From eating better to sleeping more, the most popular New Year resolutions focus on achieving a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. But the promises seem hard to keep. Psychologists say this is because people make resolutions to motivate themselves, even when they aren’t really ready to change their habits. The tendency to set unrealistic goals is another problem.

According to B.J. Fogg, a psychologist and researcher at Stanford University, behavioural change can occur only if you keep it small and identify easy-win behaviours—“tiny habits"—that will put you on the path to that goal. So this year, instead of setting a major goal like lose weight for the whole year, take the pressure off by setting minor ones for each month


Simplify your eating habits

Reboot your diet this month. Start by clearing your kitchen counters of sugary snacks and salty, over-processed junk food. Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think and Marketing Nutrition, believes that most of us have a “see food" diet: “You see food and you eat it just because it’s there," he writes. Also, control portion sizes. “A calorie deficit can help you reduce and/or maintain weight, but it’s important to ensure that you are getting a balance of nutrients as well to prevent muscle loss," says Pune-based nutritionist Vrushali Brahma, who recommends adding more fish, whole grains, fish nuts, seeds and olive oil to build greater lean muscle mass.


Find your own best time to exercise

There is no one time of day when calories are burnt more efficiently. “The best time to exercise is when it’s right for you," says Deepak Rawat, national fitness manager of gym chain Fitness First India. The more important thing is to pick a time of day that you can stick to, so that exercise becomes a habit. “Choose something that fits in with your personality, lifestyle and fitness goals," says Namita Jain, a clinical fitness specialist and author of Low Fat, Low Guilt.


Develop a bedtime routine

As our sleep debt mounts, health consequences increase, and we’re at growing risk of obesity, heart disease, hypertension, stress, etc. Mumbai-based life coach Nivedita Das Narayan says, “We often find quality sleep is the first casualty in the most basic cases of anxiety and stress. And it’s a vicious cycle. Work on restoring mental well-being begins with putting the sleep cycle back in order." One way to ensure you get the required 7-9 hours of sleep is to develop what Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and author of The Sleep Revolution, calls a “bedtime routine" of ditching her devices, a hot bath, dressing for sleep, and reading a physical book.


Get health cover

Most of us tend to be wildly optimistic about the future, but it doesn’t take much for your health to go wrong. The beginning of the financial year is the best time to plan for any eventuality. Ask around, research and get yourself the best—and adequate—health insurance cover. Don’t desist from obtaining personal cover even if your employer provides you this employment benefit; it’s always better to have your own to ensure that you are not under-insured.


Get a healthy hobby

Apart from giving you some me-time, a hobby can help relieve stress, develop new skills and expand your social circle. This summer, try group-based hobbies—join a cooking class, swimming sessions, a cycling club, or “choose something that interests you—watercolour painting, embroidery. Focusing on something new will improve the quality of your life," Das Narayan says. Hansal Bhachech, an Ahmedabad-based psychiatrist, says, “Break your routine off and on to stimulate new parts of your brain."


Make moving a habit

Experts now advocate a “movement lifestyle" over the structured exercise approach. “The body is designed to move. In cities, sitting for long periods is leading to major health issues like obesity and metabolic disorders," Rawat says. Jain offers a few tips: “Walk up the stairs, pace around when on the phone, stand up often to stretch your limbs, remove your shoes when you stretch your feet, and walk around the corridor whenever possible."


Choose Indian superfoods to boost your metabolism

There’s more to superfoods than exotic imports like kale, broccoli and blueberries. Nutritionist Rujuta Diwekar, in her book Indian Superfoods, recommends ghee, kokum (a souring agent), banana, cashew, ambadi (roselle plant), rice, coconut, aliv (watercress seeds), jackfruit and sugar. “It’s vital to understand that the food we produce is in sync with our climate and ecology," she writes. Other Indian superfoods that should be part of your diet include haldi (tumeric), amla (Indian gooseberry), ragi (finger millet) and jau (barley).


Learn to unplug

In a blog post, motivational speaker and author Mike Robbins writes about why unplugging is “crucial to our success and well being". “When we’re able to disconnect ourselves, we can regain some of the passion, energy, creativity and perspective that often gets diminished when we allow ourselves to get sucked into our phones, computers, TVs and other devices," he writes. So try and take conscious breaks—maybe a weekly social media detox, or no email checks after 7pm. Robbins suggests unplugging with “other people in your house, or those you work with" as well.


Make alcohol a weekend-only thing

With the festive season upon us, it’s important to take stock of your relationship with alcohol. A single serving of beer, wine or spirits amounts to upwards of 125 calories. Add to that urban India’s predilection for serving the additional calories from deep-fried snacks. “Make alcohol a weekend-only thing. As far as aerated drinks go, banish them from your life," says Aniruddha Shankar, a Bengaluru-based food, diet and nutrition coach. Say no to diet colas too. “If you have to keep sipping on something, let it be water or green tea," says Shankar.


Do all the good you can

Doing good deeds is good—for you and the person at the receiving end. Gregory L. Fricchione, associate chief of psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital and author of The Heart-Mind Connection, writes, “Altruistic behaviour triggers the brain’s reward circuitry— the ‘feel-good’ chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, and perhaps even a morphine-like chemical the body naturally produces." So do all the good you can—volunteer, plant a tree, offer your time, teach the elderly to use devices or sponsor the education of your household help’s children.


Start strength training

Strength training is an important—and often overlooked—part of an overall fitness programme. Experts say strength training can help develop strong bones, manage weight and chronic conditions, sharpen thinking and enhance quality of life. But most of us tend to equate it with body building, and something that is gym-specific. Mumbai-based fitness trainer Yasmin Karachiwala says, “You don’t necessarily have to be an Arnold (Schwarzenegger) or Salman (Khan) to add some strength training into your daily routine. Try free-hand exercises like body-weight squats, push-ups, walking lunges and planks and work your way to resistance bands, dumbbells and kettle bells," she says.


Keep the environment clean

With winter comes an uptick in pollution levels, so consider what you can do to keep the environment clean and invest in your health. Switch out the bulbs with CFLs and LED lamps, and make sure you recycle your trash even if no one else does. Opt for bucket baths, unplug appliances when not in use and set up a car pool to get to work. “A home compost maker—available online—is a good investment. It takes care of food waste, turning it into compost that your home garden can benefit from," says Sonali Sharma, a Bengaluru-based IT consultant and urban garden.