Friday, December 13, 2013

10 New Year's Resolutions That Are Better Than "Losing Weight"

With Christmas behind us, I find myself looking toward 2014 with hopeful eyes. Like many other individuals, I aspire to pick up some new, good habits and abandon some old, not so wise ones in the process. I've already taken to using my lunch hour for walking a mile, stretching, and meditating, and I'll be doing a number of (the following) things at home, too. But one thing that I'm not doing is making "losing weight" my New Year's resolution.

This is for a number of reasons. Primarily, I only weigh 116 pounds. Clearly, losing a few is not something I'm terribly concerned with.Staying active is something that I like to do, and it's something we should all do regardless of how much we weigh. Consequently, I'm not fond of falling back on weight loss as a good New Year's resolution. Unless you're overweight and its recommended by your doctor I really do think there are more profound and productive things you can make a goal of. Take, for instance, the following list. Here are 10 resolutions you can make that will have a positive impact on your health, your life, the lives of others, and/or the planet that are more significant than trimming your waistline. Each of them has your health in mind, but in a much less superficial way. So, let's take a look...
  1. Go Organic - Many, many people shy away from this one due to the price tag. Don't! It is now easier and more affordable than ever to go organic. How? Why? Easy; farmer's markets. If you're fortunate enough to live in a climate that affords year round markets (like Austin) you can get seasonal organic produce every weekend. And that which you cannot find at the market can be procured at the grocery store. You can also do what I just did which is sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture program in your area. Essentially, you buy an organic vegetable subscription so many weeks or months in advance. In return, you'll receive locally grown organic produce. I'll be writing more about using CSA boxes as I experiment with my own in the future. To find a program in your area, visit theLocal Harvest website. Benefits from going organic include less pesticides in the air and water, less toxins in your bloodstream, and enabling more sustainable farming techniques to flourish.
  2. Ditch Plastic - The City of Austin enacted a plastic bag ban last year. A lot of cities are doing the same. But plastic grocery bags are just the beginning. Grocery stores, for example, still offer plastic bags for produce. This is one area in which you can continue to contribute to the problem or make an opportunity to be part of the solution. Start using reusable nylon and drawstring bags instead of these bags. I use this kind from Amazon and love them to death. They're easy to wash, too, which is always great. You can also keep ditching plastic by skipping straws when  you eat out, and buying glass or stainless for containing your leftovers and meals. Biodegradable "plastic" made by companies like BioBag can replace your kitchen cellophane and sandwich bags. Ditching plastic means less chemicals in your life, and less waste you have to recycle or reuse.
  3. Be Unplugged - Now, I will be the first to admire our technological advances but the fact remains that most of us spend way too much time being "plugged in." Try devoting a specific amount of time or time of day to refraining from using your smart phones, video games, computers, iPad, etc., and just do something else. Walk your dog, cook dinner, READ, be crafty. Our brains benefit greatly from variety, new experiences, and learning new things. Take a look at this About page on brain plasticity and you'll see what I mean. Use it or lose it!
  4. Save Money - This one seems like a no-brainer, but the simple truth is that most of us don't save enough money. More often than not, the recommendation is that you should be saving 10% of your income to go toward retirement. That's a real challenge for most people. I know it is for Chris and I, and it will continue to be a challenge in the future. Move your financial priorities around in order to do it. Your savings should be high on your list. One way to control your spending and increase your savings potential is to automatically deduct money from your checking account into your savings account. Be realistic but at least start putting the effort into making this adjustment. Even if it's just $50 a month, you've started down the right path.
  5. Meditate - While the benefits of meditating are many the number of people who meditate seem to be few. The common perception appears to be that to meditate successfully is to empty your mind of your thoughts. In actuality, to meditate simply means to relax and be contemplative. Beginning is easy, and there are a number of great how-to guides on the internet for those who are new to the practice. People who meditate regularly have seen their blood pressure go down, their stress levels reduce, their happiness increase, and their awareness become more acute. Even if you're only able to do it for 10 minutes per day or one day per week, your brain will thank you.
  6. Bake Your Own Bread - I started baking my own sandwich bread last year to help Chris and I save money. It can do the same for you! Homemade bread will also be healthier for you as it isn't filled with chemicals and preservatives. It isn't really that difficult, either. A standing mixer will make it less time consuming, but you can do just fine making it by hand. I typically make two loaves at a time and go through the process 1-2 times per month, depending on how sandwich crazy we end up being!
  7. Eat More Greens - While most fruits and vegetables greatly contribute vitamins and minerals to our diets, greens are nutritional powerhouses. If they're completely foreign to you, start off by trying to eat them twice a week. Slowly but surely, increase that to 4-5 times per week. Greens can include romaine lettuce, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, broccoli, and more. For Dr. Jill Nussinow's Top 10,click here. You can also get more greens in your diet by buying a powdered supplement that you mix with water or juice or add in to smoothies.
  8. Switch to Whole Grain - A diet high in refined carbohydrates can have a negative impact on your health and can even lead to conditions like diabetes. Switching to whole grain cereals, breads, and pastas or reducing your intake of refined grains (white flour, white bread, ordinary pasta) is good for you. Whole grains are higher in protein and in fiber. If you're a big baker at home, try swapping out 1/2 of your recipe's all-purpose flour with whole-wheat pastry flour. You may need to add a bit more liquid, but the texture and flavor won't change much. 
  9. Start Growing Your Own - Cultivating your own herbs, vegetables, and greens is one way to lessen your carbon footprint. Of course, it can be intimidating for beginners and challenging for those without yards. But you can grow many things inside or in low light areas (like patios and balconies). An herb garden is a great place to start. Bay, parsley, thyme, and peppermint can all grow in indirect sunlight. Basil and rosemary prefer lots of sun. An indoor salad garden can be your next step up. Lettuce, arugula, and green onions can grow quite well with little maintenance.
  10. Go Local - My final recommendation will have a greater impact on others than it will on yourself. Stop throwing your money at nationwide retailers when there are local, privately owned options available. This goes for restaurants, retailers, and service providers. Strengthening small businesses will also strengthen your community and can mean a stronger job market, a better education system, an improved infrastructure, and more. Your money has the ability to positively affect many, many people. To put it into perspective, think about a little fabric store in a small town that teaches quilting. Maybe it employs 10 people. Their prices may be higher but the quality of their fabrics is superior to the kind you can find at the Wal-mart up the street. They also pay their workers more than Wal-mart does. They don't make them work 24 hours a day come Christmas. All of the employees are happy and help you every time you visit. You like it so much that you signed up for classes there and are becoming a really good quilter. Take that scenario and flip it. You have to go to Wal-mart because they're the only store that sells fabric now. Your quilting teacher and all of her coworkers are cashiers at the Wal-mart. They get paid less and they're tired and unfriendly from working traditional retail hours whenever you come in. On top of that, you want to learn new techniques and don't have a place to go to for that. Don't you wish you had kept supporting your old fabric store?
So, which one of these wonderful examples have I aligned myself with this year? Well, I fully support and currently aspire to achieve each of these items on a day-to-day basis. My focus for 2014, though, is to Meditate. I have been studying Buddhism for almost two years and was very much all about meditating before bed every night last summer. It's something that benefited me greatly, but I've gotten out of practice. So, there's that. But each of us is a different person and the focus on our resolutions should be how they improve our lives and the lives of those around us. If the things I've listed here don't seem up your alley, perhaps take them into consideration and allow them to inspire you toward some other goal. Maybe you can incorporate them into volunteering, working with animals, or raising money for charity.

Have you already made your New Year's resolution? What are your goals for 2014? I would love to hear about them, so please leave me a comment. Thanks so much for reading, and have a great 2014!

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