Every year the same thing happens. All the energy on self-improvement and wellness happens around the first of the year, as people make their new year’s resolutions and companies promote products promising to change your life. We all know what happens next: the gym membership goes unused, the exercise equipment is stored under the bed by February, and the stack of self-help book goes mostly unread.
The emphasis around self-improvement has got it all wrong. No one needs an arbitrary date on a calendar to make big – or small – changes in their life. In fact, the best time to make a change happens to be tomorrow! With that out of the way, let’s consider some small changes you can make right away to make your life better. These suggestions don’t require big expenditures or significant chunks of time. Instead, they focus on eliminating some bad habits.
Stop Saying “I’m Sorry”
Do you find yourself saying “I’m sorry” or “sorry” several times a day? I know I do. If so, stop! What do you have to be sorry about? For many people, the word sorry has crept into their everyday lives. You may find yourself apologizing for things you can’t even control, just because the word is a reflex.
However, saying you are sorry too much can be damaging to your self-esteem and context. This is particularly problematic for women, who have been conditioned from a young age to please everyone all the time. If someone isn’t 100% happy all of the time, women feel an immediate need to apologize. Society encourages women to be pleasing and agreeable, not rigid or definitive. This hurts women who aspire to leadership roles, which are given to people who are decisive and direct.
No one is arguing you should never utter the words “I’m sorry.” But reserve them for when they are truly necessary – when you hurt someone or made a mistake. Many studies into the apology phenomenon show that there is a gender bias component to society’s expectations for men and women. Women are punished for being too “striden” or aggressive. Hence, women tend to apologize more frequently. One study showed that although both men and women apologize for conduct that is offensive, women have a lower threshold for what they perceive as offensive.
Here are some examples of “sorry” you could eliminate:
You buy the last cake pop at Starbucks, meaning the person behind you has to pick something else. Do not tell them you are sorry, you made a purchase.
Your want to ask your client or boss a question about work. Do not say “Sorry to ask this but…” You have a right to ask a question. No apology necessary.
You disagree with an opinion that someone else has, but before starting your own you say, “I’m sorry, but I disagree with your premise.” You don’t need to apologize for your own opinion.
Stop Biting Your Nails
Biting your nails can be a stress management tactic or a way to channel your nervous energy. However, it leaves your nails looking like a mess and draws the wrong kind of attention your way. There are lots of tactics you can use to stop biting your nails. The most fun one is to try getting a manicure. Many people are less likely to bite their nails when they have been freshly painted and polished.
While we’re talking about nail polish, note that you can buy nail polish that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth – a flavor so bad you’ll avoid biting altogether.
If you are a chronic nail-biter, consider how you can redirect that energy. A fidget-spinner might be just what you need to keep your fingers busy without damaging your nails.
If your mouth seems to be the thing that wants to keep busy, consider chewing gum. (I’m well aware that some people find gum chewing gross, so factor in how much you want to be seen chomping before doing this).
Sip coffee or tea, or try to replace your nail habit with water drinking. Every time you find yourself going to gnaw off a fingernail, take a sip of water. This would be the ultimate goal – replacing a bad habit with a good one!
Stop Eating Fast Food
Fast food and soda taste great, but they are responsible for the obesity epidemic. Stopping the fast food habit is not just a simple matter of willpower. According to a study, junk food alters brain chemistry, inducing a craving that is similar to drugs like cocaine and heroin.
If you have a habit of eating fast food, the first step is to figure out why. Is it a matter of convenience? For many people, the only access they have to a quick lunch is a fast food restaurant. Is it because fast food is cheap? This is where planning will greatly help you avoid fast food. Make sure you buy things specifically for lunches. Include sandwiches, soup, microwave meals, anything that is portable and convenient.
If you find yourself at a fast food place, pay attention to the nutritional information and calories and try to make smarter choices. Opt for a bottle of water rather than a soda. Substitute apple slices or yogurt for the side of french fries. Order grilled chicken rather than cheeseburgers or fried chicken. Don’t add on the milkshake.
Stop Focusing on the Negative
We’re not advocating for becoming a Pollyanna, but focusing too much on the bad parts of your day amplifies the negativity around you. Although you don’t get to control everything in your life, you have the ability to control how you react to the things that happen to you.
There are many ways you can increase the positive energy in your life. Exercise, that old standby, stimulates endorphins, a chemical that literally makes you feel good. Research demonstrates that just 20 minutes of exercise carries over into happiness and productivity for the entire day.
Venting about something bad that happened can be healthy. Obsessing over it is not. Make a promise to yourself that once you’ve vented about your stressful day, you leave it behind you. I know that this is easier said than done. It takes practice to stop worrying over something that happened. If your mind wanders back to that bad thing, try going for a walk, taking up knitting, getting involved in a new TV show, or even listening to a podcast or book while making dinner. Condition yourself to move on.
Eliminating intensely negative people from your life is a big help in becoming more positive about life. Sometimes this is painful because the people who are the most negative may be your closest friends or family members. No one expects you to cut off everyone in your life who is a drag on your energy. However, try to seek out other positive people.
Although an “attitude of gratitude” seems like a cliche, studies show that writing down good things that happened, or listing things you are thankful for, is positive for your mental health.
Smaller changes can also help you be less negative. For example, listening to music can put you in a good frame of mind, especially in the morning when you are setting the tone for your day.
Stop Using Your Phone at Night
We all know that we spend too much time during the day in front of a screen. For some people, this can’t be helped. If you have to work using a computer all day, or use the phone to keep in touch with the office, you don’t have a lot of options for cutting screen time during the daylight hours. However, after you get home from work, you need to stop looking at your phone. Nighttime screen settings can hurt your eyes. Research shows that smartphone use can really harm your sleep, interfering with the length of time it takes to fall asleep and interrupting your sleep throughout the night.
Odds are, you already know this is a problem, but what can you do about it?
You can choose to read a book instead. It may seem old-fashioned, but reading the hard copy of a book can focus your mind and slowly ease you into sleep without that pesky blue light.
You can listen to something rather than looking at your phone. You could listen to a podcast or audiobook, or listen to special sounds that help put you to sleep, like music or rainfall. Hiding your phone or leaving it in another room also helps. If you absolutely must look at your phone, consider using special glasses that totally block the blue light.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others on Social Media
Many people have a love/hate relationship with social media. On the one hand, it helps us stay connected with people in our lives, and also helps us network with new people. On the other hand, social media can generate feelings of envy. A study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, finds that when people compare themselves to other people on social media tend to have lower self esteem. The social media platforms themselves, like Instagram and Facebook, don’t cause lower self-esteem in depression; but the way people start to compare their lives to others does exactly that.
Another study, from research teams at Bond University, show that people who base their self worth on approval from their peer groups tend to spend more time comparing themselves to others, particularly when looking at pictures on Instagram.
If this sounds like you, one solution is to start unpacking how much you judge your own self-worth based on what you think others are experiencing in their lives. You don’t need to delete your social media apps – although people who have done so generally don’t regret it. But you do need to be mindful of what you’re doing when you start scrolling through social media apps. Be aware that the people whose lives you start to envy may not have such great lives after all. There is a lot of artifice involved with social media posts, and no one’s life is exactly what it seems to be.
The ultimate way to stop comparing yourself to people online is to spend more time enjoying people’s company offline.