How to Make Better New Year’s Resolutions

It’s January 2nd and nothing has really changed from two days ago. This is fine, though, and maybe even predictable—I am pretty bad at keeping New Year’s Resolutions. Every year, I put an immense amount of pressure on myself to improve and become the person I’ve been hoping to be, only to forget my resolutions or beat myself up for not keeping them. This year, I realized that most of my resolutions have failed because:

  1. I make vague resolutions that I can’t act on.
  2. My resolutions lack intentionality.

I am trying to make better New Year’s Resolutions (and resolutions all year long) by addressing these issues. I’m not making any formal resolutions, but I am resolving to pursue goals with intent and a step-wise approach.

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result

For the last 6 years, I have made a resolution to lose weight in the New Year. I’ve taken different, yet ineffective strategies to do so. I’ve given up chocolate (lasted 5 days), counted calories (maybe a month), and stuck to an exercise routine (long enough to get sore). The issue with the resolution “lose weight” is that I never really created steps to do so, but more importantly, the intention behind this resolution had very little to do with my weight and a lot to do with my self-esteem. I only realized this after I reached this “goal weight” unintentionally and still noticed that there were things I didn’t like. The weight wasn’t the issue.

My other resolutions have often come with similarly vague plans and uncertain outcomes. I don’t think I’m alone in this. A lot of us have failed resolutions, but giving up on New Year’s Resolutions is almost an expectation at this point, so we make them with the prior basis that they probably won’t happen.

My path to better New Year’s Resolutions

Clarifying Vague Resolutions

I think this one is the easier step in making better New Year’s Resolutions. Making vague resolutions gives us an out. If there’s no way to track the steps we’ve made, or make the goal specific enough to feel accountable, there’s nothing holding us to it.

This is different for everyone, so I’m not going into details about it. What works for me might not work for other people, and there are a million different productivity tools/apps/etc that can help you to figure this out. Find what works for you, and use it. Don’t get too caught up in the technicality of inputting this information, and actually do the thing.

I think a lot of us have probably have the idea of SMART goals drilled into our heads, but I do think that at least an offshoot of this helps us to not fall off track. If a goal doesn’t have steps, is poorly defined, or is a really-long term plan, sometimes it seems too big to start (or just big enough to be easily abandoned).

I’ve said in the past, “I want to work on my mental health” . This really meant “I want to better manage stress” but this is still not specific enough for me to actually do anything about it. There’s probably 10 resolutions that could be wrapped up in this one.

I want to learn about meditation. I want to go to therapy regularly. I want to continue my work with CBT to reduce my anxiety that usually amplifies any smaller-scale stressors. I want to stretch enough so my body doesn’t hurt and carry the tension from stress. All of these might seem too small scale, but I feel much more confident in my ability to apply these smaller resolutions than just to magically improve my mental health with sheer willpower.

Finding Intentionality

One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to be more intentional in general.

A way I am doing this is by tracking my time. I’m not making schedules, but every time I set out to do something, I’m doing it with a purpose. If I’m taking out my phone, it might be to check Instagram, but I want to make sure that I am taking out my phone with the intent to do so and not just to fill my lizard brain’s desire for a dopamine rush.

Tracking my time at the end of the day/week/whatever helps me hold myself accountable- when I realize that I’m spending significant periods of time just kind of… floating around, then it makes it easier for me to not do that moving forward.

This doesn’t mean I won’t relax or won’t take it slow sometimes, but that in making the decision to do so, I don’t feel that weird pang of guilt for spending time relaxing. I am making the choice to relax, and giving myself the grace to do what feels good in the moment.

Applying intentionality to all aspects of my life means that I will make the choice everyday to achieve the goals I’ve set out to do. If one day, a specific resolution is escaping me, it’s okay, and I recognize that not everything is achievable within the span of a day or hour or even a month.

Intentionality is the best coping strategy I’ve found for identifying and stopping the stress and worry I feel about not being productive or failing to achieve my goals. Sure, I might still feel crappy about spending a lot of time on tasks I’m not exactly thrilled about, but putting it into the greater context allows me to focus my intentions on what I can do with the remainder of my time.

A final note

Nothing is new in the new year. The Gregorian calendar is weird anyway. I don’t like counting on my knuckles to figure out how many days are in a month, not to mention that this doesn’t even work for February because a Roman king believed even numbered months were unlucky. (Personally, I really like the French Republican calendar and wish the world would have taken to this one like they took to the metric system.)

My point is—nothing is special about January 1st. For us to collectively perceive a fresh start and the possibilities that come with it is totally valid, but it doesn’t need to happen for these “I’m changing my life now” decisions to be made. Whether you start this today or on any random day, it really does not matter.

My resolutions for this year

One more thing that tends to help me keep my resolutions—public accountability and honesty. By putting them here on my website, they’re visible for others, and also hold me accountable to be honest about when I succeed/when I don’t.

  • Get proficient enough in Spanish to have a conversation with someone about professional topics (and conjugate my verbs with a passable amount of proficiency)
  • Plan out meals + grocery shopping for the week so I don’t end up scrambling at 7:00 pm, playing Chopped with the ingredients in my own fridge.
  • Stop loafing around in bed for 30 minutes before finally getting up on weekdays.
  • Publish consistent blog posts on a variety of subjects and pursue new avenues to publish my writing in various contexts.
  • Learn about wine: what I like/don’t like, how it’s made, the science behind it, regions, etc.

None of these are particularly challenging or over-ambitious. I like this. I thought about putting down “publish my book” but just the very thought of that invokes a little bit of panic. I’m doing things because I want to and I like to, not to give myself unnecessary stress over deadlines I created for myself. Making better New Year’s Resolutions isn’t necessarily about making ones that will transform me as a human, but about taking those intentional, progressive steps towards small goals that I will actually follow through on.

If you want an accountability partner, message me your goals on Instagram or comment here. I’ll check back in every few months and we can chat about where we’re at.