Writing New Year’s Resolutions

Hand holding a sparkler with a sunset in the background.
Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

It seems that every January 2nd I realize I have already blown my New Year’s resolutions or forgot to make any at all. I’m not alone. Only about 40% of Americans make resolutions each year, and 80% of us fail by the second week of February. Our reasons for not setting or achieving annual goals vary, but most of us make the same kinds of mistakes: Not sharing our intentions with friends and family to gain external motivators; setting goals that are too difficult to achieve; or setting goals that are downright uninspiring.

This year I decided to take a different tack. Here are my five strategies for writing new year’s resolutions that inspire me—and that I think I can stick to!

1. Make it SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.

If you’ve worked on your professional development recently, you’ve probably encountered the concept of SMART goals. But SMART isn’t just a buzzword. It’s an extremely useful, actionable way to think about what you want to do—and how you know success when you see it.

SMART goals stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.” As I was thinking about writing my new year’s resolutions, “Learn French” or “Exercise more” just wasn’t going to cut it. Instead, I needed to think about things like “achieve 30-day unbroken streak on Duolingo” or “run a half marathon in September.”

2. Incorporate it into my day job.

Here’s where I’m letting my work responsibilities serve to improve myself as well. In this case, I’ve carved out an hour each week on my calendar for a standing appointment to stay current on best practices in our industry, and I created a forum to share insights and engage in discussions with my team on our project management platform and department meetings.

Moz Whiteboard videos aren’t just for Fridays anymore!

3. Keep it where I’m already looking.

“Put it where you’ll look for it.” This was one of the best pieces of organization and time management advice I’ve received in a long time. In other words, whatever system works for you, use it.

Pen and paper? Great, do it.

gCal and appointment reminders? Rock on.

A printout of your week’s priorities and appointments that you keep in your short pocket? Go for it!

I’ve used a paper planner since the seventh grade and still keep all my personal life organized in a little leather Filofax. I help maintain work-life balance by managing all my work events and activities in Google calendar.

I realized I just need to play by the rules of the system that works for me.

Before I realized the value of letting myself use these separate methods that work for me, I was regularly trying to combine the two. But every time I’d get “smart” and digitize a personal event on my personal Google Calendar or populate a work event on my personal planner, I ended up arriving late—or worse, not making it at all.

Instead of trying to force myself to comply with what I thought would be a better system, I realized I just need to play by the rules of the system that works for me. Now, that weekly appointment on my work calendar for professional development contains my full list of resolutions, and I’ve paired my Filofax bookmark with a condensed reminder of my resolutions.

No matter where I look, there I am. As is my reminder that I resolve to eat a salad (or leafy greens) every day.

4. Tie success (or failure) to a big reward—or a large stick.

My friends participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) introduced me to a brilliant method of holding yourself accountable to achieving your goals. Specifically, each participant wrote a check to a non-profit organization of the other’s choice.

If one of them failed to make the agreed-upon writing goal, then that check went in the mail to the non-profit. It’s a win for the organization—and the friend—and can represent a significant financial incentive to write harder.

In my case, I’m less motivated by punishment than the promise of reward, so after writing my resolutions, I set up a savings account named “I resolve to run a half-marathon in September” and set up small but regular automatic transfers to fund it. Adequately train for the half-marathon? My registration fee and travel expenses are covered. Complete the race? I’ve got an extra amount earmarked to take myself out to a good meal (complete with kale and spinach, of course).

5. Enlist the help of friends and family.

I’m not talking about boring your loved ones with daily social media updates or droning on over every meal about your accomplishments—or lack thereof. Instead, gain some extrinsic motivation by partnering with someone who shares your resolution.

For example, I’ve signed up with a friend on Duolingo so she can hold me accountable for my streak—and tease me when she beats me. I’ve also made my meal preferences known so my friends and family can help steer me in the directions of restaurants most likely to have an appetizing salad on the menu or count on me to offer to bring the vegetables when I’m invited to dinner at their homes.

In this case, writing the new year’s resolution was just the first step. Sharing it intentionally with people who can help support me and hold me accountable is what stands between me and throwing that list in the rubbish bin on February 8.

Interested in some advice on writing SMART goals or need a friend to hold you accountable for your resolutions—at new year’s or any time of the year?

Feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to help you set and achieve meaningful goals.