You don’t have to love New Year’s resolutions to take a moment to reset some part of your life on January first. There’s absolutely no reason you have to wait for any particular time to stop smoking or exercise more, but there is undeniably a psychological hook for committing to making some changes at New Year’s. After a particularly rough 2020, the start of 2021 feels like an excellent time to make some changes. Below are 13 suggestions for changes to make in 2021. They’re broken into three groups: Good for Your Mind, Good for Your Body, and Good for Your Career.
Good for Your Mind
Start Therapy. If you’d benefit from therapy (and who wouldn’t, honestly?), online sessions now make it easier than ever to sign up and try it. Online therapy tends to be low cost and sometimes covered by insurance. Many services let you use either a mobile device or your computer to connect. If you and your therapist don’t mesh, you can request a new one without having an uncomfortable confrontation. Some of the most well-known services are Doctor on Demand, Better Help, Talkspace, and MD Live. If you’re not ready for talk therapy quite yet, there’s also Moodpath, an app for tracking symptoms and feelings related to anxiety and depression.
Meditate. How do you learn to meditate and keep it up as a practice? Meditation apps do both. Most of them offer guided meditations with instruction for beginners as well as a log of how many minutes you spend each day practicing. Some apps have silent meditation sessions that use simple timers to track your practice, as well as timed sessions that use nature soundscapes or white noise.
A few apps worth checking out are Headspace, Meditation Studio, Ten Percent Happier, and Insight Timer. If you’re curious to try a device that gives you real-time feedback about how well you manage to calm your mind, take a look at Muse S. It’s a fascinating headband that reads your brainwaves while you meditate and uses audio cues to tell you how you’re doing.
Journal. Keeping a diary is one of the best ways to preserve your memories, and a great New Year’s resolution. If you’re new to journaling and need help remembering to write each day or want prompts to guide you, there are some great apps and methods to try, some of which use real paper.
For example, the Five Minute Journal ($24.95) is a popular paper journal that gives you daily writing prompts focused on positivity. There’s an app version, too for Android and Apple mobile devices. Another app is Day One (for Android, Apple mobile devices, and macOS), which is great for busy people. It lets you write freeform if you want or fill out a template when you need guidance. If you’ve read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, you might like Morning Pages, the app (the app is not affiliated with Cameron). Morning Pages is a journaling technique popular among creative types. It involves writing longhand for three full pages about anything at all on your mind. You can write tasks you need to do or vent about an argument with a family member. The purpose is to clear the clutter from your mind in one giant brain dump. The app version encourages you to dictate 500 words per day instead.
Learn a Language. Another way to stimulate the mind is by learning or practicing a different language. With so many excellent language learning apps on the market these days, there’s hardly an excuse not to put in a few minutes a day. Duolingo is easily the best free app on the market for beginners and intermediate level learners alike. Be sure to explore the Stories feature in Duolingo for select languages, as well as the Duolingo podcast for Spanish, French, and English.
Rosetta Stone is also a top pick, and it’s better if you want to sit and really focus on learning for 30-60 minutes per day, whereas Duolingo is great for short bursts of learning. If you’ve tried Rosetta Stone and you don’t connect with the style of teaching, try Fluenz instead. For intermediate to advanced students, check out Yabla (for learning through videos) and Rype, a service that helps you find tutors who teach sessions via video call.
Sign Language, because it’s not an orally spoken language, needs to be taught differently. We’ve tested a few services for learning American Sign Language and the best by far is Sign It ASL.
Good for Your Body
Exercise With Apps. Finding a way to get exercise that fits your personality and lifestyle can be a challenge. It’s even more of a challenge when infectious diseases, poor weather, and other major issues remove some options from the table. There really are some very good alternatives.
Workout apps are one choice. They come in all flavors and styles, from group HIIT classes you join from home to stretching sessions that you play on demand. Some exercise apps are free or have a free tier of service. Some have select workouts for free (I’m a fan of Yoga with Adriene’s free 30-day yoga journeys). If you find something you like and want to upgrade to a premium account, expect to pay around $10-$30 per month.
A few apps we especially like include Forte, for live and on-demand group classes; Openfit, for happy, positive live instructors who teach classes for all ability levels; Jillian Michaels on Android and iPhone, for tough workouts on-demand and meal ideas; and the Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout App, for squeezing in quick workouts for all ability levels.
Exercise With Smart Home Gym Equipment. Jumping up and down and doing bodyweight exercises in your living room is a perfectly acceptable way to work out. If you like to lift, however, or you prefer extended cardio sessions, you might want to splurge on some smart home exercise equipment. The Peloton stationary bike is one of the most well-known and coveted, but if you don’t like to pedal, it’s hardly the only option. In PCMag’s testing, our analysts loved a NordicTrack rowing machine (RW900), strength training systems by Tempo Studio and Tonal, a treadmill by Peloton, another one by NordicTrack, and several others.
Track Your Activity. Another fantastic way to care for your body is to become more aware of how much activity you currently get and decide if it’s the right amount. Fitness trackers, like Fitbit-brand devices and the Apple Watch, measure how much you walk, run, and sleep, and sometimes more than that. The best activity trackers help you make sense of the data they collect so that you can take action. For example, if you see that you tend to be very inactive on certain days of the week, you might decide to make a change by either rebalancing your activities or making a point to talk a walk on those days when you lag.
Many activity trackers also include heart rate monitors that can track your heartbeat 24/7. The Apple Watch has a feature that alerts you when you have possibly irregular heart rhythms, and a watch from Withings called ScanWatch does, too, though it’s still under FDA review as of this writing. For a low-cost and simple option, we like the Fitbit Inspire 2; it’s one of the few smart fitness trackers that you can wear on your waistband or bra center with a clip accessory (sold separately).
Want to learn more about what’s happening in fitness technology? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Health and Fitness Tech.
Manage Your Weight. A smart bathroom scale makes a huge difference in tracking your weight, especially over the long term. Anyone can remember a number from the scale today, but what was it five years ago, and has it fluctuated much in the meantime? Smart scales automatically record your weight and other biometric data, like bone mass and water percentage, in an app where it then plots it on a graph over time. Even if you don’t think there’s a reason to monitor your weight now, the information may come in handy to doctors and health care teams later.
Of course, weighing yourself isn’t as popular a New Year’s resolution as eating better to improve health. Weight loss apps and programs, like WeightWatchers (now called WW) and Noom give you nutritional information and guidance, not to mention emotional and psychological support.
Cook at Home. Deciding to eat more healthfully and actually finding the time to shop for and prepare meals at home are two different things. Meal delivery services can do the hard work for you. First, they narrow down the possible answers to “what’s for dinner?”. Second, they ship ingredients right to your door so that you don’t have to shop. Third, they measure out and sometimes even peel and chop components to the meal. You end up with a healthy and fresh meal cooked more or less from scratch, while cutting the time it takes dramatically.
Before I tried meal kits, I was a huge skeptic, believing they were overpriced and wouldn’t be as nutritious as they claimed. It’s simply not true, although you do need to find the right service for your dietary needs and tastes. For my household, Hungryroot has been a great fit. It’s a service that delivers groceries and suggests recipes for them, which you can choose to follow or not. Green Chef was another personal favorite. If you need help with healthy but quick breakfasts and lunches, Splendid Spoon and DailyHarvest have excellent options.
Good for Your Career
Learn or Master a Skill. For anyone whose motto is “never stop learning,” perhaps one of your resolutions is to learn or master a skill. Or maybe you simply want to convert some of your leisure time into learning time. (Done right, they’re one and the same.) No matter what you choose to learn, research from 2014 shows that putting in time and effort toward mastering something, even if it’s unrelated to a person’s job, ends up benefiting one’s performance at work.
Online learning sites give everyone the ability to dive into practically any subject. If you’re after professional development or software skills, LinkedIn Learning has a great selection of video lecture-style courses. The site was formerly Lynda.com, which had a fabulous reputation for teaching Photoshop and other design-related software in particular. Khan Academy has free lessons in academic subjects, such as algebra and economics. Brushing up on core math and science never hurt anyone. Khan also has other subjects typically covered in U.S. high schools, including civics, history, and even LSAT prep.
What about creative skills and physical skills, such as painting, cooking, design, sports, needlepoint, and woodworking? For those, turn to MasterClass and SkillShare.
Read. Reading can positively affect people in both their personal and work lives, much the same way mastering a skill does. A great way to get more books into your life is with an eReader. Most libraries now have systems for loaning ebooks so that getting something to read is easy, contactless, and doesn’t add extra expenses on top of the price of an eReader. A few of the best eReaders cost around $99, including the Kobo Clara HD and Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2018 model), though you can easily spend more if you want something specific, like a waterproof device you can take to the pool or one that displays manga and graphic novels well.
If audiobooks are more your speed, you can borrow those from libraries, too, as well as buy them or snag some freebies from Audible. You can download and organize audiobooks on your computer, play them on an Alexa-enabled device, or listen on a smartphone.
Take Stock of Your Productivity Tools. Being productive does not require dozens of tools. It requires the right tools for tasks you need to get done. Needlessly spreading yourself thin across multiple apps does more harm than good. The new year is a great time to take stock of what you have, what you use, and what you can ditch.
For example, if you use multiple to-do lists to separate work and personal tasks, you don’t need to. The best to-do list apps let you create multiple lists that compartmentalize personal tasks, family tasks, work tasks, and whatever else you need to manage. The best ones also let you share lists so that other people can take some work off your plate, whether they’re co-workers, housemates, or someone else. Todoist is a longtime favorite and Editors’ Choice among to-do list apps, as is Asana.
Overhaul Email. Email is another tool that does more harm than good if you don’t have strategies for managing it. For the new year, you might reconsider what apps and services you use and either consolidate them or further segment them. Maybe that sounds counterintuitive, but if you make one email account that you only use for shopping and mailing lists, those messages will never get mixed in with mail that deserves your attention. Another seriously underrated way to fix up a junky inbox is to go on an “unsubscribe” spree. Or spend some time reading up on techniques for managing email or tricks in Gmail to make your experience more efficient. Or quit Gmail altogether if it isn’t working for you.
Make and Stick With a Plan
The hardest part of New Year’s resolutions or really any habit change or goal you set is the follow-through. Pick one or two goals that matter most to you and stick with them. It’s better to do one or two of them well than to feel overwhelmed and do none at all.