Whether you’ve resolved to live healthier, nurture your inner creativity, curb your addiction to hand-held devices or communicate more effectively, chances are you could use a little help. Let the wisdom contained in these six new books expertly guide you to New Year’s resolution success in 2014.

A new take on baby steps

In Small Move, Big Change, Caroline Arnold introduces the “microresolution,” a pint-sized action that leads to long-term gain in the areas of losing weight and becoming kinder, more organized, fiscally solvent and more. Since you’re advised to work on only two microresolutions at a time, the adjustment to each new habit has time to sink in before you move on to the next. Framing goals in positive language helps, too. Arnold’s attempts to stop speed-eating finally bore fruit when she quit harping on her bad habit, resolving instead to “savor” each meal.

The idea of breaking a task into smaller units isn’t new, but Arnold’s intent is to help readers see the futility of merely resolving to “be nicer” (nicer than who?), and instead live that goal with small, structured actions, like complimenting your spouse at least once a day.

Not only are these small projects relatively easy, but they seem fun as well, since each one has to be tailored to your own schedule, habits and idiosyncrasies or it will likely fail. If there’s a habit you’ve been pushing against without a breakthrough, check out Small Move, Big Change. Reading it may be one of the last macroresolutions you ever make.

—Heather Seggel

Living wisely, your whole life through

In A Short Guide to a Long Life, David B. Agus, author of The End of Illness and a prominent oncologist and biomedical researcher, distills his rules for living wisely into three sections—What to Do, What to Avoid and Doctor’s Orders—that contain a total of 65 ways to use preventive measures to achieve a better, healthier, longer life.

While that number may sound daunting, readers are likely following some of the rules already, such as “Grow a Garden,” “Cohabitate” or “Smile.” More challenging suggestions include “Find Out What Exercise or Activity You’re Bad at and Focus on It.” Agus’ reasoning: This challenges the body and brain, thus strengthening them—and it might turn out to be fun, too.

The doctor also offers food for thought via his take on vitamins (he’s not a proponent and recommends getting nutrients from food instead) and the importance of sussing out chronic inflammation through, say, better dental hygiene, taking a baby aspirin and a statin, and wearing comfortable shoes. Ultimately, while readers will have heard some of these rules before, perhaps even from their own mothers—“Strengthen Your Core and Maintain Good Posture” sounds a lot like “stand up straight!”—Agus explains how and why adhering to these edicts will work.

The truly motivated will appreciate the “Doctor’s Orders” section, which contains health-centric to-do lists organized by decade, plus top 10 lists covering everything from causes of death to useful websites. Throughout, Agus emphasizes the importance of being informed about one’s own health via exams, tests, measurements and even using devices and/or apps to track personal data over time.

—Linda Castellitto

Whoa, mother!

Rachel Macy Stafford lost two years of her children’s lives—not because she was deathly ill or away on a trip around the world, but because she was living distracted, struggling to find the energy to walk up her stairs at night, much less spend meaningful time with the small ones she loved most. To top it off, she was addicted to her phone and checked it compulsively. Sound familiar?

Stafford had what she calls her “breakdown break-through” moment while on a run and came home to scrawl a sort of manifesto on the back on envelope. Part of it reads, “Turn off the music in the car. Sit next to your child as she plays. Lie in bed with her after you say goodnight.” Such was the beginning of Stafford’s dramatic reorientation. Activities she used to regard as time wasters became, in her new economy, treasures she dubbed “Sunset Moments.” And now this “Hands Free Mama” (so named because she’s no longer chained to her devices) is calling others to join her.

If you feel like life is moving too fast and you are missing out on the most important things, this is a book that will encourage you to slow down and refashion your life. The 12 chapters, designed to be read one-per-month, bear titles like “Choose What Matters” and “Remember Life Is Precious.” Stafford’s message couldn’t be more timely and is at once convincing and encouraging.

—Kelly Blewett

Seven days, whole new you

Much of the advice in Younger Next Week is of the tried-and-true variety. If you want to look healthy and, perhaps more importantly, feel good, pulling all-nighters and eating a whole pizza at one sitting are not going to cut it. More water, less couch time, better sleep, a few blueberries and more attention to your real-life social network are all part of the plan here. But Younger Next Week has a secret weapon: author Elisa Zied.

Zied has provided health and fitness commentary on a slew of morning shows and knows her subject inside and out. It’s impressive that she can make truisms that we all know, yet seldom act upon, sound both accessible and fun. When trying to beat a craving, she advises stocking the house with healthy alternatives before the urge strikes: “Deciding whether to give in to a craving or satisfy it during the craving is like trying to draft a prenuptial agreement while in flagrante delicto.”

The book is peppered with delicious recipes (White bean and kale soup? Definitely making that!), easy exercise suggestions and ­“stressipes,” quick tips and to-dos to keep you on track. The diet portion of the plan is surprisingly liberal, emphasizing whole grains and fresh fruit and veggies, but also making room for russet potatoes, lean beef, milk, eggs and treats in moderation.

Zied gets bonus points for not demonizing any single food item. Sidebars labeled “Do It or Ditch It” look at artificial sweeteners, processed meats and other ingredients known to pose health risks. She lays out the evidence but acknowledges that virtually anything is OK as long as you limit your indulgences and enjoy them to the fullest.

The ideas laid out in Younger Next Week take just seven days to implement, but they’re the kind of changes you will likely want to stick with for the long haul.

—Heather Seggel

Quit biting your tongue

Anyone who’s ever thought, “Why didn’t I speak up?” or, conversely, “I can’t believe I said that!” will benefit from Carl Alasko’s Say This, Not That: A Foolproof Guide to Effective Interpersonal Communication. With this new book, the psychothera­pist and author of the dramatically named Emotional Bullshit wants to help readers dial down the drama at home, at work and wherever well-stated, well-timed statements could help turn a potentially negative situation into a positive, even productive, one.

Drawing from 25 years of experience, Alasko acknowledges that while knowing whywe react a certain way is important, knowing what to say in the moment is even more useful. He wants to help readers “carefully choose words and . . . adopt nonthreatening gestures” that lead to better communication.

The book’s six sections—Dating, Long-Term Relationships, Parenting, Friendships, Workplace and Everyday Situations—contain scenarios and scripts. Alasko has an accessible, to-the-point writing style, and possible responses, reminders (“Be strategic”) and insight (“There’s no negotiating with authentic . . . passive-aggressive behavior. The only strategy is to avoid any form of dependence.”) will boost preparedness and confidence, whether dealing with a chronically late carpooler, a financially oblivious partner or a gossipy neighbor. Alasko believes “Saying the most effective words in the right moment is a skill that can be learned,” and with his guidance, it’s absolutely do-able.

—Linda Castellitto

The power of the paintbrush

Painting Your Way Out of a Corner delivers on its promise of “a new twist on journaling with brushstrokes instead of words.” Like its written counterpart, a painting journal can offer stress relief, along with avenues for personal growth, inspiration and healing. This concise how-to manual for expressing yourself in watercolors also offers a scholarly exploration of the unconscious mind and its relationship to the creative process.

An artist and art educator in New York City, Barbara Diane Barry has drawn on many years of research and practice. She adheres to the Jungian theory of a “collective consciousness,” and this rich reservoir, she explains, combined with our own individual experiences and sense memories, provides a huge image “library” within our brains.

Barry’s “unplanned painting” method evolved as she faced her own creative or emotional “corners.” Seeking a means of a combating her inner critic and alleviating the fears that sometimes stymied her work, she tried out various media, ultimately discovering the “looseness, flow, and sense of play” she was seeking in the fluidity of watercolor paints. As she points out, the results are fresh, spontaneous and sometimes surprising.

Painting Your Way Out of a Corner offers plenty of starter exercises, step-by-step guidance and many of Barry’s own journal paintings as examples and inspiration.

—Linda Stankard

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