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April 18, 2019

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How to build healthy habits in the New Year

health and wellness

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At the end of each year, the clock strikes midnight, welcoming a brand new beginning. And perhaps it’s the Champagne, or the fireworks illuminating Las Vegas Boulevard, but this year, you’re determined to make your resolutions stick. We’re here to help with a few tips and tricks to get you started.

Identify problematic patterns and habits. Self awareness is critical to making positive changes. If you can't identify bad habits, how do you know what to fix? Make a list of trouble areas in your life, and then try to determine the cause. Does stress make you crave sugar? Do late nights out cause you to arrive late to work? Identifying areas in your life that need improvement paves the way for realistic goals.

How long does it take to establish a new habit?

Although it’s widely reported that it takes 21 days to form a habit, a study by the University College of London reported that the average was about 66 days, depending on how complex the habit is. For example, habitually drinking a glass of water after breakfast took 20 days for the average individual to master, but doing 50 sit-ups in the morning still hadn’t become habit after 84 days. Moral of the story? One size does not fit all. Be patient, consistent and don’t be discouraged if times vary.

Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is linked to countless ailments of the mind and body, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Memory, digestive function and immune response can all be traced back to the quality of your sleeping habits. While each individual requires a different number of hours, the National Institutes of Health recommends 7-9 hours a night for adults, 10 for teens and school-age children, and 16-18 hours a day for newborns. The NIH also recommends you follow a regular sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and exercise regularly to improve the quality of your slumber.

Establish a consistent meal and exercise plan. There is a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and mood disorders, such as depression and brain dysfunction, according to Harvard Medical School. Eat fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, and be sure to establish a consistent workout routine. Something as simple as a daily 30-minute walk can reduce your risk of chronic disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.

Goal-setting tips

• Be specific about your goals: Grandiose or vague goals such as losing weight, changing your diet or getting a job promotion can fizzle out quickly. Be specific and consider breaking your goals into stages. Lose 15 pounds in six months. Eat more veggies at dinner. Work on three big projects this year. This technique will make your big goals easier to define and more attainable.

• Determine if it’s achievable: Create a goal that’s realistic and don’t set yourself up for failure. If you want to save $10,000, but your annual income is $35,000, it may be hard to reach your goal. Instead, consider saving $583 each month, which adds up to about $7,000 for the year.

• Set a deadline: Becoming vegan in a week is unlikely, but setting a goal to become completely vegan in six months is more reasonable. Want bonus points? Set checkpoint deadlines. For example, for the first month, eat vegan two days a week; the second month, three days a week, and so on.

• Measure your progress: Once your goal is set, keep track of your progress, no matter what it is. It’s easy to measure how many miles you run a day, but for abstract goals such as spending more time with family, measuring progress requires additional imagination. For example, you decide to increase family time by having dinner with them twice a month. Because the intention is set, you can measure your progress.

Consider therapy. Everyone deals with trauma or obstacles, and a licensed therapist can help teach you techniques to weather life's low points and fully enjoy the high points. To find a psychologist or practicing therapist in your area, visit psychologytoday.com, which offers provider profiles and specialties.

Declutter. Visible clutter hinders the brain’s ability to focus and can exhaust its cognitive function, according to research by Sabine Kastner, Professor of Psychology at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. This includes clutter at home, on your desk and within your digital footprint.

Set up two personal email accounts—one for store promotions and one for bills, notifications and other important documents. For the email account dedicated to stores, unsubscribe to promotion emails sent by locations you haven’t visited in the past year.

Work on your financial health. The first rule of finances is to set a budget. Financial experts recommend putting at least 20 percent of your annual income toward savings, 50 percent toward necessities, such as utilities and housing, and 30 percent toward discretionary items.

Meditate daily. The Mayo Clinic reports that just a few minutes of meditation each day can help reduce stress, improve focus and prevent job strain and burnout. It also may have positive physical and emotional benefits, improving symptoms of asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety and more.

How to get started: Choose a peaceful environment. Background noise is fine, just be sure sounds won’t be jarring or distracting.

2. Sit or lie comfortably. Concentrate on your body position and practice good posture. Close your eyes.

3. Focus your attention on your breath and on how your body reacts when the air moves in and out of your lungs. Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. If your mind wanders, don’t worry. Take a moment to think about where your mind went, then return your concentration to your breathing. Meditate for two to three minutes at a time in the beginning. As you improve, try it for increasingly longer periods. This is also a great time to visualize a positive outcome to the goals you’ve set in the new year. See yourself meeting the goal and imagine how you feel when you do.

Mitigate interruptions. Distractions throughout the day decrease effectiveness and productivity at work, according to the American Psychological Association. Limiting interruptions helps increase an individual's ability to focus.

Use time blocking to increase productivity. Schedule out the hours in your day and devote them to specific tasks without interruption. Do this in 60 to 120-minute increments. For example, spend 60 minutes in the morning answering emails, then two hours on a long-term project without checking your email or other messages. In between each block, allow a buffer period for travel or decompression time, and be sure to set aside time for personal obligations, meals, workouts and relaxation.

Write about your goals. Research shows that writing about your goals can boost performance and make them more achievable.

Planners and tech can help you get organized:

• BestSelf Co. the Self Journal: This 13-week planner includes daily time-blocking sections, a habit tracker, happiness tracker, reflection pages and removable blank pages for notes and ideas. Available on Amazon.

• Daily Productivity Planner:Using principles of productivity, this planner helps you organize your to-do list, and follow your progress, all with a few inspirational quotes mixed in. Available on Amazon.

• Remember The Milk app: Digitally categorize your schedule and to-do lists. Set reminders. Upload files associated with tasks. Share grocery lists with family members and roommates and allow them to edit the lists as well. This app is the ultimate organizer for busy individuals. Available in Apple's app store & Google Play.

• Todoist: Log your to-do list, set deadlines, share projects and measure your daily progress. This app is available on more than 10 platforms, including iPhones, iPads and Apple Watch. It’s also integrated with Dropbox, Amazon Alexa, Slack and more. Available in Apple’s app store & Google Play.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.