By Zahra Barnes
This year, do more good by doing less bad.
If you’re jonesing to give your life a major upgrade in 2018—and beyond—setting a few doable goals is the first step. That means nixing bad habits that may be sabotaging your progress in addition to promising to do more stuff that’s good for your health. Out with the old, in with the new, right? In that vein, experts discuss 10 of the most harmful habits you should leave behind in 2017.
- Spending too much time on the couch.
While downtime is good for both your body and mind, too much of it can be damaging. “People living a sedentary lifestyle tend to be less healthy,” women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF.
As a general rule, you should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or some combination in between.
You should also be strength training, because it’s great for your bones, muscles, and health in general (it’s also an effective way to help increase your metabolism, if weight loss happens to be one of your goals). Aim for at least two days of strength training per week. To see exactly how to fit it all in, here’s what a perfect week of working out looks like.
- Regularly drinking your way into a hangover.
Drinking a lot is a clear (if enjoyable) way to compromise your health. Moderate drinking is one drink a day for women, and heavy drinking is around eight or more per week, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Routinely blowing past these parameters can lead to issues such as weight gain, unintentional injuries like falls, and chronic diseases like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, and various cancers.
But! It’s not all bad news. Moderate drinking—while perhaps not the magical good-for-you habit that we’ve been led to believe—can be a perfectly fine thing to do, if you want to do it. Just understand that it’s probably not benefitting your health, and drinking too much can have detrimental effects.
- Starting a strict diet, then falling off the wagon time and time again.
Yo-yo dieting is the result of routinely embarking upon diets that are too restrictive. When you inevitably dive into a pile of food, you’ll eventually gain back any weight you lost, and your baseline weight will inch up bit by bit, Wider explains. “It’s much better to adopt habits that will sustain a healthy weight—you don’t want to always be looking to lose weight,” she says. Plus, yo-yo dieting can have longterm effects on your health; studies have linked yo-yo dieting (repeatedly gaining and losing a significant amount of weight) to chronic issues like heart disease, stress, and high blood pressure.
But if you do want to lose weight and keep it off for good, it’s about building your life around eating patterns that aren’t rooted in deprivation, even though extreme cleanses and quick fixes might sound more appealing. They just don’t work—here’s what does.
- Using electronics before bed.
You already know you should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. Putting a moratorium on before-bed Instagram scrolling will help you turn in for the night more quickly, sure. But it can also help you get better quality Zs, Wider says, by lowering your exposure to sleep-disturbing blue light, which can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Most sleep experts recommend finishing any screen time at least 20 minutes before you’re ready for bed.
Quitting smoking: Easier said than done? Yes. Completely, utterly worth it? Also yes, Wider (and every expert worth their salt) says. Smoking lowers life expectancy in many terrible ways, including boosting your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and cancers anywhere else in the body, and issues like emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
E-cigarettes aren’t exempt. According to the American Lung Association, “Initial studies show that e-cigarettes contain nicotine and also may add in other harmful chemicals, including carcinogens and lung irritants.” So make this the year you finally quit. Here are seven things that can make it easier to quit smoking cold turkey.
- Comparing yourself to others on social media.
“Watching other people put forward manufactured lives on social media can leave you feeling bad about yourself, so you want to limit that,” Wider says. But social media can also give your happiness a lift by keeping you connected with people you love and admire.
It’s not about scrubbing your phone of all things social, but browsing mindfully. Know that no one’s life is really what it seems on social media, and remind yourself of that whenever you start to feel down (then go do something that helps you remember all the kickass parts of your own life). Also, maybe unfollow those accounts that always, without fail, leave you feeling like chewed gum stuck on the underside of a table.
- Convincing yourself that everything you worry about will happen.
Worrying yourself into a mental tizzy is one of those common, sneaky bad habits most people indulge in without realizing it. But too much stress can have a negative effect on your health, leading to chronic conditions like heart disease, a suppressed immune system, or insomnia. “If you want to live a long, happy life, rein in the things that cause stress, like worrying,” Christine Carter, Ph.D., senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of The Sweet Spot: How To Find Your Groove At Home And Work, tells SELF.
“Anything you’re worrying about is usually just a thought, and here’s the funny thing: It’s not necessarily true,” Carter says. Take a moment to breathe, be present, and ask yourself if there’s any logical basis to your worry, Carter says. That should help you separate fact from unnecessary fiction. And if it still feels like your tendency to worry is unmanageable, reach out to a mental health professional for help.
- Complaining non-stop.
Although it’s counterproductive, complaining actually feels great. “If things feel out of control, it tricks your brain into thinking you’re doing something about it,” Carter says. “But you’re not fixing anything when you complain.” You’re actually priming your brain to only look for the bad instead of the good: “Your brain doesn’t register everything in your environment; you train it to look for relevant patterns. When you complain, you train your brain to look for patterns in things you don’t like,” Carter explains.
When you catch yourself complaining, redirect your attention to something good about the situation, or start working on a plan to change what isn’t up to par. “It doesn’t necessarily mean accepting what you don’t like, but training your brain to look for things you appreciate,” Carter says.
- Using distractions to numb your negative emotions.
“Every time you feel uncomfortable, the world offers you a host of ways to numb that discomfort. You can check Facebook endlessly, eat a pound of brownies, or have a couple of cocktails,” Carter says. Instead of actually cutting down anxiety or sadness, these tactics just bury those emotions so they can stew and eventually erupt.
You also can’t pick and choose what you’re numbing. To truly experience happiness, you have to let yourself experience the less shiny side of the coin sometimes and work on better coping habits for stress, like these. If you’ve tried these habits and nothing is helping calm your anxiety, you may want to try talking to a mental health professional for more effective ways to treat and cope with anxiety.
- Making outsize goals that are hard to achieve.
This might sound incongruous after all of the above, but it actually meshes perfectly. “There’s a misconception that if you set a goal, you can achieve it through willpower. But humans change very slowly and incrementally, and people try to change too much too fast,” Carter says.
Instead of setting overly ambitious goals, take small steps and introduce change slowly so you can form the neural pathways that are essential in cementing habits, Carter says. Once you succeed at those, you can take on larger goals from there. If you’re setting a resolution this year, aim for something that is attainable, so you’re more apt to stick to the changes that will help you get there.