These expert-backed tips aren’t reserved for the beginning of the year.
Whatever you call it — a fresh start, clean slate, new beginning — there's something about starting anew that sounds very appealing. Even if you can't leave all of your cares behind, you can take steps forward and that's comforting. As we ring in the new year, that feeling is top-of-mind.
“Fresh starts give us permission to begin again — that no matter what happened in the past, we have an opportunity to make changes,” says Lia Avellino, LCSW, advisor of Head & Heart at THE WELL.
“We all want the chance to feel that we are progressing and evolving,” says Manjit Devgun, a meditation instructor at THE WELL New York. “It’s part of our innate human nature to be drawn to renewal: Our cells renew continuously, the day renews at sunrise, as do the weeks and months.”
“Fresh starts give us permission to begin again — that no matter what happened in the past, we have an opportunity to make changes”
If you feel extra motivated around the start of a new year, there’s a reason.
“We use time as a way to make sense of where we've been, where we are and where we are going,” adds Avellino. It’s what psychologists call the “fresh start effect.”
In other words: The new year is the perfect opportunity to lean into change. Luckily, “the opportunity to do things differently comes every moment, not every year,” says Avellino.
Below, leading experts share their best tips for making the most out of any new beginning — nurturing mind, body and soul in the process.
How to Make the Most Out of a Fresh Start
1. Take a Moment to Reflect
“Moving forward is a lot about the past,” says Avellino. “I like to think about the Ghanian tradition of Sankofa. It’s about going back to the past to take forward what is useful.”
Avellino recommends asking yourself: “What parts of the past do you want to carry forward, and what parts do you want to leave behind?”
“I pay attention to what remains unresolved in my heart — resentment, confusion, remorse, regrets,” says Avellino. “I tap into the courage to spend time in these uncomfortable places rather than being lured by the opportunity for freshness. For me, good, lasting change often comes from the muck.”
Ananta Ripa Ajmera, founder of The Ancient Way and advisor of Ayurveda at THE WELL, echoes this sentiment: “Working through our emotional resistances allows feelings to come to the surface of our awareness, where we can observe them, while no longer allowing them to stand in the way of making positive change in our lives.”
“Letting go often requires some form of forgiveness. This begins with forgiving ourselves,” says Avellino, who recommends asking yourself questions such as “What can you forgive yourself for? What shame are you asking to step aside so you can look at the emotions it helped you cover up?”
“Forgiving doesn't mean we are unaccountable for our behavior, but it allows us to approach our complicated selves honestly and with compassion,” she adds.
3. Reframe Language Around Resolutions
“Find a way to remind yourself that you want to do this — and that you choose to do this — because you want to feel a certain way, not because you have to or should,” says Oula. “The energy around ‘I have to’ or ‘I should’ is not empowering. It drains our energy.”
4. Focus On How You Want to Feel In the Future
Society lauds achievements and productivity, however, Avellino recommends shifting your focus towards how you want to feel rather than what you want to achieve.
“Many times we conflate behaviors or outcomes with identities,” says Avellino. “In order for intention setting to be effective, we first have to acknowledge what we are hoping to experience by meeting this intention. For example, if our intention is to be on our phone less, perhaps the underlying hope is to be more present. ‘I want to be thinner’ may really be about a desire for self- and social-acceptance.”
From there, the goal is level-setting within ourselves.
“Then, we have to take an honest look at what might make meeting that intention hard. What obstacles does real life provide and how might we navigate these obstacles?” says Avellino.
5. Find Your Support Group
“Research says that when we make changes it is most helpful to have social support, but many of us attempt to rely solely on our will,” says Avellino.
Think of it like this: “The spokes of a wheel work together to turn it and distribute the heavy weight — the more support we have, the more accountable and esteemed we feel,” she explains.
6. Tune Into Your Body’s Signals
“The best way to ensure that you are able to continue on your path to your intention is to tune into, not out of, the signals your body is constantly generating,” says Avellino. “Pay attention to sensation, magnitude and temperature of what's happening in your body over time.”
7. Schedule In Time to Move
Want to find more time to exercise? Come up with a game plan “that is achievable based on your time, energy and schedule,” and from there, “stay committed to it,” suggests Gail Barranda Rivas, an ACE-certified fitness instructor, functional strength coach and Mindful Movement teacher at THE WELL New York.
Pro tip: “You can even schedule it in as you would a work meeting or doctor’s appointment,” says Rivas.
And remember: Exercise goals don’t need to be lofty. In fact, doing too much too soon can actually set you back or cause injury.
“Aim small and build from there,” recommends Rivas. “Everyone starts off walking before they can run.”
8. Treat Exercise Like Self-Care
“You can’t take care of anything or anyone else unless you take care of yourself,” says Rivas. Meaning, whatever it takes to make sure you're in tip-top shape mentally and physically needs to be considered a priority, such as achieving any exercise goals.
Make working out "priority you time,” suggests Rivas. With that self-care mindset, moving your body becomes time well spent on your own.
Plus, exercise can be a form of meditation. For example, “a yoga practice is a complete way of supporting your body, mind and soul,” says New York-based yoga instructor Juan Gamboa.
9. Evoke the Power of the Sun
“In the Vedic spiritual tradition, we have many rituals around evoking the power of the sun,” says Ajmera. “The sun is a potent symbol of health, wealth, spiritual power, wisdom and the illuminating power of spiritual knowledge.”
As the sun begins its northern ascent in the sky in mid-January, Ajmera recommends connecting with its energy to feel strong going into the new year. This can be as simple as watching the sun rise and reflecting on “the power we have to rise above darker situations we've experienced in life, and to identify only with the light of the sun — symbolic of our eternal soul,” says Ajmera.
Another method: Practice sun salutations in the morning. “Welcoming the sun's presence into your life and allowing the sun to inspire each of your actions for the coming day helps guide you by the light of your highest consciousness to make choices that bring you abiding health and happiness,” explains Ajmera.
10. Make Time for Meditation
“Meditation not only alleviates the mind from obsessing in the past or future but it also allows for self inquiry,” says Devgun. “When we sit on our cushion and slow down the brain waves, we allow more room to access the subconscious mind.”
This process can actually shift and change your brain’s neural networks and improve cognitive function. “In a visualization meditation, you can mentally rehearse the emotions associated with the goals and ambitions that you wish to manifest for the new year,” explains Devgun.
11. Try a Cleansing Ceremony
“Incense has always been used to measure time, cleanse energy and space,” says Gagnon. “It is believed in many ancient traditions that infusing aromatic smoke with positive intentions is a way to send your prayers to the heavens and gods for manifestation.”
So, how can you do a cleansing ceremony at home?
“Start by opening a window in the home space, and burn incense on the opposite side of the home working your way towards the open window,” says Gagnon. “Watch the smoke move and infuse through your space and have a mantra or intentions which you repeat to yourself or out loud.”
“Next use the aromatic smoke to cleanse your own body, starting at your feet and working your way up to the crown of your head,” suggests Gagnon. “I opt for my most precious incense for cleansing ceremonies (such as agarwood), but also recommend burning palo santo, white sage leaf or other natural incense.”