As January 1st edges ever closer, you might be tempted to make a list of all the ways you’ll improve yourself in the new year. And that’s great. Setting goals can help you gain perspective about where you want to end up by next December.
But that enthusiasm tends to fade quickly. By the spring, you may have left all those good intentions by the wayside.
If you want to improve yourself in the coming year, try a different approach.
Instead of jumping all in at the beginning, spread out your goals. Make one small change each month.
Your progress may seem slow at first, but incremental changes add up. They stick longer, too. By adopting one new habit every month, you could become a happier, healthier version of yourself by the end of 2023.
Need a place to start? Here are 12 ways to improve your new year, one for every month.
January: Buy a meal-planning calendar.
Scrambling at the last minute for dinner ideas gets tiring, and you may fall back on carryout more often than you’d like. By drawing up a list of meals for the week (or month), pulling together a nutritious dinner may become a whole lot easier.
To make this the year of planning ahead, start by purchasing a calendar for the job. There are many formats to choose from, including spiral planners and paper wall calendars. You could also hang a dry-erase board in your kitchen, print planning pages from the internet or download an app for your phone.
If meal planning sounds like too much work with your busy schedule, consider investing in a subscription meal planning service. In other words, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you. Just browse the app store to find a plan that makes sense, and give it a try. A few dollars a month in fees might save you hundreds over the course of the year in excess dining out.
February: Share a hug.
February is the month of love, so it’s a great time to focus on physical touch. Hugs and other similar touches stimulate your body to release feel-good hormones. Those hormones can lower your stress levels and enhance your sense of connection to others. Results include better sleep, reduced anxiety and a stronger immune system.
Of course, whether you’re hugging a spouse, a child or a friend, make sure you’ve got a willing partner. And if you need a hugging partner when no one is available, give yourself a squeeze. Studies show that self-hugs can produce many of the same results.
March: Start an herb garden.
Fresh herbs make a delicious addition to your home cooking. Herbs contain antioxidants and other healthy compounds as well.
Instead of spending big bucks on store-bought herbs, grow your own. Early spring is a smart time to plant them — either outside or on a windowsill, depending on your local climate. For indoor planting, choose a window that gets plenty of natural light.
Herbs to grow at home include basil, thyme, sage, chives and dill.
April: Find fitness buddies.
Not too hot and not too cold, spring offers a great balance for outdoor workouts (assuming you don’t have seasonal allergies). It’s also a great time to recruit an exercise partner who will hold you accountable for daily movement. Perhaps you’ll jog together in the mornings or meet up for walks on your lunch break.
Another option is to join a fitness class. That way, you’ll have built-in workout partners. In addition to getting fit, you might also make new friends.
May: Cut back on meat.
To improve your health, start eating less meat. As you reduce your meat intake, you might eat more fruits and vegetables instead. And your risk of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, may go down as well.
You don’t have to nix meat altogether, though. For the month of May, challenge yourself to have one meat-free day each week. Fill your plate with tantalizing options like bean burritos, tofu lo mein, squash soup or vegetable quiche.
If you’re really up for a challenge, prepare a meatless dinner every night this month.
June: Sign up for a pool membership.
Make a splash this summer with frequent trips to the swimming pool. Purchasing a membership may pay off within just a few visits. And the need to get your money’s worth might motivate you to swim often.
Swimming offers benefits for the whole family. It works your cardiovascular system while being easy on your joints. Research shows that swimming can improve your mental health, too. Plus, it’s a great activity for family bonding.
July: Do a budget check-in.
Your financial health affects your overall health. Money worries can weigh you down and leave your stomach in knots. Lack of funds might force you to skimp on nutritious foods or, worse, put off important medical visits.
Now that you’re about halfway through the year, take a good look at your finances. Think about where you need to spend more and where you could save. Planning your budget for the rest of the year will help you feel more in control over your budget and help you allocate funds where you need them the most.
August: Sample new fruits and veggies.
Summer is the season for fresh fruits and veggies, and August is often the height of harvest. Take advantage of the abundance by bringing as much produce into your home as possible. A farmer’s market is a great place to find locally grown items.
In August, make a trip to the farmer’s market or produce stand each week. See if you can find something new on each visit. Perhaps you’ll taste okra for the first time or sample a new-to-you variety of heirloom tomatoes.
If you’re feeling ambitious, you could also learn to preserve all that fresh produce via canning. A stock of summer produce may brighten your mood when the weather turns cold.
September: Count your steps.
Fall leaves and weather make outdoor walks delightful. Make it your September goal to fit in as many steps as you can. You can use a pedometer, a fitness tracker or a smartwatch to keep a tally of your daily steps.
If you’re taking 4,000 or fewer steps, then you’re probably not moving enough. Setting your goal higher may improve your health over the long term. In one study, participants who took at least 8,000 steps a day had half the risk of death during the sample period than those who got only 4,000.
October: Get a houseplant.
Green plants are good for your well-being. Being around plants can benefit your memory, your mood and your stress level. Of course, as summer turns to fall, there are fewer green leaves around.
Fill your house with greenery instead. Houseplants offer many of the same health benefits as their outdoor counterparts. Start with just one plant or bring several into your home this October. If you’re a novice, try an easy-care variety like a snake plant or a peace lily.
November: Invest in cold-weather gear.
When the weather turns frigid, it’s tempting to stay indoors as much as possible. But going outside year-round is good for your health. Sun exposure boosts your vitamin D production and improves your mood. And being out in the cold can help you burn extra calories.
Prepare for the upcoming cold by stocking your closet with cozy layers. Start with sweat-wicking long underwear for both your top and bottom halves. Over that, place insulating garments. Fleece-lined pants and a down jacket work well if you’re in a colder part of the country. For the outer layer, choose materials that will resist wind and water.
December: Purchase seasonal soap scents.
The holiday season brings an assortment of gatherings — and plenty of illnesses. Handwashing is one of the best tools you have for busting winter germs.
The temperature of the water doesn’t matter. What is important is that you scrub with soap for 20 seconds or more. Make sure to get the fronts and backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
For motivation, purchase seasonal hand soaps. The aroma of vanilla cookies or fresh pine can make washing up less of a chore. Plus, filling your bathrooms with seasonal scents might help put you in a better mood for the holiday season.