How to Be a Better Person in the New Year
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Five Simple Shifts that Make a Difference in You—and the World
So many of us admit—at least to ourselves—that we want to be a better person. In fact, the number of Google searches for “be a better person” has been steadily increasing since 2004, and typically peaks around the holidays each year. Which makes sense, as so many people have self-improvement on their minds around the start of the year. In fact, “be a better person” was the most popular New Year’s resolution for the first time ever in 2017, according to a Marist poll (MaristPoll.Marist.edu/1222-being-a-better-person-tops-list-of-2017-resolutions).
But how can you take this big idea and make it doable? This is something that author, podcast host and personal development coach Kate Hanley thinks about on a daily basis. Here, she shares five simple but powerful ways to be a better person in 2020. Some you can do every day, while some are one-time events, but they all move the needle toward “better.”
Look People in the Eye
Something simple but powerful you can do every single day is to make it a point to look people in the eye. “Making eye contact is a tiny little thing that has a huge impact,” Hanley says. “It reminds you and the person you’re looking at that we are all in this together. It helps you feel the connection we all share to each other that’s easy to ignore or forget about when you’re in your own little world.” You won’t always have time to volunteer or money to give, but you always have your attention and you can offer that to others.
Start a Compost Bin
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, one person who composts saves a half pound of food waste from going to the landfill every day. For a family of four, that’s 2 pounds a day—more than 700 pounds a year! Plus, compost enriches the soil, so you’re not just reducing waste, you’re giving back to the Earth. “A cool thing about composting is it helps you be more aware of what you’re eating, too,” Hanley says. “You’ll be able to see at a glance how many fruits and vegetables you’re consuming, which will help you remember to prioritize the whole stuff and less of the packaged stuff.”
Make One Vacation a Staycation
One round-trip flight from the East Coast to the West Coast generates 20% of the greenhouse gasses that your car emits in a full year. For this reason, the biggest impact one individual can have on greenhouse gasses is to take fewer airplane trips. So how can you vacation without travel? Staycation! Give yourself days off at home and enjoy the sights in your area that you never have time to visit. It will be a vacation that you won’t need a vacation to recover from (and one you won’t need to save and/or go into debt for either).
Give More Positive Reviews
In today’s world of social media, it’s easier than it’s ever been to act on the impulse to complain about something, whether it’s a product you bought or service you’ve received. “Having a phone in your hand makes it so enticing to really let ‘er rip when you’re angry,” Hanley says.
Another reason it’s so tempting to fire off a negative review is that our brains are hardwired to look for problems. It’s called the negativity bias, and it’s what helped us remember well which berries made us sick when we were living on the savannas. But now it makes us remember negative things more than positive ones.
“If we want to be more peaceful in our lives and with other people, we have to push back against the negativity bias,” Hanley says. She suggests challenging yourself to leave more positive reviews—and that includes giving more positive feedback to your loved ones and colleagues. “It will help you remember to look for the experiences that go well. And what we focus on grows.”
Admit Your Missteps
Everyone makes mistakes. Even you. It’s what you do after the mistake that is an opportunity to be a better person. “Our first reaction is typically to hide something we did wrong, but owning up to a mistake is freeing because you no longer have to expend energy on trying to ignore it or justifying your actions,” Hanley says. “On top of that, you’re going to create an opportunity for connection with the people affected by your mistake.”
How do you do it? Hanley suggests saying something simple, like: “You know how I did or said that thing? I messed up. I’m sorry. I wish I would have handled that differently.”
“I can’t promise it will lead to a big heart to heart,” Hanley says. “You might only get a nod or a shrug. It still matters. You’re still modeling the behavior you’d like to receive.” And that’s what being a better person is all about—being the change you wish to see.
Kate Hanley is the author of How to Be a Better Person; Stress Less; A Year of Daily Calm; and The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide. She is also the host of the How to Be a Better Person podcast, a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter, and a personal development coach. Connect at KateHanley.com or on Twitter @KateHan.