As far as ages go, 26 isn’t much of a year. The only real milestone you hit at 26 in the United States is getting kicked off your parents’ health insurance (if you were lucky enough to have been included in their plan). That’s not much to celebrate. Beyond that, turning 26 just means that you’re closer to 30 than 20, and, if you’re anything like me, probably stuck in a good ol’ quarter-life crisis.
I enjoy my birthday as a celebration of surviving another trip around the sun, but I generally don’t like to make any particular goals for the year ahead. Sure, I had general hopes for my 26th year — make some career moves, meet someone cool and maybe make them my partner, travel more — but I’m not one to put pressure on myself to accomplish some big life goal by a certain date. However, as my friends started getting big promotions and flashing engagement rings on Instagram, I was feeling the pressure to get my shit together and become a Real Adult. Whatever that means.
As my 27th birthday looms and I reflect on the last year of my life, I’ve realized that I’m pretty much in the same place I was in last year. I’m still in the same job, still on (several) dating apps, and still don’t have a master’s degree. But despite this, it year has been a year of growth for me, much of which is thanks to a few healthy habits I’ve picked up. Many of them are simple things I’ve integrated into my daily routine, which is something I really haven’t had since high school.
At first, some of these behaviors seemed pretty inconsequential. How much would my life really change if I remembered to take my vitamins every morning? Ultimately, though, they keep me grounded when life feels like it’s getting to be Too Much. Some days are better than others: sometimes I’m too exhausted (physically or emotionally) to do any of these things. But then I remember that doing one little thing, like making my bed or even flossing, can act as a rope to pull me out of whatever hole I’ve dug myself into.
Without further ado, here are 10 habits and behaviors I’ve picked up this year that have made a huge difference in the quality of my life.
1. Flossing. This is really the habit that started it all. Flossing has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I have a bonded retainer on my bottom teeth, so it takes a little extra time and effort for me to floss. After getting berated by my dental hygienist once again for not flossing regularly (and seeing the amount of blood I spit up during my cleaning), I decided to give it a try and commit to flossing at least on weekdays. Even through busy periods, I’ve managed to stick with it and have seen a big improvement in my gum health. It’s also just nice to take some extra time to take care of myself at night. The act is almost meditative and helps me wind down before I go to bed.
2. Tracking cash transactions in Mint. I’ve been using Mint to stay on top of my spending and budget for years, but I’ve rarely included cash transactions in my tracking. This leads to me almost treating cash like Monopoly money that doesn’t really count, and wondering where it all went when my wallet is empty once again. Tracking my cash spending gives me a better idea of exactly where that money is going and gives me a fuller picture of my spending habits overall. Spoiler alert: most of it’s going to food.
3. Meal prepping. I live and work in New York City where $12 salads are as ubiquitous as subway delays. Even the less expensive options add up when you’re going out for lunch five days a week. In an effort to save some money (and eat healthier in general), I decided to try meal prepping this year. It doesn’t always happen on a Sunday (and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all), but investing in some good containers and preparing a few simple lunches and breakfasts helps my work days run more smoothly and saves me a ton of money. I’ll take some of my own homemade chili over a sad, overpriced salad any day.
4. Making my bed. When I make my bed in the morning, my day has officially begun. There’s no possibility of me getting back in and going back to sleep — I have to get moving and start my day. And no matter how crazy my day was, when I come home to a space that’s more or less in order, I feel instantly grounded. Plus, sliding into a made bed is so much more relaxing than spending five minutes trying to reorganize my sheets when I just want to pass out. Make your beds, kids.
5. Taking vitamins. Do they do anything to actually improve my health? Who’s to say. But do I feel better having taken them? One hundred percent yes. I’ve also only gotten one cold this year. Coincidence? I think not.
6. Calling it a night when it’s time to call it a night. In college and the immediate years post-graduation, I would regularly stay out to three in the morning out of sheer FOMO. I was always the last to leave a party even if I wasn’t having that great of a time. These days, I know that when I’m not feeling particularly social, my bed is better than any loud bar in the city. So when my bed calls, I answer.
7. Regular-ish workouts I really love. Despite being one of the least athletic people on the planet, I actually don’t hate working out. But I’m also a fairly busy person, and if there’s something in my schedule that can be put off or canceled entirely in exchange for Netflix time, I will absolutely do that. Committing to a group exercise class makes it hard for me to back out of working out and ensures that I work some movement into my day. I’ve tried a lot of classes over the years, but a combination of yoga and boxing keep me balanced and sleeping like a baby once 10:30 rolls around.
8. Bullet journaling. My bullet journal does not contain any fun illustrations or cool lettering or any colors at all (who has the time?). It’s just a simple way for me to track what I have to do each day, what my week looks like, and various other things. It’s hardly Instagram-worthy, but it’s made me 1000% more productive and helps me really visualize what’s on my plate. For anyone who wants to dip their toe into the world of bullet journaling, I highly recommend this video from How To ADHD.
9. Distancing myself from people that make me feel terrible. I’ve met a lot of amazing people in my nearly 27 years on earth. Unfortunately, I’ve also met a lot of people who just zap all my energy. It’s never fun to realize that you need to distance yourself from someone, but it shows a lot of maturity. This year, I’ve been working on getting clearer with my boundaries and taking more time for myself when I need it.
10. Using free time to get things done instead of just napping. This summer, I’ve used almost all of my Summer Fridays (a true gift from my employer) in the most boring way possible. Instead of traveling or day drinking or wandering around the city, I’ve spent my afternoons off getting a head start on laundry and just generally crossing things off my to-do list. My laundromat has somewhat limited hours, so this saves me from scrambling to get everything done before the place shuts down on Sundays. It’s not particularly glamorous, but going into the weekend knowing that my laundry’s taken care of is a great gift to myself.
I hope to make more progress towards my big goals this year (or just get a better idea of what those goals look like), and I definitely think that having these habits in place will help. They all seem like such little things, but they’re providing me with structure as I work on figuring out the big things. Taking up flossing may not lead to me landing the job of my dreams, but at least my gums are healthy.
Image via Unsplash