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01/04/2019 09:58 EST | Updated 01/04/2019 09:59 EST

Set Your New Year's Goals With This Simple, 6-Point Plan To Improving You

There's no shame in trying to up your game.

What do you want to achieve this year? Now's the time to turn thought into action.
Nora Carol Photography via Getty Images
What do you want to achieve this year? Now's the time to turn thought into action.

The start of a new year often prompts many of us to reflect on the past 365 days and think about how to make the new year and our selves great (again). Whether or not you're a resolutions person, growth and personal development are always good to actively pursue. So, we talked to some folks in the business of bettering humans. Read on for some tips to help you grow and glow this year.

Get to know thyself

To know where you want to go and how you want to grow, you have to know where you're starting from. And a good starting point on the journey to self-awareness is taking time to hang out with yourself — not on Instagram or with a book — just yourself, advised Lilian Motta, a wellness specialist with Evolve Holistic in Toronto, who spoke to HuffPost Canada in a phone interview. Go for a walk, listen to your thoughts and get to know your "why." Why is it so important to want to be a better person? What are the long-term benefits you will gain?

These simple actions and questions can help you analyze your own behaviours to help you create a vision for your life.

Motta suggested reading a self-help book, such as Get Your Sh*t Together: How to Stop Worrying About What You Should Do So You Can Finish What You Need to Do and Start Doing What You Want to Do by Sarah Knight, to help you shape and create your vision plan for the year.

Watch: Setting new year's resolutions isn't brain surgery, says this neurosurgeon. Story continues below.

Then, jot down your thoughts and your vision plan in a journal. Research has shown that writing down your goals is strongly associated with success. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, studied the art and science of goal setting, and found that people become 42 per cent more likely to achieve their goals and dreams simply by writing them down on a regular basis.

"I try to set a goal for each year. Not a resolution, more, 'What would I like to work towards?'" Dr. Jennifer Gunter, told HuffPost Canada in an email. Gunter is a Winnipeg-born OB/GYN and pain medicine physician, who is known for her hilarious, razor-sharp rejections of Gwyneth Paltrow's unscientific health and wellness claims.

"I like to think of myself as a work in progress, so what part of me would I like to stretch or patch up or develop in the coming year?" she said. "Last year, I was working towards getting my book, The Vagina Bible written, and I am super-proud of achieving that goal. This year, my goal is to be open to trying new things."

Get to know thy plan

Once you've laid out your goals and vision, set actionable steps to achieve your goals, said Motta. Think about potential obstacles that may trip you up and create solutions for them.

ColinResponse, the founder of "The 25 Hour Day," an eight-week online program that teaches creative entrepreneurs how to double their productivity and improve their quality of life, recommended determining the one thing you could achieve this year that that would make everything else you want to accomplish easier, and dedicate at least one hour each day to that thing.

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Set an action plan!

For example, if your 2019 plan includes finding more time to exercise or socialize, he recommends writing down a detailed breakdown of where your time is spent. Then, look at how to potentially eliminate or decrease the amount of time you spend in other areas.

"You could write down a list of all the kitchen and toiletry supplies you buy, and create a monthly or bi-monthly subscription on Amazon so they get automatically delivered to your door to save yourself the time of constantly visiting the store to get them," says ColinResponse.

When you give yourself tasks and write them down, ticking them off when you've achieved them, you feel a strong sense of accomplishment on your journey towards self-improvement, added Motta.

More from HuffPost Canada:


Get to know thine emotional self

We often grow up believing that emotions should be pushed away. Anger? An emotion of the devil. Sadness? C'mon, get happy. But learning how to properly process emotions can help you understand why, in the first place, those emotions are sparked, and what they signal.

"We first experience life through emotions before we can make a logical decision," said Motta. "So, let your body feel the emotions and breathe through them — this will help you comprehend potential motivations behind the emotions and how not to react impulsively."

And, coupled with our ability to empathize with others, emotions also help us maintain social bonds, allowing us to interact with others' needs in mind, rather than just our own.

From an evolutionary standpoint, emotions are the agents of change and reaction. Anger transitions us from a calm state to one where we're ready to fight. Fear prompts us to flee from dangerous situations. Sadness can lead us to change the direction of our lives.

Watch: How emotions physically affect your body. Story continues below.

When processing emotions, therapists sometimes use a "name it, claim it, tame it" approach, which begins with awareness, Diviya Lewis, a Toronto psychotherapist, told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.

This first step of naming or identifying your emotions brings a level of awareness to your experience, said Lewis. When "claiming" emotions, explore any beliefs you might have about certain emotions (have you been shamed all your life when expressing a certain emotion?), any unmet needs that emerge, any underlying emotions (emotions behind other emotions), triggers, behaviours, and recognition/validation of how your experiences to date have shaped your current emotional reactions and experiences.

"It can be so validating to step back and recognize all the facets that go in to what seems like a split-second reaction! This helps you step back from your experience, claim what emotion you're feeling, and become more aware of your needs in a situation, helping you to ultimately tame your reactions," said the therapist.

Get to know thy body

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Young dancers dancing together in dancing studio

A healthy body can go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. "I am a huge exercise fan — it is the only 'magic' in medicine. It improves almost every health condition," said Gunter. "I think people should really strive for regular physical activity that is appropriate for their medical condition (you do not want to hurt yourself)."

How does your body like to move? Running, dancing, kickboxing, yoga? Find pleasure in movement and exercise will no longer feel like a struggle.

We all know about the spike in gym memberships in January, but if you don't like the gym, don't sweat it. If you love to dance, check out Zumba, or try out a dancing game on your kids' gaming system. Find a hiking, running or walking group if that's what brings you joy — especially since spending time in nature/exercising outdoors comes with additional benefits.

Start with the things you like, said Motta.

Put some gratitude in thine attitude

Many studies have touted the benefits of experiencing and expressing gratitude — including a greater sense of well-being, mental health, better learning and decision-making.

Start your year of gratitude by reflecting on the past year, or keep it small and go day-by-day. "One simple practice, introduced by Martin Seligman, is to ask yourself, "What went well, and why?" said psychotherapist Lewis, who teaches folks about the importance of gratitude.

By examining the "why," you can identify what mechanisms need to be in place to continue experiencing the good, and this helps you identify your strengths.

"For example, when you're at work, it can be helpful to identify a productive meeting that went well ... you might recognize more people interacted, so there were more ideas generated, and that made it productive," she said.

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A daily gratitude practice will help you feel good about yourself and your day.

Practicing gratitude also helps you notice the good around you, and in turn, you begin to see more goodness, kindness, and even begin to extend the kindness to others.

"It can be as simple as smiling at someone on the street and saying, 'Good morning,'" said Gunter.

Kindness has been shown in many research studies to positively affect our own well-being, even down to the level of our brain anatomy, as well as that of the recipient's.

Know thy nutrition mission

Keeping your body healthy means giving it the right fuel so it can help you achieve your goals. So, you have to spend some time paying attention to it, too. Do not look for another diet, look at your body, said Motta. Your body will tell you the things you like or don't like, observe when you get bloated, anxious, tired. See if there is a pattern in your eating habits. If you want to try a diet, consult a nutritionist whose job is to analyze patterns to see what works, and plan something that is suitable for you.

"Not everyone can be vegan, keto or whatever else is out there. Learn about the foods you eat, try to eat as clean as possible," said Motta.

"And stay away from fads," said Gunter. "The best eating plan is the one you can maintain. And stop with detoxes."

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