How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. For me, it is always a time when things slow down. I can reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. I especially enjoy the time with my family and reconnecting with what’s really important.

Dart in a Target Bullseye - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Mellimage, Image #3654703

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Mellimage

In my last post, I talked about bringing closure to the previous year. I really think it is important to do this at every significant milestone, especially quarter-ends and year-ends). Otherwise, you end up dragging your unfinished business into the next year.

Assuming you have already done that, it’s time to turn the corner and begin planning for next year.

I know it’s commonplace to laugh off New Year’s resolutions, but I think they can provide a powerful catalyst for change if they are done right. The problem with most resolutions is that they are little more than aspirations or wishes. Here are three bad examples:

  • I want to lose weight this year.
  • I want to quit smoking.
  • I want to get out of debt.

The main problem with these kinds of “resolutions” (and I use the term loosely), is that they demonstrate zero resolve. If you state your resolutions in this manner, I can almost guarantee you that you won’t attain them.

In order to make your resolutions stick, you need to employ four strategies:

  1. Keep them few in number. Productivity studies show that you really can’t focus on more than 5-7 items at any one time. And don’t try to cheat by including sections with several resolutions under each section. This is a recipe for losing focus and accomplishing very little. Instead, focus on a handful of resolutions that you can almost repeat from memory. Mine fit on one 4″ x 6″ card.
  2. Make them “smart.” Resolutions are really just annual goals. But like all goals, they should be s-m-a-r-t:
    • Specific—your goals just identify exactly what you want to accomplish in as much specificity as you can muster.
    • Measurable—as the old adage says, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
    • Actionable—every resolution should start with a verb (e.g., “quit,” “run,” “finish,” “eliminate,” etc.)
    • Realistic—you have to be careful here. A good resolution should stretch you, but you have to add a dose of common sense.
    • Time-bound—every resolution needs a date associated with it. When do you plan to deliver on that resolution. It could be by year-end (December 31) or it could be more near-term (March 31).
  3. Write them down. This is critical. There is a huge power in writing your resolutions on paper even if you never develop an action plan or do anything else. Henriette Anne Klauser documents this in her fascinating book, Write It Down and Make It Happen.
  4. Go public. Tell your family and friends what you are committed to achieving. Better yet, post your resolutions on your blog like my son-in-law did. Going public creates accountability and leverage. Several years ago, I blogged about my goal to run a half marathon. Once I did that, there was no turning back. People would ask, “So how’s your training going?” I wanted to have a good answer, so I would haul myself out of bed and go run.
  5. To illustrate, I have five resolutions for this year:

    • Read through the entire Bible by December 31, 2010.
    • Finish the second draft of my new book by March 31, 2010.
    • Mentor eight men, once a month, beginning on January 12, 2010.
    • Write 208 blog posts (four per week) by December 31, 2010.
    • Run the Country Music Half Marathon on April 24, 2010.

    By the way, in case you’re wondering, I also do annual planning for my professional life. However, our fiscal year begins on April 1, so I do those goals then.

    Question: What are your resolutions for 2010? C’mon. Go public! You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • James

    I have been working with my oldest on his goals and this post is right on time. I have forwarded the link, thanks

  • http://www.dzubinski.com/blog PaulDz

    Here is mine going public.
    Find at least one person who exemplifies each of the characteristics in the list below. Review it each month to see where I stand and what I have learned from them. Here is the list:
    • loving everyone not just friends and nice people
    • joy in Christ not just in friends, stuff and circumstances.
    • peace in the face of the people who spread fear (who are mostly preachers, conservative republicans, liberal democrats and radio talk show hosts)
    • patience with people who seem clueless or are irritating
    • kindness where anything else would be acceptable
    • goodness just to be good even non-action would be ok
    • faithfulness in the subtle things as well as the obvious
    • gentleness when “tell-it-like-it-is” because the norm
    • self-control when ‘losing it’ is ‘authentic’
    My recent post Cool spiritual living

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/AnneLangBundy AnneLangBundy

    Thanks for the challenge. I applaud your resolution to read through the Bible this year. No matter how many times I do it, I'm still surprised by what I've missed on previous reads.

    I'm willing to share three resolutions here:

    • Every morning, I'll read Scripture and pray before I check emails or Twitter

    • I'll give my two youngest children reading time each day before I write the daily devotion I publish

    • I'll have a first draft of my next novel complete by March 31, 2010

    Here goes!
    My recent post Heavens Shaken

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Excellent, Anne.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    Great insight here. I have the S.M.A.R.T. goals list on the wall in my office. Great reminder. My resolutions are:

    1. Read the Bible in a year (Using Youversion Chronological plan as my guide, started Day 1 yesterday).
    2. Stop putting off a personal matter and make the phone calls that are needed on Monday, January 4.
    3. Relaunch my blog by end of January and post at least 3 posts per week during 2010.
    4. Spend at least 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week, doing some form of regular exercise (elliptical, running, push-ups, sit-ups, etc).

    These are personal goals. I have some professional goals too.

    Are you doing a specific Bible reading plan? Using Youversion?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      The YouVersion plans are great. However, I am reading through the Orthodox Study Bible this year. I am using a special plan (PDF) that I had created to go with that, because it includes the Deuterocanonicals (commonly called the Apocrypha).

  • http://ronlane.wordpress.com Ron L

    Good examples Michael. I have 4 Goals this year instead of resolutions. I have them written down, but took the goal setting a little further than action. I have included what I will do (give up) to obtain these goals. Here are 2 of mine as examples.

    On 12/31/10, I will have read 20 self-improvement books by reading 1 hour each day. I will give up watching TV each day in order to obtain this goal.

    On 12/31/10, I will weigh 200 lbs by eating better and exercising. I will cut back on sodas and eating out in order to obtain this goal.
    My recent post Blog review: Mentor Like Jesus by Regi Campbell with Richard Chancy

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is excellent. An “action plan” for each goal is very helpful.

      • http://ronlane.wordpress.com Ron

        Thanks Michael, I was introduced to this goal setting example a couple of weeks ago and then converted my 2010 goals to this format. It wasn't that hard and makes for a great reminder when you read or write them down everyday.

        My recent post Blog review: Mentor Like Jesus by Regi Campbell with Richard Chancy

  • http://twitter.com/MBSMedicine @MBSMedicine

    Michael, I agree wholeheartedly that every resolution requires an action plan. For years, my list looked just like your "don't do" list. My inspiration for long term goals has been the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, that I wrote about in my blog about resolutions this year. http://bit.ly/6eaiZK

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Kathy_Nicholls Kathy_Nicholls

    A good post as always. I am choosing this year to write a new story instead of setting resolutions, as Don Miller's way of writing our story ( from his blog and interviews with you, HIS book is first on my list to read this year) makes so much sense to where I am in life right now. Within that story, comes goals. So far they include:
    1. Your post on reading the Bible through in a year has inspired me to do that this year, using the plan you shared. I've never actually done that and 2010 will be the year I actually get that accomplished.
    2. Completing the immigration process for my husband so we are secure here in the US and he can work. Paperwork will be filed on Monday and it is my HOPE this will be done by June, although that relies on the government folks.
    3. Write at least three posts per week in my personal blog, where I share about living life with integrity and some general life musings.
    4. Take the new site I am creating for medical transcriptionists live by January 10 and be sure there is valuable information and postings there at least three times per week.
    5. Read at least one book every week and share what I read and learn through my blogs and posts.

    Thanks for giving the opportunity to "go public" with this. It does make those commitments more real.

  • http://anam-cara.typepad.com Shelia

    Excellent guidelines! Nicely articulated.

    In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about how once we begin a creative endeavor, inspiration and ideas seem drawn to us like metal filings are drawn to a magnet. For me, the experience of goal setting has been like that. As I move toward accomplishing the goal, I am suddenly aware of resources and opportunities I would have missed otherwise. It is as if all of creation is conspiring to help me. But this divine conspiracy is only unleashed once I have begun to move.

    You can read my goals for 2010 here: http://bit.ly/8ceTrD

    Blessings to you and Gail in the new year.
    My recent post A Vital Frontier Filled With Danger and Possibility…

  • http://www.patlayton.net Pat Layton

    Dear Mr Hyatt,
    This post made me smile for two reasons:

    First your comment today:

    "I love the week between Christmas and New Year’s. For me, it is always a time when things slow down. I can reflect on the past year and look forward to the new year. I especially enjoy the time with my family and reconnecting with what’s really important."

    And my comment on my blog here:

    The single thing that I did not agree with (I am certain he will be devastated) was Mr Hyatt’s opinion that this week is “the most unproductive of the year”. Although he later states, as if to give it a slim redeeming purpose, that while nothing else of worth is going on, it is a great time for leaders to evaluate their year and reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

    I just returned from my walk. One of my resolutions is to exercise 365 days this year, in some fashion. While I was walking I decided to post my resolutions, to make them public. I returned home to your post—calling my bluff!

    My passion is "leading women". I appreciate your coaching so much and look forward to learning more this year. Blessings and Happy New Year
    My recent post 7 Questions to ask about 2009

  • http://twitter.com/jowalters @jowalters

    I completely agree about the power of making your goals public. I'm hopeless at sticking with things so when I came up with my list of 250 things I want to do while I'm 25 I started blogging about it as I knew my friends and family would nag me about it!
    My recent post 149 – Learn to recognise 5 native birds or trees you don’t already know – Willow Tit

  • http://davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmclaughlin

    Great list Michael. If I didnt know better (which I do) I’d swear you stole my post from yesterday.

    As far as reading the Bible through in a year, I have been teaching the Bible for a long time and I actually recommend taking two years. I know it is a bit contrarian but it allows the reader to absorb a little more and is more do-able for most people’s schedules (although schedule is usually a cop-out) and makes some of those Old Testament passages a little more bearable.

    Great post.

    dm

    • davidbmclaughlin

      oh yeah…to make it a two year plan just cut the one year plan in half.

  • Ricardo Bueno

    I'm following Chris Brogan's lead and thinking of 3 words that will define the way that i do things next year (I'm still looking for that third word). My business plan is simple: speak, educate (webinars) and design. I've carved out a niche in the real estate space. My goals are to speak at more conferences than I did this year and finish writing my book by the end of this month so that it can go to publishing (not a lofty goal so long as I stay on track).

    There, now that it's out there… Here's a toast from my cup of coffee and wishing you a Happy New Year!
    My recent post Do You Outline Your Blog Posts Before You Write Them?

  • http://www.john-gallagher.blogspot.com John Gallagher

    Mike,

    These goals are spot on with the SMART and writing them down. I try to tie my goals back to the Life Plan, as well. In what areas of my life plan do I need to grow and the goals should have an impact on those life plan 'accounts'. Maybe for another blog! I look forward to following and learning from you in 2010. I hope that I may be able to give some back to you or someone I lead. John
    My recent post 3 Simple Questions to ask in preparing for 2010

  • Lauren Sylvan

    All right, here are my resolutions:
    I will start building a file of blog posts immediately, working on them for fifteen minutes a day, and will launch the blog by February 10.
    I will study two books of the Bible intimately, reading at least three contrasting commentaries on each. One will be Ecclesiastes. There's a lot in there I want to think about.
    I have always wanted to know what God was up to in China for the several millenniums of its recorded history. This year, I'm going to start figuring that out.
    And I'm going to do everything possible, starting with prayer, to encourage my husband to exercise more.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    Here's my action plan for 2010:

    1.) Consolidate my curriculum for my Jr.-Sr. English courses by firming up the standards and activities by mid-August 2010.
    2.) Finish writing my book online by mid-July 2010.
    3.)Revamping my online presence after I finish my book (expand to a website with a link to my blog) by December 31, 2010.
    4.) Work my business plan to promote my brand and pursue "commercial" opportunities after I research possibilities.
    5.) To make exercise and healthy eating a top priority (I slipped a little in 2009).
    My recent post #25 UNDERSTANDING CHRIST: HIS TRIUMPHANT CRUCIFIXION PART 2

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    From someone who hates to fail, and thus usually avoids making resolutions for that reason, this actually makes perfect sense to me…here goes nothing!

    1. Be intentional about my physical well-being (whether or not I actually lose weight or not). Eat right, exercise (which I HATE right now), remember to rest and occasionally have some FUN (sounds easy but for some people it's hard)!

    2. Read at least one book per month, blog at least twice a week.

    3. I'm using a 1-year Bible reading plan from YouVersion too. The Historical. Love it so far (I started on 12/29).

    4. Do at least one thing this year the makes no sense and scares me to death. I know what God has said but I'm not quite ready to make it public yet. Just know that your blog has been a big part of the inspiration.

    Look out 2010!
    My recent post Wii Fit™ and the Word of God…

  • http://seandsims.com Sean

    Already on it Michael, I am actually making a series out of my resolutions this week. The first few are not really resolutions but determinations on life and living, but, later in the week I will be dealing with focused and measurable resolutions.
    My recent post Resolution 1 for 2010: My spiritual life

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  • crystal

    I have several resolutions, all of which are part of a greater, general theme, that I'm willing to share. basically it all has to do with simplifying my life, especially my electronic life.
    1) Avoid email bankruptcy by sorting and resolving all 2218 messages in my inbox by Jan 31, 2010. (Halfway done already).
    2) Also unsubscribe from newsletters I receive but never read, cluttering up my inbox with "I will read this later"–these newsletters are being determined as I clean out my inbox and see what is cluttering it unread the most.
    3) Delete most of the time-consuming games from my facebook profile immediately, leaving just one for entertainment purposes (done).
    4) Answer all facebook comments within a day of receiving them, or not responding at all.
    5) Answering all email received within a week of receipt, or deleting them.
    6) Filing any emails I wish to keep on record, instead of allowing them to clutter up my inbox.

  • http://writingwhilethericeboils.blogspot.com/ Debbie Allen

    If you’d like to write your goals down in a format that you can keep in your wallet, follow the link below to a free pdf goal sheet. There’s room for five goals in each of five categories.

    http://www.isetmygoals.com/goal-setting.html

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Great post, Michael.

    My plans for 2010 include finishing the first draft of my second book, and creating 12 new downloadable documents for my blog. I have found Chris Brogan's idea of using descriptive words for our goals to be very useful. I can remember one word and the picture it conjures up better than lists of things. My two words so far are Eleven and Download

    Good luck with your bible reading plan. I have never had any luck with those because I invariably miss a day or two and can't easily get caught up. I prefer a daily devotional sent by e-mail or the bible on audio book.

    Your half marathon challenge might be something I take up. We have had a challenge in our Toastmaster's club from a gal who wants us to participate in one in April here in Southern California.

    As far as SMART goals goes, you might want to pick up Mark Murphy's new book, Hundred Percenters. In it he introduces the concept of HARD goals for organizations…
    Heartfelt
    Animated
    Required
    Difficult

    A very different take and one that I have found fascinating.

    Have a great 2010!
    My recent post How To Set Goals For The New Year

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Great post, Michael.

    My plans for 2010 include finishing the first draft of my second book, and creating 12 new downloadable documents for my blog. I have found Chris Brogan's idea of using descriptive words for our goals to be very useful. I can remember one word and the picture it conjures up better than lists of things. My two words so far are Eleven and Download

    Good luck with your bible reading plan. I have never had any luck with those because I invariably miss a day or two and can't easily get caught up. I prefer a daily devotional sent by e-mail or the bible on audio book.

    Your half marathon challenge might be something I take up. We have had a challenge in our Toastmaster's club from a gal who wants us to participate in one in April here in Southern California.

    As far as SMART goals goes, you might want to pick up Mark Murphy's new book, Hundred Percenters. In it he introduces the concept of HARD goals for organizations…
    Heartfelt
    Animated
    Required
    Difficult

    A very different take and one that I have found fascinating.

    Have a great 2010!
    My recent post How To Set Goals For The New Year

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

    The structure you've set up here for goal setting is helpful. Thanks!

    I read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in one day just before Christmas, and I loved it. I really appreciated his recent blog post about achieving our goals in the course of a narrative. I need to spend some time envisioning my story for 2010. One goal I'm already working on is bettering my half marathon time for a spring race. I ran four miles today at my race pace!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

    The structure you've set up here for goal setting is helpful. Thanks!

    I read Donald Miller's A Million Miles in one day just before Christmas, and I loved it. I really appreciated his recent blog post about achieving our goals in the course of a narrative. I need to spend some time envisioning my story for 2010. One goal I'm already working on is bettering my half marathon time for a spring race. I ran four miles today at my race pace!

  • Liz Babbs

    The charity MIND (here in the UK) says that those who don't make New Year resolutions end up mentally healthier, as they avoid feelings of failure and worthlessness. Interesting! It may be different for you in the US.
    But this is why I'm listing my hopes and dreams (under God) for 2010 together with aims and goals – but I'm not making resolutions. I'm also spending a day alone at the local convent this week (cell time) committing 2010 to God.

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  • http://www.kristiejackson.blogspot.com Kristie Jackson

    Great advice that I want to take, but I just looked at my ten resolutions and just can't give any of them up. At least they are SMART! And the new blog format is sleek — very nice.
    My recent post Happy New Year!

  • http://twitter.com/Dion_Govender @Dion_Govender

    Hi Michael, I've never been one for resolutions. I'm not really sure why, I generally love to plan and always write down the plan of action with doodles and diagrams(they keep me interested and help me remember). I think I'll try and be S-M-A-R-T and give the resolution another go. Great advice, thanks!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

    Take the resolutions and print them out. Put them in the front of your dayplanner. That's where I also keep my 90 day plans. This way, I see then every day.
    Also, break them down into timeframes
    "Read through the entire Bible by December 31, 2010."
    Do you know how much time you have to read per day or per week? You could be looking at October and only be half way through. Consider breaking down by book or by pages. This way, you know if you are still on target to reach your goal.
    My recent post The Five Audio Mistakes I Made in 2009

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  • http://www.fiercebeagle.com Erin @ Fierce Beagle

    I've actually just resigned from my job as an editor to stay home with my almost-2-year-old son, focus on my master's degree, and pursue creative writing. So, I've definitely gone public.

  • http://www.mynewyearsresolutionsextrememakeover.com Shaun

    After some research I found out that more than 75% of people who set New Year's resolutions will break them within 3 months and almost one-third will break them by the end of January? Whether your goal is to stop smoking, lose weight, get in shape, break bad habits, pay off debt, or find true love; most people end up being another statistic.

    Shaun Maddox

    http://www.MyNewYearsResolutionsExtremeMakeover.com/

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  • http://www.mightyrasing.com Mighty

    Thanks for the challenge here and the tips, too! Having too many resolutions will end up to zero accomplishment most of the time. i don't really call my annual goals New Year's Resolutions, I just call them 2010 targets. There's something about the term 'new year's resolution' that doesn't really click with me.

  • http://www.gritandglory.com alece

    i kept it real simple this year. i chose one word to focus on. my one word will guide decisions, serve as a reminder and nudge, and inspire me to be better. my one word? risk.

  • http://www.liesioverheardinchurch.com RussWrites

    I'm not a big fan of New Years Resolutions because the goals often feel stale and lifeless, and eventually I move on or let go. The goals I do like, and the ones I pursue, are the fires that burn within.
    My recent post Lie #10: God is waiting on you to have more faith.

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  • Belinda

    Mr. Hyatt,

    Thank you for this post – I just found it. I am in the process of making mid-year resolutions – a way to get back on track. I found your previous post and this post to be very helpful and encouraging.

    My goals for the rest of the year:
    1. Continue with reading through the Bible in this year with the Chronological Plan on http://www.BlueLetterBible.org (now available on iPhone)
    2. Increase exercise frequency and intensity
    3. Start working on articles for my website (blog, twitter, facebook)

    Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post, I would like to point out this website http://www.egonomicslab.com as an interesting resource about keeping New Year’s Resolution.

  • http://theperkinsblog.net MichaelDPerkins

    1. Finish writing draft of my first book by June 1, 2010.
    2. Finish my coursework for ordination.
    3. Be more present when I’m with my family.

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  • http://christopherscottblog.typepad.com/blog/ Christopher Scott

    One of my 2010 resolutions was to keep being an active blogger by posting four blog posts a week. I didn’t meet my blogging goals for the number of readers that I wanted to have, but I did a very good job of posting for times a week.

    I now have made over 550 blog posts, and my traffic certainly reflects the increase in my blog posts.

    For 2011 I’m keeping it going, but want to increase the length of my posts, while also posting on other blogs.

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  • frenat

    Found this a few years later… curious how you did on these, and what you do it you miss the mark (as in the Platform example from 2011)?

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