning every day. In just five minutes, you can hang clothes, throw away trash, clean counters, sweep, and put your stuff in its proper place. Cleaning just a little bit every day is easier than spending several hours doing a massive clean-up every week. Having a tidy, organized space at home can make all the difference between feeling stressed and unsettled or peaceful and in control.

7. Plan a trip somewhere you’ve never been. Even if you’re a creature of habit or a total homebody, making the effort to get out of your element is so worth it. Whether you’re visiting the neighboring city you’ve never seen or hiking Machu Picchu for the first time, experiencing the unfamiliar leads to renewed energy and creativity, newfound perspectives, fun memories, and—at the very least—an interesting story.  

8. Practice self-kindness. Maybe this means limiting how often you criticize yourself, giving yourself permission to relax if you’ve had a rough day, or learning that it’s okay if you can’t please everyone all the time. Observe your habits, behaviors, and thought processes—are you gentle with yourself? If not, try to pinpoint why and when this occurs, then do your best to actively offer yourself compassion and grace. 

9. Sweat every day. However you want to do it—running, walking to work, playing basketball, gym training, furniture rearranging, sex—make sure you get in a sweat every single day. Staying active and getting your heart pumping has infinite physical and mental benefits, but beyond those, it always makes you feel good afterward.

10. Check your bank statement every two weeks and make note of one thing you can cut out. Can you deactivate that auto-subscription service? Can you eliminate your monthly pedicure? Can you cut your happy hour bill in half? Do your best to find one thing, however small or seemingly insignificant it may be, and get rid of it. Chances are you won’t notice the loss, but even if you do, the extra money you’ll be saving will offset the pain of sacrificing your daily latte.  

11. Make your bed when you wake up. It takes less than two minutes (if it takes longer, get rid of your throw pillows) and sets the day off on a productive note. Plus, crawling into a freshly made bed at night yields a sounder sleep than plopping on top of your wrinkled, tangled sheets.

12. Carry a book with you. Keep one in your car, your bag, or your briefcase. The next time you find yourself waiting in line, waiting for an appointment, or waiting to meet a friend, open your book and read instead of pulling out your smart phone and scrolling through social media. Engaging with one story or idea, rather than bouncing between hundreds of little pieces of trivial, often irrelevant news, helps your mind stay calm, focused, and present.

13. Say please and thank you—and mean it. The most basic manners go such a long way in creating a positive environment. Being kind is important. Being kind and sincere is even better. The more genuine kindness you give to others, the more genuine kindness comes back your way. Hold open a door for someone, say hi, thank people for their efforts, toss out a please here and there, and smile. 

14. Do only one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is not always an enviable skill or a sign of increased productivity. Focusing on more than one task at once usually has an adverse effect—we accomplish less and feel more stressed in the process. Sometimes multi-tasking is inevitable, like when you’re a parent or an elementary school teacher (or really anyone who deals with small children), but most of the time it’s unnecessary. 

If you’re reading an important report or article, don’t interrupt your flow to respond to all the group texts you’re getting. If you’re cooking dinner, don’t try to answer emails at the same time. Give your full focus and energy to one task at a time, then move on. 

15. Take a walk after every meal. Whenever you can, go on a brief, lengthy, or leisurely walk after you eat. Even just fifteen minutes of walking is enough to improve digestion, boost your metabolism, and prevent the groggy feeling that descends shortly after consuming a big plate of food. 

16. Write down your dreams, hopes, and ambitions. Invest in a small journal to record your life plans and goals. Don’t censor yourself for any reason. Just write down whatever feels exciting and interesting to you—your dream to buy a small boat and learn to sail, your wish to be fluent in Italian, your hope to have two children. Taking the time to write down your greatest wants, many of which may have only existed in your mind, is a cathartic and empowering process. Plus, studies have shown that spelling out your dreams in ink can make them feel less intimidating and more attainable. 

17. Think before you speak. Words have immense power—they can uplift people or cut them down. Before you cast unfair assumptions or judgments about people, whether or not there seem to be real consequences involved, pause and ask yourself these questions adapted from a wise Arabian proverb: Is what I'm about to say true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If what you want to say has no basis in reality, if it's hurtful, or if it's irrelevant, opt for silence over thoughtless words that cause damage. 

18. Drink a tall glass of water when you wake up. You can heat it, drink it room-temperature, or add lemon, honey, or berries—it doesn't matter. Just hydrate. Drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning wakes you up, jumpstarts your metabolism, helps your body flush out toxins, and makes it easier to continue drinking water throughout the day. 

19. Give praise freely. The old adage that doling out compliments only gives people an inflated sense of self-worth is ridiculous. Human beings need positive reinforcement and words of affirmation in order to feel connected and cared about. We need to feel appreciated, valued, and respected. 

So be generous with your compliments and praise. If you like your coworker's outfit, tell her. If you find yourself admiring your brother's sense of humor, let him know. Sharing your kind thoughts is the easiest, quickest way to positively impact someone's day. 

20. Do at least one thing you love every day. Make time and space in your life for activities you enjoy. Give yourself permission to pursue your interests and cultivate your passions without guilt or fear. It can be as simple as buying your favorite muffin from the corner store or as time-intensive as setting aside an entire afternoon to work on your latest fiction novel. Whatever it is, make sure you do it and savor it.