Call me crazy, but I love New Year’s resolutions. I love taking stock of my life and charting the growth I want to see in the next year.

The statistics on New Year’s resolutions are not exactly encouraging, but I genuinely believe that so much of that discouragement lies in the type of resolutions people make. When we set goals that are realistic and connected to our values, resolutions become much easier to keep. 

Often, people make resolutions based on what they think they “should” do – exercise more, drink more water, eat more veggies – all while knowing deep down that they hate working out, prefer to drink coffee, and are picky eaters. When we set resolutions for an idealized version of ourselves, we’re only setting ourselves up for failure. 

Here is a more practical approach to New Year’s resolutions. 

  • Start by thinking about who you’d like to be a year from now. 

The whole point of New Year’s resolutions is to grow throughout the entire year. So start at the end and work backwards, keeping the end in mind as you go. 

For example, in 2014, I was scared of, well, everything, so I resolved to take more risks and be a braver person by the end of the year. As a result, I taught English in Honduras, made friends outside of my comfort zone, and took a rewarding job that I would have turned down a year earlier. I was undeniably a braver person at the end of the year than I was at the beginning.

When you have an end goal, even a vague one, you can reverse engineer the steps it will take to get there. If you’re like me, that’s much less intimidating than starting from the beginning.  

Who do you want to be in December 2023? Choose one attribute that comes to mind and build a resolution from there. 

  • Give yourself choices. 

One reason so many people fail in their New Year’s resolutions is because they get bored. This is especially true if you’ve locked yourself into thinking that there’s only one way to accomplish your goal. People need variety!

Furthermore, if your resolution feels like all work and no play, what’s the point of sticking with it? Doesn’t life already come with enough chores? 

Some of the steps you take toward your goal will be challenging, but some of them need to be fun. When you mix in some appealing choices, your resolution becomes something you’ll look forward to keeping.

There were thousands of ways that I could have been brave in 2014. I didn’t choose all of them because 1) who has the time? And 2) I consider my fear of injury to be a healthy one. The risks I took ran the gamut from living in another country to accepting invitations, things that were highly enjoyable and appealing. 

Maybe you want to be more peaceful a year from now, but you hate meditating. Take walks, listen to peaceful music, or find something else that brings some calm to your soul instead of forcing yourself to do something you dread. 

Maybe you want to be a reader. Make a list of books that sound easy and fun to read instead of starting with Anna Karenina (which this English major will never, ever finish). 

  • Give yourself flexibility. 

Your resolution doesn’t have to stay at the top of your priorities list every week or even every month. You have a whole year! It is absolutely okay if you set your resolution aside for a while to focus on other things and come back to it later.

There’s a myth that New Year’s resolutions involve doing something every day. That will never happen! For anyone! You’ll get sick, you’ll forget, you’ll get overwhelmed, you’ll leave town… Aside from waking up and (hopefully) brushing your teeth, you are just so unlikely to do the same things day in and day out 365 days in a row.

You can avoid feeling like a failure by giving yourself permission to skip a day here and there. That is normal and healthy. Not convinced? Let’s do the math.

If you only work on your resolution two out of three days, that’s still 237 days. Eight months. 34 weeks. You can make so much progress in 237 days! That is plenty of time to develop a new skill, establish a new habit, or take steps toward personal growth. 

And on that note…

  • Give yourself permission to adjust your resolution as you go. 

It took me a long time to realize that I am the boss of my own New Year’s resolutions – and you are the boss of yours. There is no Committee From On High that is waiting to tell you, “We’re not mad; we’re just disappointed.” We get to make our own rules!

If you stick to your plan perfectly in January, but you dread everything about it, make a new plan. That’s not failure; that’s simply re-evaluation. You can make a new plan as many times as it takes. No one’s going to tattle on you because you’re the boss of your own resolution!

You also get to define what success looks like for you. Does it look like achieving one large goal or several small ones? Do you want to keep it up throughout the year or stop once you’ve hit a certain milestone?

For instance, during my year of bravery, I decided to be done actively working on my resolution in August. My resolution was to be braver, and I was. Case closed. By August, I was overwhelmed with work, so I declared 2014 a success then and there. If that works for you, too, do it.

  • Recognize your progress and celebrate all your victories. 

Small steps are still steps, and small wins are still wins. And sometimes even small wins are hard won. 

We have a distorted view of our own progress, especially when it’s slow. As much as you can, step back and remember where you were last year, last month, last week. The small, slow steps add up more quickly that we realize, and that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated!

Don’t hold yourself to a December standard in February. Even if all you’ve accomplished is just getting over the starting line, give yourself some kudos. 

Besides, as any teacher or parent can tell you, positive reinforcement works. We should give ourselves more pats on the back when we do something well – it motivates us to keep going, keep repeating the same actions that brought us closer to the ultimate goal. 

So what’s my resolution this year, you ask?

In 2023, I want to become more financially literate. I’m a pretty good money manager (usually…), but I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to be truly in control of my finances, which is where I’d like to be one year from now. 

I’m still working out how to make it fun, flexible, and achievable. But I have a whole year! If my first attempts don’t work out, I’ll try something else until I get it right (which might take until November; we’ll see). 

Of course, New Year’s resolutions aren’t the only path toward growth. If something else works for you, that’s great. SPL has hundreds of books and other resources that can help you grow and improve your life, whatever that journey looks like. 

Cheers to 2023! May it bring us all closer to where we want to be.