How to Make Small Lifestyle Changes

Experts share their favorite sleep, fitness, beauty and cooking advice.

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Now that February is upon us, many people will reflect on their New Year’s resolutions as a thing of the past – maybe soon to be completely forgotten. There could be many reasons for this. Personally, I think one of the biggest reasons people don’t stick with their intentions is that they set the bar too high. They try and make too many changes too quickly, ultimately setting themselves up to fail.

Mind you, when I talk about changes, I’m not only referring to those related to food. Sure, I wrote the book “The Small Change Diet,” and I’m a huge advocate of making small changes in our diets. But I think making small changes can apply to everything we do in our lives. The old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” certainly is apropos when it comes to making lifestyle changes. What’s important is not how fast we change, but rather how long we can keep it up.

When I counsel my patients, sleep, fitness, cooking, skincare and beauty are the most common areas (besides food) they want to improve every year. So I asked the experts in these fields: “If you were going to recommend small changes to someone, what would they be?” These are their very helpful answers:

Sleep

Michael Grandner, an instructor of psychiatry and member of the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania, says: 

1. “If you are having trouble falling asleep at the beginning of the night, or if you wake up and can't get back to sleep, one of the simplest things you can do is get out of bed. This will help strengthen the 'bed equals sleep' connection – not “bed equals awake.'"

I really need to listen to that. 

2. “Staying in bed when you are not sleeping trains your brain to be awake in bed instead of asleep. Break this cycle by getting out of bed and trying again a little later, after 30 to 60 minutes. When you get up, do something sort of boring, and avoid bright light.” 

Note to self: Do not get up and watch more episodes of “Justifed.”

3. “Before you head off to bed (or even better, in the middle of the day or early evening), take a minute to simply sit and give yourself the chance to think and worry about whatever is on your mind. If it's something you can solve – great. If not, jot it down to deal with later. It's OK if you make lists. That way, you can clear your mind before getting into bed. And if the thoughts come when you lay down, you can tell yourself, 'I already took care of it or made a note, and even if I didn't, I will give myself time to take care of it tomorrow.'"

I keep a notepad by my bed. 

4. “If you don't think you're getting enough sleep, but can't find that extra hour or two in the day, just try going to bed 10 to 15 minutes earlier than usual. Try this for a week or two, and if you are able to fill that time with sleep (as opposed to spending an extra 10 to 15 minutes awake in bed), try giving yourself another 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse and repeat until you get to where you want to be. This is usually a lot more manageable, and the gradual increase in sleep time is probably easier on your body as well.” 

[Read: Trouble Sleeping? Ask Yourself Why.]

Fitness

Ashley Borden, a trainer, fitness and lifestyle consultant based in Los Angeles, says:

1. "Ask yourself, 'What is my physical passion?' What have you always wanted to learn, or maybe start up again? Do you love dancing? Always wanted to learn soccer? It’s never too late to start! Remove your ego, grab a friend and go for it! Community centers, gyms and even schools offer classes that wont break the bank. Any time you challenge your body with new movement patterns, it revs up your metabolic rate, stimulates your mind and instills a great feeling of accomplishment."

2. "Start small and layer your goals. Give yourself time to adapt to new a regimen (even if seems simple). For instance; if you are power-walking four times a week after dinner, commit to that for two weeks. Then, the next two weeks, commit to walking four times a week after dinner, and visit the gym two times a week – once during the week and once on the weekend. Make the new add-ons small, and you will soon be surprised at all the healthy habits you've created."

I tell my patients, one day a week is far better than no days; you have to start somewhere.

[Read: No Gym Necessary: 4 Anywhere-Exercises.]

Cooking

Ellie Krieger, a registered dietitian and "Food Network" host, as well as the author of "Weeknight Wonders: Delicious Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less," says:

1. "Don't feel like you have to dive in and cook every night all of a sudden. Instead, choose one or two recipes a week that look easy and inspiring to you. After a month, you'll have a solid base for a whole new culinary repertoire."

For many of my patients, the fewer ingredients, the more likely they are to give it a try.

2. "Fish can be one of the fastest, easiest proteins to cook, but it intimidates a lot of people. When learning to cook fish, start with salmon, which is more forgiving, since it won't overcook as easily as other types of fish. Just grill it on medium, or bake it at 400 degrees for 10 minutes per inch of thickness at its thickest point."

If you don’t like fish, trust me: Chicken is pretty easy, too.

[Read: How to Cook for One.]

Skincare

Renee Rouleau, a celebrity esthetician with practices in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, says:

1. "If you're just beginning anti-aging treatments, incorporate a product with glycolic acid. Studies show that glycolic acid (the most effective of the alpha hydroxyl acids) helps reduce past sun damage, smooth and soften the skin, fade post-breakout marks, reduce clogged pores and breakouts, and increase the cell turnover rate. Moisturizers and cleansers that contain glycolic acid won't always do the trick. To keep any type of skin looking beautiful, incorporate an alcohol-free, pure glycolic acid serum into your nightly skin care routine."

2. "If you aren’t already, wear a moisturizer with SPF 365 days a year, rain or shine, inside and out. Studies indicate that 78 percent of the sun exposure you get in a lifetime is incidental exposure. You may say, 'I'm not out at all during the day.' Just walking to your car, driving in your car and sitting in your house next to windows will subject you to unnecessary sun damage. Windshields do nothing to protect you from UV rays. And we know that sun exposure is the No. 1 cause of aging. A minimum of SPF No. 15 should be used every day, no matter what month it is."

Yay, I'm already doing this. It's really so simple!

3. "Get a professional facial – think of these as maintenance for the health of your skin. As it ages, circulation and metabolism slow down, resulting in tired and dull-looking skin. One of the benefits of a facial is increased circulation and oxygen, which leads to healthy, glowing skin."

[Read: The Best Foods For Your Skin.]

Beauty

Lauren Cosenza, a beauty expert and professional makeup artist based in New York, says:

1. "Apply skincare with the brush you'll use to apply your foundation. It primes the bristles, and the application will look more natural. Not like makeup over skin – but actual product fused with skin (that second-skin effect)."

2. "Focus on the feature you want to highlight, not hide. Once you enhance that area, the eye will be drawn there, and you may not have to spend as much time concealing or correcting elsewhere."

Love this positive-thinking approach.

3. "Makeup over makeup over makeup ends up looking heavy and cakey – not to mention, it ages skin. Use blotting papers rather than reapplying powder to eliminate shine. Just press and lift the tissue to keep product placement intact."

Please note: do not try and tackle all of these at once. Otherwise, they will not longer feel like small changes, but rather very big ones.

[Read: 10 Best Foods for Your Hair.]