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 ©, Image #3654703

Photo courtesy of ©

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.