Every January, you get a symbolic chance to start over. Use it wisely.
Whatever change you seek, little steps can mean big results. Here are five tips to help make this the happiest, healthiest new year yet:
1. Subtract something from your life
Many people try to add things to their routine as part of their New Year’s resolutions, but you should think about what you might subtract, or let go of, from your life that’s not serving you anymore, said Barbara Markway, a psychologist in Jefferson City, Missouri, and author of “Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life.”
Maybe it’s a friend who you end up spending a lot of time with, but don’t really enjoy being around that much. It may help you to let that friendship take a less prominent place in your life.
Or it could be as simple as subtracting items from your closet that you don’t wear anymore or watching less mindless TV.
“By subtracting things, you’ll paradoxically make room in your life to add things that are more meaningful,” Markway said.
2. Focus on people and your own wellness
Make human connections, be good to yourself and fall in love. Relationships and good mental health, not income, have the biggest impact on our happiness, a recent analysis by the London School of Economics found.
Life satisfaction rises most when people have a partner and enjoy a life free of depression and anxiety, the researchers said. A boost in income, on the other hand, has little effect.
If you have kids, be aware that you play a big role in their happiness down the road: The best predictor of an adult’s life satisfaction is their emotional health as a child, the researchers note.
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3. Instead of New Year's resolutions, make quarterly resolutions
Choose something you want to focus on for each of the four quarters of the year, suggests Laura Vanderkam, a time-management expert and author of “I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time.”
“Often, we have many great ideas, and we try to take them all on at once, but that's a recipe for failure,” Vanderkam said. “Trying something for 90 days is doable, and assigning a goal to each quarter allows you to focus on one new habit at a time.”
Here's a tweak on that idea: Set three doable goals each quarter — one for each of these three categories: career, relationships, self.
For example, from January through March, you might want to write a white paper at work, read two books a week to your kids, and run a 5k. Then, in the April-June quarter, you can pick three different goals. Continue this pattern and you'll accomplish a variety of goals of the year's end.
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4. Drop the ‘all-or-nothing’ perfectionistic thinking
Perhaps these sentiments sound familiar:
“I had one cookie and messed up my diet, so I might as well eat the rest of the plate” or “I can’t cook fresh meals every day, so I am stuck eating out all the time.”
If so, you are using all-or-nothing, perfectionistic thinking. Instead, strive to be “better than perfect,” advised Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist and author of "Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love."
Did you have one cookie? OK, savor every single bite and drop the guilt, she said.
Can’t prepare every meal from scratch with organic ingredients? Maybe you can cook a healthy meal three times a week, or add a new vegetable to at least one of your meals each day.
The key is focusing on each step in the right direction, not “perfect” behavior.
5. Make conscious efforts to unplug
We spend so much time attached to our email, phones and Facebook, but studies show it’s really important to unplug. It helps us with rest and recovery and allows us to reboot, said Leah Lagos, a licensed clinical psychologist in New York.
“Some people never unplug unless they schedule time to do so,” Lagos said.
She advises clients to set aside one or two days when they make a commitment to unplug and be mindful of where their attention is focused.
That means turning off your phone completely, or perhaps checking email only once in the morning and once at night. Use that technology-free time to focus on friends, family and being in nature.
Then, do a little inventory afterwards: Did you notice physiological changes in your body? How is your focus? Your energy level? What’s your mood like? What’s your anxiety and stress level?
Doing this exercise twice a month would be fantastic, but aim for at least once a quarter, Lagos advised.
Happy New Year!