New Year’s resolutions. Is there any yearly writing exercise that’s more fraught? Making New Year’s resolutions is supposed to be a helpful practice about self-reflection and goal-setting but all too often the whole endeavor turns into a practice that’s more stressful than helpful.
This season, try integrating these five approaches into crafting resolutions you'll keep. You might find that as you lessen the demands you place on yourself, you’ll feel more energized and ready to take on the challenges of the new year.
Grab some tea and some alone time and settle down to think about the reasons that you to want to make resolutions in the first place. Is it because you really want to make changes in your life, or is it because, well, it’s just what people do as the New Year approaches? Give it some objective thought, without judging yourself or your reasons.
If it’s just the social pressure of the season, remind yourself: If I’m not feeling it, I can hold off. January 1 is a great time for new starts, but it’s also an arbitrary date.
If, however, you’re resolution-ready, move on to number 2 on this list.
Before you start writing down your list of resolutions, think about the perspective you’ve crafted them from in the past. Often people think about their own self-improvement in negative terms. For instance, it’s common to think something like “I want to lose weight because I don’t like the way I look.” But starting from a negative place provides a shaky motivational foundation. Instead, reframe your resolutions with a positive spin: “I’d like to improve on some healthy eating habits I picked up this past year.” Or, “If I lose some weight, I’ll be more comfortable being active with my kids, and that’s important to me.” By switching your perspective, you might find you’ll stick to your resolutions longer.
Traditionally, resolutions are seen as actions to take—things we need or have to do. They often have to do with being more productive or otherwise improving yourself. It’s a lot of pressure to add to your plate. What if you tried the reverse approach and resolved to make time and space to step back and engage in a little self-care? Instead of resolving to keep the house more clean, exercise more, or get to inbox zero, resolve instead to schedule alone time every week; to spend an extra hour doing nothing; or to finally take a vacation.
Let’s face it, if you’ve had “finally clean out the garage” on your list of resolutions for the past five years and it still hasn’t gotten done, it probably won’t this year either. This year, give yourself permission to stop making promises to yourself that you aren’t really interested in keeping. Releasing that pressure makes space for a new resolution—one that means more to you—while allowing you to let go of the stress of something that feels unfinished.
Don’t just write your list and then tuck it away. Take time every few months to check back in with yourself and renew your relationship with your resolutions. You may find that your priorities have changed, or that you have items you can check off as done. Or you might want to simply renew your commitment. If you think of your list as a living document, as adaptable and adjustable as you are, it could become a source of energy all year round.
Jonanna Widner lives in Portland, OR, where she writes about sports, music, travel, and fitness.