“If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” — Zig Ziglar
The new year is a chance to turn the page to a clean chapter and get a fresh start.
If you want to make some serious or significant changes this year, you can use your New Year’s resolution to bootstrap your year.
And you can wildly increase your success with New Year’s resolutions if you change your approach.
New Year’s resolutions are really an exercise in goal setting.
Goals are the outcomes or changes you want to achieve, while habits, routines, and systems can help you achieve them.
I’ve learned that without a vision, my year can perish. So I figure out 3 Wins for this year that I want to achieve.
But I think of January as a 30 Day Sprint, or a 30-Day New Year’s Resolution.
Most people forget or abandon their resolution by February, so you can use this pattern to your advantage.
Just focus on a significant change you want to make for January and that’s your best New Year’s resolution.
- New Year’s resolutions started in ancient Babylonia as a 12-day festival.
- Make only one resolution so you can channel your focus and energy.
- Only 9-12% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions on average, but that’s without smart strategies.
- Try a 30-Day Sprint or a 30-Day New Year’s Resolution to make a change you want in January.
- Create 3 Wins for This Year (plan and prep in January but start in February).
- Choose a word for the year to give it a theme and embody something you want to experience more of.
- Start with WHY for better New Year’s resolutions.
- Create If-Then plans to stick with your goals when motivation or willpower falter or fail.
What are New Year’s Resolutions?
For many people, the new year means a chance to change.
A New Year’s resolution is a tradition where you resolve to continue good practices, change undesired traits or bad habits, accomplish a personal goal or otherwise change your behavior at the beginning of the calendar year.
New Year’s resolutions symbolize our commitment to renewal and transformation at the start of each year.
It’s a time when we consciously decide to leave behind old patterns and chart a new course for the future.
It’s our desire for a fresh start each year.
Turning the page to a new year is a great chance to set the stage to build better habits, break bad ones, become a better you, or change your life for the better in even some small way.
According to The History of New Year’s Resolutions | HISTORY, we can trace the origins of New Year’s resolutions to the Babylonians:
“During a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king.
They also made promises to the gods to pay their debts and return any objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered the forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.
If the Babylonians kept to their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. If not, they would fall out of the gods’ favor—a place no one wanted to be.”
4,000 years later, here we are holding celebrations in honor of the new year.
So, while we celebrate the new year in January, the ancient Babylonians began their new year in mid-March, when the crops were planted.
Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?
Data generally indicates that success rates for New Year’s resolutions are relatively low. Studies have found that a significant percentage of people abandon their resolutions within a short period after New Year’s Day.
According to New Year’s Resolution Statistics – Discover Happy Habits, only 9-12% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions on average. Most people give up or even forget about their goals by February. I think this trend reflects a broader challenge in goal-setting and goal-keeping.
Ultimately, the point isn’t to succeed at your New Year’s resolutions. It’s to succeed at making the changes you want to make in your life and achieving your goals.
You can use smarter strategies to set yourself up for success and leverage the momentum of New Year’s resolutions.
Are New Year’s Resolutions a Good Idea?
If “everybody” fails at their New Year’s resolution, then are New Year’s resolutions a good idea?
Of course, New Year’s resolutions are still a good idea.
I already said goals give you purpose and direction.
And the start of the new year can even give you momentum.
The simple act of trying to create clarity around what changes you want in your life is a powerful start.
You can use your New Year’s resolution to practice and learn more about resilience, discipline, and mental toughness.
You become more by reaching for your goals, so even if you don’t achieve your goals, you become more in the process.
If you do achieve your goals, there is something to be said for being in the low percentage of people who rise above the status quo.
Your Future Self will thank you for striving to become a better you.
Here’s What Does Not Work for Achieving New Year’s Resolutions
Professor Richard Wiseman is author of 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot.
Here’s what doesn’t work when it comes to achieving your New Year’s Resolutions according to
“By comparing the techniques of successful and unsuccessful resolution makers, he came up with a list of tips for staying the course when making changes in one’s life.
People who failed tended to dwell on the ‘bad things’ that would happen if they did not achieve their goal, said the professor.
They were likely to remove temptation from their surroundings, adopt role models, fantasize about being successful, and rely on will power.
‘Many of these ideas are frequently recommended by self-help experts but our results suggest that they simply don’t work’, said Prof Wiseman.
‘Because of the widespread nature of this advice, millions of people will fail to achieve their aims’.”
Here’s What Does Work for Achieving New Year’s Resolutions
According to Professor Richard Wiseman, here are proven tips for achieving New Year’s Resolutions:
- Make only one resolution; your chances of success are greater when you channel energy into changing just one aspect of your behavior.
- Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to think about your resolution and instead devote some time a few days before to reflect upon what you really want to achieve.
- Avoid previous resolutions; deciding to re-visit a past resolution sets you up for frustration and disappointment.
- Don’t run with the crowd and go with the usual resolutions. Instead think about what you really want out of life.
- Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
- Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.
- Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.
- Give yourself a small reward whenever you achieve a sub-goal, thus maintaining motivation and a sense of progress.
- Make your plans and progress concrete by keeping a hand-written journal, completing a computer spreadsheet or covering a notice board with graphs or pictures.
- Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.
How I Start My New Year the Agile Way
I have a simple approach for starting my New Year off better.
It goes like this:
- I use Year End Reflection to put a bow on last year and set the stage for the new year.
- I create 3 Wins for This Year. The end of the year is a great chance to fully feel the impact of another year gone by. This helps really clarify the answer to, “Next year, by this time, what are 3 big changes I hope to achieve in my life?”
- I create a New Year’s Resolution. I chunk it down into a one-month goal, or a 30 Day Sprint.
I really start my 3 Wins for This Year in February. I use January for practice and prep.
30-Day New Year’s Resolution (How I Set My New Year’s Resolution)
I embrace the idea that most people give up their goals by February. It’s why I pick just one resolution to work on for January and make it a 30 Day Sprint.
Well, I guess you would call this my 30-Day New Year’s Resolution.
I simply need to figure out a change I want to create by the end of January.
I like setting a New Year’s Resolution to leverage the momentum of turning the page to a new year. I tend to make my New Year’s Resolution, something specific for a change in January.
I make it something that really matters to me now, that I can work on through January. I make it some sort of significant change. I can always repeat it or extend it, but I primarily want to do something significant in January.
Goals give purpose and direction, and there is something special, too, about using the new year to hit refresh and start with a fresh goal.
Knowing that others are doing this around the world, helps me think of it like a community effort, and I like the sense of comradery.
Choose a Word for the Year
What I have found works well for the year is to choose a word, to give the new year a theme for the year. I simply ask myself:
“What do you want your year to be about?”
Here are some examples:
A little intention and focus can go a long way.
Pick a word that inspires you and lifts you to higher ground. Your theme word will play a quiet, but supporting role in helping you have your best year ever.
It may show up in surprising ways, or on the strangest of days, but it will be there, as part of your mindset as you learn your way forward.
Have fun with it and enjoy the process of finding a word that means something to you, and that you need the most in your life, right now.
Start with WHY for Better New Year’s Resolutions
Understanding and articulating your “WHY” transforms resolutions from mere statements of intent into powerful, purpose-driven commitments.
Motivation experts like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, and Zig Ziglar emphasized the power of “WHY” in goal-setting. It’s a fundamental principle in achieving enduring success with New Year’s resolutions.
This approach centers on understanding the deeper motivation behind your goals – the compelling reasons that drive you to want to achieve them.
For resolutions to be effective, they must be rooted in personal values and intrinsic motivation. The “WHY” is not just a reason. It’s the emotional and intellectual foundation that supports the goal.
For example, consider someone setting a resolution to lose weight. The “WHY” might be more than just the desire to lose a few pounds. It could be about improving health to live longer for their children, gaining more energy to engage in activities they love, or feeling more confident in their daily life. This underlying motivation provides the resilience and drive needed when facing inevitable challenges.
Similarly, if someone resolves to advance in their career, the “WHY” could be more than just getting a promotion or a raise. It might be about personal growth, the desire to make a meaningful impact in their field or providing better for their family.
By starting with “WHY”, resolutions gain a deeper dimension of purpose. This makes the goal more compelling and personally significant, increasing your likelihood of sustained effort and success.
It’s not just about setting goals, but about connecting these goals to a larger narrative of personal growth and fulfillment.
Your Type of Personal Striving Can Make Your Goals More Meaningful and Support Your Wellbeing
Personal strivings are the various goals you are trying to achieve in your daily life. You can think of them in 3 categories:
- Power-oriented personal strivings
- Sacred personal strivings
- Generativity personal strivings
With well-chosen goals, you can support your wellbeing and make your striving more meaningful.
In the article, Are New Year’s Resolutions a Good Idea, Dr. Ed de St. Aubin, associate professor of psychology at Marquette University, shares research from Goal Psychology as well as his own findings.
Dr. Ed de St. Aubin writes:
“There is a large area of scholarship known as ‘Goal Psychology’ that examines the dynamics linking personality, behavior and one’s objectives (goals).
Recent research in this area by Professor Robert Emmons focuses on personal strivings — various goals a person is trying to achieve in daily life.
He has found that those with predominantly POWER-oriented personal strivings, such as ‘advance my career,’ ‘make more money’ or ‘control my family members,’ have relatively lower levels of life wellbeing.
He also discovered that folks with high levels of subjective wellbeing, those who perceive themselves as experiencing lots of positive emotions, list personal strivings centering on the SACRED:
‘try to spend more time in prayer,’ ‘remember to be grateful for all that God has given me’ and ‘acknowledge the beauty and mystery in my relationships with others.’
Studies conducted by myself, Dan McAdams, and others have shown that psychosocially healthy adults — those with a solid balance of self-worth who felt meaning in life, social integration and loved by others — have personal strivings stemming from generativity.
This is a desire to nurture younger people and to create a world that benefits future generations.
Such adults list goals such as ‘spend more time with my children,’ ‘reduce the racism in my community’ or ‘nurture junior colleagues.’ Folks with these generative goals tend to be quite happy and to see themselves as living meaningful lives.”
Smart Goals and New Year’s Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions are more than just annual wishes. They’re a strategic approach to self-improvement and goal-setting.
It can help to frame your New Year’s Resolutions as SMART goals– Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound – to transform your resolutions from vague aspirations into achievable targets.
Note that while they are called SMART goals, they are actually SMART objectives. I think of the goal as the aspiration while the objectives are the achievable milestones along the way.
Here’s how a SMART goals approach refines typical New Year’s resolutions:
- Fitness Goals: Instead of simply resolving to “get fit,” set a specific and measurable goal, like “run a 5K in under 30 minutes by June” or “attend three yoga classes per week.”
- Learning New Skills: Rather than a broad goal like “learn something new,” identify exactly what skill you want to acquire, such as “complete an online course in graphic design by April.”
- Improving Finances: Transform “save more money” into a clear objective, like “save $200 monthly to build an emergency fund of $2,400 by year-end.”
- Enhancing Relationships: Instead of vaguely resolving to “spend more time with family,” plan specific activities or regular family dinners, scheduling them to ensure commitment.
- Career Advancement: Turn “get a promotion” into actionable steps, such as “complete a professional certification by March” or “lead a major project to demonstrate leadership skills.”
By framing resolutions with precision and a roadmap for achievement, this approach makes the journey from intention to reality structured, trackable, and far more likely to be successful.
Fantasies Steal the Energy You Need to Achieve Your Goals
While your fantasies can inspire you, be sure to take action. Otherwise, the risk is you spend your energy fantasizing instead of pursuing your goal.
Heres’ the abstract from Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy, by Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen:
“Positive fantasies allow people to mentally indulge in a desired future.
Whereas previous research found that spontaneously generated positive fantasies about the future predict poor achievement, we examined the effect of experimentally induced positive fantasies about the future.
The present four experiments identify low energy, measured by physiological and behavioral indicators, as a mechanism by which positive fantasies translate into poor achievement.
Induced positive fantasies resulted in less energy than fantasies that questioned the desired future (Study 1), negative fantasies (Study 2), or neutral fantasies (Study 3).
Additionally, positive fantasies yielded a larger decrease in energy when they pertained to a more rather than a less pressing need (Study 4).
Results indicate that one reason positive fantasies predict poor achievement is because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.”
Create If-Then Plans to Stick with Your Goals
The concept of creating “If-Then Plans” is a powerful strategy for sticking with your goals, especially in situations that challenge your motivation or willpower or when you are rundown.
This technique is rooted in the psychology of contingency planning and implementation intentions, where you define specific scenarios (the “if” part) and then determine the exact actions you will take in response (the “then” part).
By doing this, you create a clear and automatic response pattern for when you encounter predictable obstacles or distractions.
Here are a few examples of If-Then Plans:
- Exercise Regularity:
- If-Then Plan: If it is 6:00 PM on a weekday, then I will go for a 30-minute run.
- Purpose: This plan helps establish a routine, making exercise a regular part of your day, regardless of how you feel at the moment.
- Healthy Eating:
- If-Then Plan: If I feel the urge to eat junk food, then I will eat a piece of fruit or a healthy snack instead.
- Purpose: This replaces an unhealthy impulse with a healthier alternative, making it easier to stick to dietary goals.
- Productivity at Work:
- If-Then Plan: If I start browsing social media during work hours, then I will immediately close the tab and spend 5 minutes reviewing my to-do list.
- Purpose: This counters a common distraction with an action that redirects focus back to work-related tasks.
- Stress Management:
- If-Then Plan: If I start feeling overwhelmed by stress, then I will take a 10-minute break to practice deep breathing or go for a short walk.
- Purpose: This plan provides a healthy coping mechanism for stress, preventing burnout.
- If-Then Plan: If I am tempted to make an unnecessary purchase, then I will wait 24 hours before deciding.
- Purpose: This introduces a cooling-off period, helping to avoid impulse buys and maintain financial discipline.
By pre-planning your responses to common challenges, If-Then Plans automate decision-making, reduce reliance on willpower, and make it easier to maintain consistency in pursuit of your goals.
The key to achieving even your most lofty goals is to get started immediately.
Hinda Dubin, M.D. is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and psychiatrist at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Here’s how Hinda Dubin, M.D. puts it:
“Action precedes motivation, not the other way around. People often think that they should wait until they are motivated to start doing something good for themselves. They say, ‘I’ll start that diet or fitness program when I’m really well rested and have a lot of energy’. But it doesn’t work that way.” — Dr. Hinda Dubin
Common New Year’s Resolutions
This is just a list of thought starters for your New Year’s resolutions based on what people tend to choose each year and common themes.
It’s just a list for inspiration and fodder. You can start general and then get more specific, but remember to start with WHY and connect to your intrinsic values.
- Be more active
- Be more positive
- Be more self-reliant
- Be more social
- Be your own best friend
- Become more organized
- Change careers
- Compliment yourself more
- Develop confidence
- Drink less alcohol
- Drink more water
- Get in shape
- Give yourself a new look
- Eat healthier
- Exercise more
- Express yourself artistically
- Face your fears
- Find your ikigai
- Focus better
- Get out of debt
- Get outside more
- Go to bed on time
- Have more fun
- Improve your memory
- Learn a new language
- Learn a new skill
- Learn a new technology
- Learn an instrument
- Learn to be grateful
- Learn to be happier
- Learn to control your emotions
- Learn to cook
- Learn to manage stress
- Learn to sing
- Learn to forgive
- Make time for family
- Meet new people
- Practice mindfulness
- Quit smoking
- Read more books
- Reinvent yourself
- Save money
- Sleep better
- Spend less time on social media
- Stop being late
- Stop procrastinating
- Take more steps
- Travel more
- Volunteer more
- Walk more
- Write a book
You Might Also Like
Commit to Your Best Year Ever
How To Use 3 Wins to Have Your Best Year Ever
How To Use Agile Results to Realize Your Full Potential
The Three Wins Approach – Chunk Your Tasks into Meaningful Results
Year End Reflection