Image of several sheets of paper spread out over a laptop with calendar and lamp visible on desk.

I have had a love-hate relationship with resolutions in the past. I love the idea of bettering myself but also have hated the feeling of impending failure that comes along with lofty goals. There is something too to the idea that if you don’t verbalize something it doesn’t have to be real to you. So New Year’s resolutions are challenging as it means coming face to face with your shortcomings and the fact that you may have failed many times before.

I have a friend who inspired me to do my New Year’s resolutions a different way and it’s made me feel more accepting of the idea and of myself. She is braver than I am in some ways in that she would publish hers online and then comment on them every new year, something which I am not sure I’ll ever be willing to do. The practice of publishing does bring some accountability which I think helps, so I started sharing mine with one or two people to make them a reality. What my friend did that I adapted was including her last year’s goals with this years, and crossing out the goals as she accomplished them and writing a small note about the experience. I adopted this practice in a modified way, where now I have all my goals in a Google Doc and have them separated by year, and under each year that’s passed I have written all the accomplishments. As I’ve continued this practice for 5 years now I feel so encouraged looking at the long list of things I’ve achieved and learned in my personal and professional life that it puts me in a good mindset for creating goals in the future. I can see that I’m capable and can do a lot, so I have more faith in myself moving forward.

A really important element of this is to recognize the achievements that are inherent in times of struggle. Thinking about breakups, failures, or periods of unhealthy coping can be reframed in terms of what was learned or what was finally ended that wasn’t serving you. I wanted to include these too in my list of accomplishments because that’s what’s made my life meaningful. Without them, the list reads like a resume – impressive, but without any personal depth. I also acknowledged personal successes like setting boundaries with people who were unhealthy, changing the way I view my body and my self worth, and prioritizing my needs in my career.

Another thing I did was to make a bucket list and put it at the top of my resolutions. It’s been fun to take one or two things off that bucket list every year and see them go on my list of accomplishments. Some of them are small things like getting a massage (I’d never done this until like 2 years ago) or reading a book I’d heard was good. Having them on the bucket list is nice because it’s not time bound but it gives the rest of the goals some direction. One of my bucket list goals, for example, is to visit every continent, so when I plan a trip somewhere I can see if I’m moving closer to that. These goals don’t have to be the stereotypical bucket list goals like flying an airplane (I put that on my list initially because of some feeling of obligation before recognizing that I have no desire to be in control of an aircraft) and they don’t have to be material either. Some of my favorite goals have to do with my state of being – like learning how to have fun alone, or feeling satisfied with my relationships.

I realize that a lot of this would be very appealing to someone who is Type A like me but perhaps a little anxiety-inducing for those who aren’t big fans of lists. I would say that this method is definitely not for everyone but elements of it can be adapted to give the psychological reassurance without necessarily making it a project. Without writing goals down, there is a loss of accountability, but if that is too much to do then simply taking a few minutes to think over the last year and what was gained and learned can be valuable. Thinking about years past and the changes that have happened in 2-5 years can be a good guiding point for where you want to move forward. It helps to also keep your eyes on the ideas you have for the future so you can take stock of where you’re going and if you need to change directions.

All in all, New Year’s resolutions can be a great activity but have to be done in the right spirit to be helpful. If you know that you’re big on self-criticism, consider that making goals about saving money or losing weight may not be the best place to start, especially if you’ve made those same goals year after year. Sometimes there needs to be a step before the goal we really want to be able to obtain it – like changing a mindset or managing anxiety.

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