Deep Thoughts

An alternative approach to New Year resolutions

The time is upon us once more, a new year is here with a feeling of new beginnings for many.

The infamous new year, new me movement is currently invading your local gym and many people are taking these first few weeks of the year to ponder what their resolutions for the year ahead should be.

New year resolutions are an age-old tradition within our society. They actually date back to 4,000 years ago. The ancient Babylonians are thought to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions.

If we were to unpack the purpose of resolutions, my simple take would be that these serve the purpose of the pursuit of betterment in one’s life. Identifying things we don’t enjoy about our lives at this moment and doing something about it.

Of course this can be a great activity to partake in if done in a thoughtful and sustainable way.

This piece hasn’t been written to knock resolutions or the pursuit of developing oneself, but rather provide an alternative method to support you in building realistic and sustainable changes in your life over the next 12 months. 

I personally find traditional resolutions to be less than effective for many. I think we can all find examples of the same people who set the same resolutions each year and still feel no closer to those changes 10 years later.

What could we do instead?

A proposal that I’d like to ask you to think about involves putting what you know about the concept of resolutions to one side and instead conducting a simple review and reflection of the year that’s just been.

This is an activity that I’ve been doing over the last few years. 

Historically I’ve set macro goals for each year and break these down into micro levels of what I needed to achieve by certain points of the year so I can fulfil those main goals. However I found this approach to be cumbersome, stressful and often led to many of these goals rolling into the next year as I had set unrealistic time frames for a lot of them.

I made the decision to step away from using the beginning of each year to set out a list of new goals to try to achieve. Instead I pursued a new approach in using this time to reflect and review what has just passed. 

This allowed me to see a number of things including:

  • What went well
  • What I enjoyed
  • Memorable events
  • What I can work on in the year ahead

In taking the time to reflect and review these points, I’m able to identify the things that made me happy and went well (even those I didn’t expect would), which provides me with a sense of achievement and peace. 

It also allows me to identify the things that I would like to work on in the year ahead whilst appreciating how much I’ve already done and not falling into that mental zone of beating myself up because I feel like I haven’t done anything to progress in the previous 12 months.

Of course, these are not set in stone. They will no doubt evolve over the year in a few ways depending on what life throws at me.

Personally I find this approach healthier and more meaningful in understanding not only what I wish to work on but also what went well in my life in the past 12 months. 

I feel we should all take time to appreciate our own successes, the things that make us happy and those habits, behaviours or activities that we can continue to implement which provide ongoing evolution.

This is my approach which I combine with key questions that I regularly ask myself throughout the year to make sure that what I’m doing in life is still what I value, want to do, making me happy and helping others in some way.

What you can do: A framework to develop sustainable habits, behaviours and change

  • Grab a piece of paper or open a word document, divide the page into three columns. Now label one – What went well? The second: What did I enjoy? And the last as: What can I work on?
  • Now spend 30 minutes reviewing the last 12 months and placing the thoughts that come into your head in each column.
  • Once you’ve completed this, make sure (and this is the really important bit) to read all of your responses in depth to really appreciate everything you’ve noted.
  • The final step is to look over your what can I work on column and then take the final part of your reflection session to produce the 3-5 top things you want to work on in the year ahead. 

Do remember these don’t need to be complicated.

They could be as simple as I only read 10 books last year, so this year I want to read 15. Or I want to increase my meditation sessions from twice a week, so maybe I’ll commit to 3 sessions a week this year and see how it goes.

The key message is to appreciate your starting point. Too many of us don’t understand that goals need to be personalised to where we are right now. This is why many of us full down in the second week of the year, we simply ask too much too soon.

 A common example of this being when people want to improve their physical fitness.

Let’s say person x wishes to improve their physical fitness this year, great, so what do they do?

In my approach, you would review your starting point and what’s happened over the past 12 months. What physical activities have you been doing, how many times a week do you do these and do these supplement your lifestyle? 

These are important points to review before making plans for the next 12 months. 

You might then say, I already workout twice a week and I feel like I can add a 3rd session which will bring more benefits to my lifestyle. Great, you’ve assessed your starting point, feel you can add a bit more and assessed that this is a sustainable change.

Sadly, this is not the approach many of us take. We often come from a place of having no historical physical activity practice and then jump into a gruelling body and mind crushing routine of hitting the gym 5-6 times a week. 

Generally, this leads to said people running themselves into the ground with no energy and throwing out those resolutions by week 2 of the new year.

Going forward

Instead of resolutions, why not consider a time of review, reflection and building sustainable habits, behaviours, routines and any changes with this activity.

I’m not saying it’s the one answer that will work for you, but I feel it’s an alternative and potentially more successful approach to making the changes you really want.

Before you go… 👋

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3 replies on “An alternative approach to New Year resolutions”

[…] This is where scheduling regular ‘life reviews’ can be useful. I’ve used 2018 to host a number of these short sessions that entail regular 3-4 month pauses to reflect and review on what I’m doing with my life. I’ve spoken about this process before and you can find a framework I use throughout the year here and a more detailed one for a full year review here. […]

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