The annual flood of New Year’s resolution articles is currently inundating websites around the world. But the ubiquitous nature of these posts doesn’t diminish the value of the core message that underlies them: the re-setting of the annual clock is the perfect time to take stock of your life and make the changes necessary to enhance your existence.
With that in mind, here are 14 things you should strike from your regular routine in 2014:
Believing in the multitasking myth: The truth is that “multitasking” is really just switching rapidly from one task to another—human beings can only focus on one thing at a time, which means multitasking is not a valuable skill; it’s a productivity-killing menace. A 2009 study from Stanford found that college students who tried to simultaneously tackle multiple tasks had worse working memory, found it harder to switch from one task to another and couldn’t sort out irrelevant information as well as those who didn’t multitask. Devote your energies to one job at a time and your brain will thank you with gifts of improved creativity and a more robust memory.
Not drinking enough water: Water is essential for optimal health and functioning; it helps carry nutrients and flush out toxins, yet 43 percent of American adults drink fewer than four cups of water each day, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While experts agree that the “8 glasses a day” maxim isn’t universally applicable, four cups is probably not enough for most individuals. CDC researchers also discovered that people who drank less water also ate more fast food, fewer fruits and vegetables, and were not as likely to work out on a regular basis.
Trying to control everything: This point doesn’t need any scientific evidence as even the smallest amount of life experience disproves the notion that anyone can control anything about life except their own thoughts and actions. Still, a reminder always helps.
Making excuses not to pursue your passion: What’s on your go-to list of excuses? See if the inspired TED talk above, given by University of Waterloo economics professor, Larry Smith, can persuade you to let some of them go:
Comparing yourself to other people: It’s easy to understand the allure of comparing oneself to one’s peers. Without the context of comparison, how would you gauge your performance in everything from your profession to your personal life? But just because you think you have a good reason to make these judgments doesn’t mean they’re good for you—as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” To keep up a healthy sense of competition without driving yourself crazy, make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating right, and making efforts to acknowledge and love all aspects of your character, the good and the not so good.
Refusing to daydream: Daydreaming has traditionally received a bad rap, but scientists are starting to uncover more evidence that letting you mind wander is actually beneficial for your brain. A 2012 paper by psychological researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara found that undergraduate students who were given a mere 12 minutes to daydream were able to come up with 41 percent more answers to creative problem solving questions than their peers who had been instructed to use their 12 minutes to rest, work, or engage in a short-term memory task. This is an especially promising finding in light of a recent Harvard study that found human beings spend as much as 47 percent of their waking hours daydreaming. So go ahead and let your mind roam free.
Eating poorly because healthy food costs more: Over a third of Americans are obese, according to the CDC. If lack of time and money means you’re constantly lured by the siren song of fast food and frozen dinners, consider this—in 2008, the average obese individual spent $1,429 more on health care than a person whose weight was normal. By contrast, a new Harvard report indicates that a healthy diet only costs about $1.50 more per day than an unhealthy one—that comes out to less than $350 per year. Which price would you rather pay? Of course, monetary comparisons don’t take into account the physical and mental costs of obesity and its associated ailments (heart disease, depression, diabetes, arthritis, etc.).
Relying on others for your happiness: The debate over whether a person can “choose” to be happy is ongoing, but experts say our typical temperament is determined by three main factors: genetics (which controls around 50 percent of our mood), what we actively decide to think about (which controls around 40 percent), and our life circumstances (which controls the remaining 10 percent). Since other people can only affect a tiny fraction of the elements that make up your mood, there’s no logical need to rely on the actions or approval of others to make you happy.
Giving up: This should be an obvious one. While there always comes a point when you need to seriously evaluate whether a particular aspiration is worth the sacrifice to attain it, taking time to set the right type of goals can help you avoid this quandary altogether. The best goals are specific, attainable (yet challenging) and contain measureable benchmarks.
Not being grateful: Cultivating a sense of gratitude for life’s little gifts is a great way to keep stress, anxiety and anger at bay, according to Karol Ward, L.C.S.W. Simply making minor modifications to your daily routine—taking a few minutes to sit and reflect on the positive experiences in your life, or writing down beautiful moments you experience throughout the day—can foster a more appreciative state of mind.
Procrastinating: Whether it’s a trip to the DMV to renew your registration or a conversation with your significant other about the future of your relationship, putting a task off until “tomorrow” will only make it more unpleasant. This year, grit your teeth and resolve to do those things you’ve been avoiding.
Being too hard on yourself: Women are particularly notorious for having rabid inner critics that comment on everything from their physical appearance to their lifestyle choices. A simple way to start banishing these voracious banshees is by taking some time each day to log your unedited thoughts in a journal. After a few weeks of cataloging your stream of consciousness, take a look at the patterns that emerge and modify negative musings by re-framing them in a more positive light. See this article for a few examples: How to Stop being So Hard on Yourself.
Never taking a break: The never-ending quest to do-it-all, be-it-all, and have-it-all can turn into a directionless and exhausting sprint towards an unreachable finish line. Vacations and breaks are scientifically proven to increase happiness and enhance productivity, yet Americans take by-far the fewest number of vacation days per year (14) when compared to countries such as Germany (26) and France (36). Even if you can’t go on a full-blown getaway this year, building breaks into your daily routine—20 minutes for a cat nap, 10 minutes for meditation—can help stave off fatigue and burnout.
Not living in the present: Human beings tend to be slaves to their pasts and fearful of their future, but the ability to be aware of and live in the present moment can bestow many mental and physical benefits. “Mindfulness” may be slowly gaining the inglorious status of a buzzword, but in this instance there’s research-backed truth behind the hype. A mindful state of mind can reduce stress and rumination, enhance memory and make you more creative. Various studies have also indicated that engaging in a mindfulness meditation practice may play a role in reducing your risk of developing a number of chronic conditions, including asthma, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Happy New Year! What other unproductive habits are you going to shake this year?
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