New years resolutions that work

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Romans had new years resolutions, and I suspect they were just as bad at keeping them as we are (See The Meaning of New Years Day). The problem is we create them based on wishful thinking, the worst kind of thinking there is. While hope and optimism are great, they aren’t necessarily connected to reality. And for that reason it’s very easy to make grand resolutions, but much harder to keep them. We typically pick things for their emotional or ego potency, ignoring how unprepared we are to achieve them.

The desire is only one part of the challenge – even the definition of the word resolve expresses this:


  1. to come to a earnest decision about; determined to do something
  2. to separate into constituent or elementary parts

The solution is Divide and Conquer, another idea from the Romans:

  1. Pick one single resolution. Your odds of staying focused improve.
  2. Look at last years list and evaluate where you failed. Too ambitious? When did you give up? Use this self-knowledge to inform this year’s resolutions.
  3. Break any resolution into monthly or weekly goals so you have short term focus. Use a service to help track your goals daily. Or sign up for resolution accountability.
  4. Find a friend who can sign up to the same goal. There are tools that even let you place bets on your goals. We are social creatures, and our goals should be social.
  5. Write down the resolution and sign it. Seeing your commitment in writing has psychological power.
  6. Put your written resolution somewhere useful (e.g. in front of the fridge)
  7. Have a daily positive task – mark off a day on a calendar every day you’ve met your resolution. You get a positive visual reminder you’re on your way.
  8. Divide further: simply make a resolution for January, and re-evaluate on Feb 1st.

The American Psychological Association report on resolutions noted:

And while nearly 60 percent of people will drop their resolutions by the six-month mark, perhaps due to the persistence of old habits as well as reversion to earlier stages of behavior change, Norcross notes that those who make resolutions are still 10 times more likely to successfully change their behavior than those who do not.

Also see Woody Guthrie’s New Years Resolutions, which gleefully violate all of my recommendations.

30 Responses to “New years resolutions that work”

  1. Julio Barros

    Thanks for the article. Thought you would be interested in my iPhone app is a countdown timer with a memory for time boxing/limiting activities. Its not a time tracker but rather is great for setting aside minimum (or maximum) time blocks to work on your long term goals. For example, studying, working out, accounting, breaks, etc. Its free for a limited number of activities and has an In App Purchase if it fits in your life and you want more.


  2. Jenny

    Resolutions are indeed hard to stick with. I have limited mine to four. Two tangible, two more philosophical. I am creating monthly charts so I can mark each day whether I have been able to focus on my resolutions. Four may be too many, but they are linked resolutions. You can see more on my blog at

  3. Patrice

    Thanks, Scott. I love your post and the one resolution idea. I have been posting about OTAT (“oh-tat”), Working on One Thing at A Time,too.

    “One Thing at a Time”, really is a great way to make changes in your life.

    I like the APA quote you included. Good luck to all resolvers, everywhere!

    Love you New Year posting tips on WordPress, too – thanks!

  4. kevin blumer

    quite amazing how quickly people drop them is this just do to lack of determination or having to many or does the motivation for you to succeed in them go down me I’m just going to concentrate on one this year

  5. Bill Douglas

    You’ve got me the great list of ideas for resolutions. Now I have too many! Good thing I still have a lot of days to get them all done.

  6. MOL

    I was inspired by your postaday challenge. I had heard about blogging from people and have always wanted to write. Your challenge gave me the nudge. I’ve set up my blog in 2010 but I did not really blog as much until a year later. This year, I plan to do more. Thanks, Scott!

    I bought your book on project management. I plan to read it and if it’s good, I’ll recommend it to my managers.

  7. Juan

    I’m using Loop Habit Tracker since May 2017.
    It’s free (ads-free too), open source, it comes in many language versions, and it’s really smartly done. It allows you to set several goals and fine-tune them, set reminders, etc. It records and calculates to what extent you are achieving each goal. Charts are very useful too. I found that it encourages me to keep working on achieving my goals and that’s a lot. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in goal tracking if they have an Android-powered phone.



Leave a Reply

* Required