Don’t give up on New Year Resolutions

Donut bite

This year, more than any other year before, I’ve been reading a lot of blogs whose authors believe that New Year resolutions are dead.

These authors seem to suggest that New Year resolutions are a bad idea; that the people who make them are destined to spend 2013 in a downward spiral of non-productivity and failed objectives; that to eschew the New Year resolution is somehow to achieve a higher plane of existence and productivity.

“These authors seem to suggest that New Year resolutions are a bad idea; that the people who make them are destined to spend 2013 in a downward spiral of non-productivity”

I hold many of these authors in great respect and do not wish to dismiss their opinions out of hand; however I do believe that at best they have downplayed the power and symbolism that underpins the New Year resolution and at worst they are indulging in a sense of self-satisfaction that seems to permeate the posts of those who think that not making resolutions is somehow a symbol of their elevated productivity.

I would therefore like to take an alternative slant on the notion of the New Year resolution, examining first a few personal Do’s and Don’ts of resolution-making and then sharing my own 2013 resolutions with you.

  • Do take the opportunity to look back on the past year. What are you proud of? What would you have liked to have gone better? They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over but expecting a different result; It is therefore essential that you make your New Year resolutions having fully considered the lessons to be learnt from the year past.


  • Don’t make resolutions on a whim. To be effective a resolution needs to be well thought through and something that tugs at one or more of your fundamental values. Put some time aside to consider what you want to achieve out of 2013; do some proper brainstorming with pen and paper; use any other tools you are comfortable with (such as identifying those aspects of your Life Wheel that you want to improve). You’re going to spend 12 months working on your resolutions; give them careful consideration in advance.
  • Do think big, but be prepared to act small. The best resolutions are anchored in your personal life goals and the next 12 months may be no more than taking one or more steps in the right direction. Think in context of your major goals but make your resolutions specific to how you’re going to move towards your chosen goal (for GTD-ers, think ‘Next Action’).
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s not often I can quote Star Wars in a productivity post but Master Yoda once said “Do, or Do Not; there is no ‘try’. ” As with most goal-setting you must have the conviction that you will achieve your chosen resolutions; but if you beat yourself up too much when the going gets tough your tendency will be to abandon the task altogether, rather than pick yourself up, dust yourself off and have another go. Most dieters fall into this trap – having an off day/weekend does not mean you can’t get back on the wagon and still achieve your goal.
  • Do keep your list of resolutions short. Many unexpected things will trip you up through the course of the year and you have the best chance of keeping on course if you’re focused on a few key objectives rather than spreading your efforts across a list of 10 or more resolutions.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew; in direct contradiction to the old quote “shoot for the stars and you may at least reach the moon” when it comes to making resolutions it pays to have confidence that they are achievable. Success is built on the back of self-confidence and positive reinforcement; nothing boosts the ego more than consistently achieving small, positive victories.
  • Do be specific. What exactly are you going to do? How often? By how much? Try and apply the classic SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed) criteria to ensure that you will know what you want to achieve and how you will measure your progress towards your goal. Another technique to consider is visioning – imagine what it’s going to feel like when you achieve your goal, and reflect on this as you measure your progress. This works especially well for health and fitness goals where you should be able to consciously draw a direct link between improvements in how you look & feel to the measurable progress you are making.

“Having an off day/weekend does not mean you can’t get back on the wagon and still achieve your goal.”

Above all else, write your resolutions down and embed them into a regular review or reinforcement session. This may be a post-it on your desk, a set of affirmation cards in your wallet or a note in your calendar. Writing things down has some form of mystical power I am at a loss to explain and reguar reinforcement is key to keeping your commitment and positivity high.

I think with some of these principles in mind there is still great value to be had in using the start of the year as a trigger to consider how things in your life are progressing and what you want to achieve in the next 12 months. I suspect some of the resistance to this approach lies in the arbitrary timing of the activity – why wait till January? Why only once a year? – and it’s a very valid point. My suggestion would be to use the calendar event of “New Year” to bolster the other activities you undertake throughout the rest of the year in respect of goal-setting and prioritisation. I believe there is no reason New Year resolutions cannot be complementary to a productive mindset.

As promised, here are the resolutions I am currently working on and will shortly embed into my 2013 plan:

1. Make 2013 a career year: 2012 was a big family year for me with the birth of my second son, and understandably my focus moved from outperforming at work to adjusting to my new family dynamic. I feel I now have a good enough handle on that aspect of my life to renew my efforts to climb the corporate ladder.

Next Action: Objective setting and 1:1 sessions with my manager in January.

2. Stay fit and healthy: I made a concerted effort to lose weight in 2012 and despite a few ups and downs (particularly when child 2 was born) ended the year at my target weight. 2013 objective is to ensure I maintain that weight.

Next action: Re-implement healthy eating and gym regimen after Christmas splurge (ho ho ho)

3. Quit smoking: An old classic this one, and as a ‘serial quitter’ I have some experience in this. In the past 15 years I have had several 1/2/3 year breaks from smoking but the evil weed has continued to find its way back into my life. I have a longer-term objective of ridding myself of nicotine for good, but my 2013 objective is to go back to being a non-smoker.

Next Action: Pick a date in January that will be my last cigarette. Then go cold turkey (it’s the only way that works for me)

4. Make the best use of my family time: Productive SuperDad wrote a great post last year about the need to be ‘unselfish’ and to put your family first. This resolution is about ensuring that during family time (evenings and weekends) I put family first, me second.

Next Action: Set up an informal monitoring system that I can use to remind myself where my focus should be and to critique how well I think I’m doing.

These are my resolutions for 2013. Obviously I have plans to continue my productivity journey and to continue to build this blog, but I don’t consider those worthy of ‘resolution’ status. By having four goal-oriented but achievable resolutions I believe I can give a focus to the next year that I might otherwise have lacked.

What do you think? Will you be making New Year resolutions in 2013? Or do you eschew this outmoded approach for something more modern? I’d love to know either way.

Thanks, and happy new year to you all.


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