Tips for making a New Year resolution that sticks
We’re approaching the beginning of a brand-new year. Many writerly brains, my own included, are naturally considering the question of resolutions for the coming year. What do we want to achieve in 2023?
I personally love New Year. I get a lot of ‘finishing’ energy around December because I want to get lots of things off my plate and plan for a fresh year and a fresh start. Of course, every day is a new day and a new opportunity for doing something different, but this arbitrary date still gives me a lot of energy and mentally provides a clean slate and an excuse to do things differently.
Truth time. Many resolutions are already face-down in the water by the end of 4th January. I know this sounds mean but I’m speaking from experience!
In this post I give tips for a. making New Year resolutions, and b. helping to make them stick. I haven’t been successful with all my resolutions in the past, but the ones that truly mattered to me have survived for years (and there’s a clue to one of my tips right there!)
TIP 01: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO IT!
If you don’t want to make a New Year resolution then you don’t have to!
Maybe you hate New Year resolutions and the fact that 99% of them are unsuccessful. Maybe you’re already feeling happy and content with where you are in life. Maybe you don’t give a s*** about dates and, if you want to make a change, you will do so no matter what the date is.
Our capitalist society loves us to make New Year resolutions: increasing our health and personal productivity ultimately benefits the powers-that-be, after all. Not to mention the millions made by gym networks in those first couple of weeks of January. Even better if we stop going to the gym by the 10th and never-again use our ridiculously expensive two-year contractual gym membership.
If you don’t want to make a New Year resolution then don’t let society and others’ expectations pressurise you into doing so. You do you.
Read on if you wish to make a New Year resolution which (you feel) would be important, helpful and motivational for you personally.
TIP 02: KEEP IT SIMPLE
I know, I know (because I fall into this trap myself). How tempting is it to look at all areas of our lives and make a big list of all the things we’re going to do, or be better at, next year? ‘I’m going to write all the novels and short stories, read one hundred books, decorate the entire house, oh and of course I’m going to eat healthily and exercise’. Is that BS I smell in the air?
As difficult as it is, we must ignore this temptation. If we’re going to be successful at making a change in the coming year, then it needs to be exactly that: ONE change. I can hear the protests right now. Even my own brain is sobbing and beating its metaphorical fists against my skull, demanding to know how I can be so cruel and deny it so much opportunity to write beautiful lists of goals that will never be kept.
The trouble is, it is difficult enough to make one major change in our lives, never mind a shopping list of them. Don’t try and change all the things all at once. As painful as it is, we will have a much better chance of success if we choose one thing to focus on for 2023. Which brings me to my next tip.
TIP 03: MAKE SURE IT MATTERS TO YOU
When choosing your one (cough) New Year resolution for 2023, it is VITAL that the one you choose is important TO YOU and matters TO YOU.
This doesn’t mean choosing a goal that society, or your family, thinks is important. Don’t choose drinking eight cups of water a day or eating a vegan diet if those are things you feel you ‘should’ be doing rather than being something you actually want to do.
What is the thing you most want to change in your life?
If you’re a couch potato (like me) and you decide you’ll attend the gym five times a week because you think that’s what you need to do to stay healthy, then it’s guaranteed you’re heading rapidly towards a date with Netflix, takeaway pizza and a tub of ice cream. Probably around 9th January. Of course I haven’t done this, what do you mean? (cough)
If health is (genuinely) your focus, choose something you enjoy doing and want to do more of, not something you hate and will never keep up.
If, like me, writing is your focus for next year, then choose a project that matters to you and that you care about, rather than the thing you feel you ‘should’ be writing.
If you want to ‘increase your productivity’ (a nebulous concept in itself) then why do you want to do that? Is it so you can achieve your personal goals, or because your capitalist bosses want you to do this? (resisting the urge to rant about capitalism again).
When you’ve chosen a New Year resolution that matters to you and that you’re passionate about incorporating into your life, then write it down somewhere. On your noticeboard, on a post-it note, in your planner: somewhere you will see it regularly and be reminded of it.
You’re far more likely to be successful if you pick one resolution that is meaningful to you. And remember you only get one, so choose wisely!
TIP 04: USE ‘SMART’ CRITERIA
I know, this one is a bit of a cliché by now, but it’s cliché for a reason.
Once you have your resolution then you should apply the ‘SMART’ criteria for goal-setting. Your resolution should be:
SPECIFIC: it’s not enough to say you will exercise more. What type of exercise do you enjoy? How often do you want to do it?
MEASURABLE: the goal ‘I will write more fiction’ is so vague that it’s useless. What’s your definition of ‘writing more fiction’? Finishing a first draft of a novel? Writing one short story per month? How will you know if and when you’ve achieved the goal?
ACHIEVABLE: this one is extremely important! I have young children and a business to run, so me setting a goal of ‘write five novels in 2023’ is laughable. It might be achievable for some writers, but you have to look at your own capabilities and circumstances and set a resolution that is challenging but realistic.
RELEVANT: if the most important thing to you next year is to write more fiction, then making a resolution to ‘decorate every room in the house’ is some kind of boss-level procrastination keeping you from the goal that actually matters most to you.
TIME-LIMITED: when will you have achieved the goal by? By when will it be incorporated into your life and routine?
I would add another consideration to this list: is it the right time for your resolution?
Please don’t take this to mean you shouldn’t follow your dreams if your life is complicated right now: quite the opposite! However, there are some resolutions which will literally be made impossible by your current life circumstances. For example, I would love to get eight hours sleep every night, but my kids are six and two years old so… yeah. Not going to happen. If you’d love to go swimming three times a week but can’t afford the gym membership (a sad reality for many of us) then unfortunately it isn’t the right time for that resolution (or you might need to factor in three at-home workouts or three long walks instead).
You begin to see why I recommend only focussing on one resolution per year! Making even one significant change in your life requires a lot of thought, dedication, and planning. It is not enough to say ‘I will lose weight’ without giving any thought to how, mentally and practically, you might be able to make that happen.
TIP 05: BUILD FROM A SOLID FOUNDATION
Every one of us is good at something. Even the most scatter-brained, or anxiety-riddled, or laidback individual has a list of things in life that they are good at. So good at, in fact, that others in their life wish they could emulate it.
Terrifying as it is, there are rumours that some people love exercise and find it easy, and even necessary, to attend the gym five times a week. Some people are really good at setting and keeping personal boundaries. Some people are militant about getting eight hours sleep a night (ignore that sound, it’s just my sleep-deprived parent-brain sobbing quietly). Some people are ridiculously prolific. Some people are really good at practising self-care, even if it means the dishes don’t get done.
Regardless of who you are, there are some things you do already (whether intentionally or not) that benefit your life and wellbeing.
Equally, we all have beneficial behaviours, attitudes and activities that we are really bad at. Chances are your New Year resolution focuses on something you want to be better at. Maybe the prolific writer needs to get up from their desk and go for more walks. Maybe the gym-attender is prone to injury and needs to spend more time resting their body. Maybe the individual who gets lots of sleep has a very unhealthy diet.
You are far more likely to be successful in achieving your New Year resolution if you start with what you are good at (as a strong foundation) then incorporate the thing you are less good at. For example, the prolific writer could set an alarm every hour they are sitting at their desk, reminding them to stand up, stretch, and move their body for five minutes. The self-care devotee could make sure they carry out at least one ‘life admin’ item on their to-do list before they relax for the evening, so that the rest of life doesn’t pile up and threaten to overwhelm them. The person who wishes to moisturise their face every day adds this task to their nightly routine after cleaning their teeth, which (I hope) is an essential task for all of us and which could serve as a reminder for carrying out other (desired) activities.
Look at your routine. Is there anything you do religiously every day which could serve as a ‘prompt’ for the ‘new’ behaviour? Are there any gaps which could accommodate the new activity? Is there anything you would like to do less of which could be replaced by the new behaviour, e.g. reading more books instead of that hour you spend every evening scrolling through social media?
TIP 06: REWARDS
How will you reward yourself if and when you achieve your goal? (remember, this should be a ‘Measurable’ outcome!) If you stop smoking, what small reward will you choose for each week you go without cigarettes? What large reward will you choose if you stay smoke-free for months at a time, or even the entire year?
If you’re a writer, how will you reward yourself if and when you finally finish that novel you’re working on, or if you write five short stories, or if you manage to maintain your new writing routine for a week, or a month, or even a year?
Pick smaller rewards for smaller milestones (especially when first starting out), and pick larger rewards if you sustain the new activity or behaviour over a longer period of time. This, of course, depends on your circumstances and financial situation, but even small or low-cost rewards can be hugely motivational.
TIP 07: LISTS AND RECORDS
I said at the beginning of this post not to list a string of New Year resolutions and blindly hope to stick to them. However, keeping a record for your chosen New Year resolution can be hugely beneficial.
It will help you to properly write out and define your resolution, and its criteria and parameters, before the New Year. It will help with planning when, and how, you can take action to achieve your resolution (e.g. writing out your current routine and looking for gaps or changes). It will help you keep track of the times you successfully carried out the new activity or behaviour, and help you monitor progress towards successfully incorporating it into your life.
Another list I’ll be making before the start of 2023, and one which is extremely therapeutic, is to list all the things I will NOT be doing in the New Year. It’s amazing how cathartic it feels, not to mention the extra time it frees up to devote to things you do care about rather than all the things you feel unnecessary pressure to do.
I haven’t finished my 2023 planning yet, but I’ve already started my own ‘to-don’t list’ for the New Year, so here are some of my items for inspiration:
I will not keep my phone in my pocket at home, so I’m less tempted to mindlessly scroll social media.
I will not be doing any messy craft projects with my boys. Non-messy ones are fine, but I refuse to feel guilty about trying to keep paint and glitter out of my life.
I will not feel guilty about mess or dirt in my house. If the visitor is really that bothered about it then they can grab a mop and get scrubbing.
I will not be tidying up after my older son. He’s old enough to tidy his own toys!
TIP 08: A TANGENT
Reminder for my fellow parents (because I’ve made this mistake): just because it’s New Year and you want to drink and stay up until 3am, remember your delightful bundle(s) of joy don’t give a flying f*** about the date and will still wake up at stupid-o-clock in the morning. No matter how knackered and hungover you are.
Yes, I learned this the hard way.
The best way to get a good start on your New Year resolution is to wake up rested and refreshed (or as close as you can get to this state if your kids are young).
If you like to make New Year resolutions, and you want to actually make ones that stick, then follow these guidelines:
Keep it simple: pick ONE resolution to work on, not a page of them!
Make it matter: pick a resolution that is important to you.
Define your resolution in a way which makes it: Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Relevant; and Time-limited.
Work out how you can build your resolution into your pre-existing routines and habits.
Reward yourself for smaller and larger milestones.
Monitor your progress towards incorporating the resolution into your life.
BEFORE YOU GO…
What do you think of the tips above?
Please feel free to comment on the article and/or contact me if you have any questions!
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I do not use generative AI to produce or inform my blog, my images, or my fiction. All of my content is generated by the chaotic firing of my own (human) brain! (I have access to some images through my Wix subscription). I do not consent to the use of my content, images, or fiction to train generative AI models. Please contact me to discuss permission and compensation if you wish to use my content in this way.