Targeted self-help solutions for building a better you
Anyone entering the new year with a list of resolutions needs advice on how to kickstart their commitment to personal change. We’ve looked at stacks of new self-help books and chosen six of the clearest, most practical guides to help you meet your goals, whether it’s a fitter physique or a more adventurous life.
If your resolution is to be more active:
Consider the sensible and achievable plan outlined in Younger Next Year: The Exercise Program. Building on their popular series, Chris Crowley and physician Henry S. Lodge devote the bulk of the book to the “whys” of exercise: why it works (the science) and why we should do it (the benefits). By the time you get to the actual exercises in chapter nine, you’ll presumably be so fired up you’ll plunge right into the “25 sacred exercises” of strength training. Pair those with the “magic bullet” of aerobics and you’re on your way. If you need more motivation, ponder this: People who do some kind of aerobic activity regularly have a 40 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
If your resolution is to lose weight:
Check out Thinner in 30: Small Changes That Add Up to Big Weight Loss in Just 30 Days. “Today” fitness correspondent Jenna Wolfe breaks the big task of weight loss into 30 small chunks that seem doable, from drinking 20 sips of water as soon as you wake up to making at least three of your everyday activities more challenging (for example, when you’re watching TV, get up off the couch and do a quick exercise during each commercial break). Yes, some of the 30 changes are harder than others, but Wolfe’s helpful tips and tricks will give you added impetus to succeed.
If your resolution is to manage your money:
Use your cash on hand to buy a copy of The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated. Authors Helaine Olen and Harold Pollack argue that the best financial advice for most people would fit on a 3-by-5-inch index card. The tenets of their 10-point system are surprisingly simple but effective: Saving 10 to 20 percent of your income, paying your credit card balance in full each month and making the maximum contribution to your tax-advantaged retirement savings plans are at the top of the list. The index card system started with Pollack, a public health professor at the University of Chicago who faced financial problems as a result of overspending, under-saving and accumulating costly debts. He put his family on sound financial footing with the new regimen, and the step-by-step guidelines in this book can help you follow the same path to financial freedom.
If your resolution is to be more giving:
Explore the philanthropic ideas in Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day. Jennifer Iacovelli, who has worked for nonprofits and writes the blog Simple Giving Lab, argues that we can all help to make the world a better place by incorporating giving into our daily lives. You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg to make a difference—even small donations or simple gestures of support can have an impact. The author offers six “models” of giving: everyday acts of kindness; traditional philanthropy, such as donating your time or money to charity; shopping with a conscience; taking action on issues you’re passionate about; giving as a business model; and “giving it forward” by inspiring others to give when you do. Whether you’re holding a door open for a stranger or donating to the Red Cross, you’re demonstrating your concern for others. One satisfying note: Psychological studies have shown that giving not only helps others but ourselves, making givers both happier and healthier.
If your resolution is to live more mindfully:
You’ll be intrigued by the suggestions in 52 Small Changes for the Mind by wellness expert Brett Blumenthal. He offers one small change you can make each week to improve your mental well-being and explains how each step will help you feel less stressed and more content. During Week 1, for example, readers are advised to “Put pen to paper” and start a personal journal. The act of recording your feelings will leave you “calmer, happier and more capable of moving past negativity.” Other weekly recommendations include: sip green tea, silence your inner critic, say yes to new experiences and spend more time outside. Attractively designed and well-organized, this inspiring volume is a pleasure to browse and peppered with thought-provoking quotes. As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
If your resolution is to live your dreams:
Pick up a copy of Gin Sander’s The Big Bucket List Book: 133 Experiences of a Lifetime. Sander’s goal is to help each of us pursue a “well-lived life,” full of rich ideas and adventures. “Participate in life, rather than observe or drown in the dreaded feeling that it’s just passing you by,” she advises. Since the well-lived life means different things to different people, she encourages readers to define their own terms for a bucket list and to think creatively about living their wildest dreams on a budget. (Travel with a group, crowdsource your project or do volunteer work at a desired destination.) The ideas listed are wide-ranging and fun to daydream about, from having dinner in a Napa Valley wine cave to ordering a pair of custom-made shoes. Before you write down your own list, the author recommends setting the mood with a glass of wine and a scented candle and letting your mind run freely. Whether it’s running a marathon or starting a humanitarian movement, adventure is right around the corner.