I can promise you right now that 2019 won’t be the year I develop six-pack abs. It also won’t be the year I climb Mount Everest, earn my first million or become best friends with Drake.
While I’ll probably make a New Year’s resolution (like a little less than half of adult Americans), it’s not terribly likely that my resolution will dramatically change my circumstances. And that’s okay. The quality of our lives isn’t determined by hitting one enormous goal during one specific year, but by the steady progression of small, achievable goals over a long stretch of time.
In an excerpt from her book “The Entrepreneurial Instinct,” author Monica Mehta writes: “The more times you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores the information that allowed you to do so well in the first place… This is why the cultivation of small wins can propel you to bigger success.”
With that in mind, here are some reasonable—and more importantly, realistic—New Year’s resolutions that’ll actually improve your life.
New Year’s resolutions typically revolve around a few core concepts: being happier, healthier, richer and kinder. Incorporating more phone and in-person communication in our lives—and texting, emailing and instant-messaging less—hits on many of them at once.
Here’s why: An in-person request is 34 times more successful than one made via email, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. And research out of McGill University found that the sound of our voices is better at conveying our emotions than the meaning of our words—which can lead to more genuine, empathetic and productive interactions.
More effective communication could also help with another common resolution: If you’re looking for a new job in 2019, invest time in taking people in your network out for coffee or drinks. An in-person request for a recommendation or help landing a new role will likely go a lot farther than a quick LinkedIn message or emailed resume.
My most successful resolutions have been accomplished using substitution instead of subtraction: Rather than quitting a bad habit (say, drinking soda) cold turkey, I’d swap it for something less harmful (pounding apricot-flavored La Croix).
Substitution works well with money habits, too: If you spend a lot on theatre and concert tickets, get your live entertainment fix by checking out smaller, cheaper shows featuring local talent. If Ubers and Lyfts are costing you too much, try the carpool option when you’re not in a rush.
For extra credit, reward yourself by adding to your savings or investment account every time you successfully avoid spending money on an area you’re trying to cut back on, like using what’s in your cabinets to make dinner instead of ordering takeout or brewing coffee at work instead of buying it on your commute in.
If you’re an American adult, chances are high that you’ll have to tip someone, at some point. Yet thanks to vague and inconsistent tipping guidelines, many of us are bad at it. One analysis found that Americans in certain parts of the country only tip an average of 11 percent—well below the 15 to 25 percent range that’s most frequently suggested.
Resolving to becoming a better tipper may seem utterly altruistic—a value in itself—but it also alleviates some social awkwardness. Many bad tipping habits are simply borne from a lack of knowing when, who and how much to tip, as well as plain old rusty math skills. If you’re like me and have performance anxiety over doing math at the dinner table, download a free tip calculator to ensure you don’t mess it up.
Level up by researching tipping across all services. Do you know how much to tip a bartender, hotel cleaning staff or hairdresser? And don’t forget about the intricacies of holiday tipping for supers, mail carriers and trash collectors. Nailing tipping etiquette simplifies your life and makes you a kinder customer.
It’s amazing how good it feels to learn new skills outside your usual basket of tricks. If you’re a technical person, get out of your comfort zone by learning a creative skill, like playing two chords on a ukulele or making origami swans. If you’re creative, learn something technical, like advanced keyboard shortcuts or changing a car tire. The skill doesn’t have to be difficult, just new.
Not only can picking up new skills make you a more well-rounded and (probably) more-hireable person, there are psychological benefits to learning a new skill. Our brains are constantly learning and adapting, and tackling new challenges is healthy both in the short and long term. Learning new skills could open up a whole new world of money-making opportunities, especially if you turn them in a new side hustle.