How to Make New Year’s Resolutions: A Guide for People Who Hate Resolutions


8tjbrqgkfyu-david-marcuI have, for the first time ever, kept the New Year’s resolution I made. You can too.

If you’re one of those mythical unicorns who makes resolutions every year and keeps them, just stop reading. This isn’t for you. [But email me, ok? Because I’ve never met anyone like you.]

But if you’re like pre-2016 me and make resolutions you never keep or quit making them altogether because you know you won’t keep them, then I’m talking to you.

The Problem with Most Resolutions

Most resolutions fall into one of two categories.

  1. The Habit.
  2. The Virtue.

And resolutions in these two categories do not work for me and probably not for you, if you’re still reading. So let’s break down why.

The Habit

The Habit is the resolution you make about how often you’re going to do something. Surely you’ve done this, right? “I’m going to run once a week.” “I’m going to eat vegetables every day.” “I’m going to stop buying junk I don’t need.”

And, inevitably, you make it about two weeks into the new year (or 2 days, if you’re me) and boom! Your resolution has failed faster than your worst relationship. These are the types of resolutions that give resolutions a bad name. And they’re what made me go all hipster and determine that I was “too cool” to do resolutions. (Life tip: people who don’t make resolutions are just scared of failing. Or lack purpose. Everyone sees straight through the “too cool” thing.)

But inevitably, these are the resolutions a lot of people make. And if not a habit, then….

The Virtue

The virtue resolutions are the vague resolutions. You know these: “I’m going to be kinder this year.” “I’m going to make more time for family this year.”

To me, these resolutions are all about giving yourself an out. Unless you outline measurable ways to meet your resolution, it all depends on how you feel about the year. And that seems wishy-washy.

The Alternative

So if Habit and Virtue resolutions don’t work (which, if you’re still reading, they apparently don’t), what does? I tried this new resolution style for 2016 and I was astonished.

The Goal

Think about the area [start with one!] you want to improve in 2017. If you improved in that area, what would be a tangible outcome? What’s a goal you could meet?

For example, I wanted to be more active in 2016. I like running, but I’m not very disciplined about it. So my resolution was to run 3 5k races in 2016. I didn’t say when I would race. I didn’t say I would run every day or every week. But I knew that I would have to run more than I had in many years to do 3 5k’s. And it worked! This year, I ran 2 5k races, a 2-mile race (with my dog!), and I ran the first 5k of a charity marathon. In the second half of the year (when I started tracking my runs), I averaged 3-5 miles a month. That’s not a lot, but it’s more than I averaged in the last five years.

The beautiful thing about a goal resolution is that you have a legitimate chance at it until the end of the year. With a habit resolution, you can fail on Day 2. With a goal, you don’t fail until Day 1 of the next year.

So how do you make a good goal resolution?

How to do it

  • Stick to 1-2 areas. Especially if you’re wary of resolution failure, like I was, picking limited focus makes it easier to meet your goals.
  • Pick something attainable. I didn’t try to go from running 5k to running a marathon. Even though that was physically possible, I wasn’t ready for that level of commitment. Evaluate yourself and decide on something that will push you a little, not overwhelm you.
  • Make a loose plan. It helps to have some idea of how you’ll meet your goal. I determined that I would spread the races throughout the year instead of doing them back to back (that would have minimized the habit-forming benefits).
  • Make it fun! Building a reward (actual or tangential) into your program makes keeping your resolution a lot more attractive.

The “Rebel Exception”

Are you familiar with the Four Tendencies, defined by Gretchen Rubin? If not, go read this very short guide (probably 200 words). I think I’m a Rebel (possible Questioner), which is part of why resolutions are so tough for me–and maybe that’s why for you! Rebels tend to resist outer and inner expectations. So we dislike doing what we’re “supposed” to do. I circumvented that tendency by not talking about my resolutions. At the beginning of 2016, I didn’t tell anyone I was making a resolution. I didn’t write my resolution down. That way, there were no expectations. And it seemed to work–I basically tricked my tendency into doing something good for me.

If you’re a Rebel, I recommend bucking the public resolution trend and making a little secret resolution in the back of your head. Don’t tell anyone. When the year’s up, you get to brag about the awesome goal you met.

Bonus Benefits

Well-crafted goal resolutions have a way of improving other areas of your life too! My 5k resolution gave me a great day at my favorite amusement park, lots of time exploring a local park, great bonding time with my very athletic dog, and courage to participate in a charity event I’ve been watching for a few years. I’m a lot happier with myself and I have a lot more confidence in trying harder resolutions this year.

Knowing that I’m able to make and keep good resolutions (not cop-out ones!) keeps me safe from the inevitable New Year’s guilt and “too cool for resolutions” bravado.

What about you?

Will you try resolutions this year? If you do–even if you don’t use the goal method–let me know how it goes! I’d love to discuss your resolutions in the comments or via email (unless you’re trying the Rebel exception. You can comment about something else.).

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8 thoughts on “How to Make New Year’s Resolutions: A Guide for People Who Hate Resolutions

  1. I’m with you on goals — although I had three goals last year and didn’t meet a single one. That’s ok — they’re still things I want to accomplish, so I’ve adopted them for this year. And, I added a fourth goal, which I intend to meet on January 1 — a new theme for my blog. That way, I’ll get a running start on the rest of them!

    • The beautiful thing about a goal resolution is that you hopefully make progress in the area even if you don’t actually meet the goal. The new theme sounds like an excellent win for early in the year!

  2. Ah, such a great post! As an aspiring psychologist, I loved all the little tricks you included in this post to help us alter our behavior for the better. While I think habits and virtues both have their respective benefits (e.g., actually creating habits can be really great if you stick with them because they become so routine, virtues remind us of our values, etc.) goals are a great in-between. In terms of behavior modification, I feel like positive reinforcement is also important – the ability to reward ourselves for our good behaviors and not just punish ourselves or feel bad for the ones we don’t like or don’t achieve. Glad to hear that you were able to slay (i.e., adhere) to one of your resolutions this year, and here’s hoping that 2017 will also be good for the resolutions we both make. (:

    • Thomas! It’s good to see you around! Are you well?

      I do like habits and virtues too–but I’m not good at making resolutions toward them! I have strong inclinations toward rebelling against inner and outer expectations, but also feeling bad for not achieving what I want. I need lots of tricks to make the progress that I want.

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