How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution (and Why it’s OK to Fail)

My 2016 New Year’s Resolution was to do one new thing every day. Now that we’re at the end of the year, I can say with reasonable certainty that I’m going to succeed. Admittedly, many of these new things have been relatively low-stakes — listening to a new podcast, trying a new restaurant, cooking a new recipe — but I also did a few cool, bigger things like participating in the Coney Island Polar Bear Dip, sleeping outside to raise money for homeless youth, going to Kenya, and running a half marathon.

People love to talk about how New Year’s Resolutions don’t work, as if this is a reason to forgo them entirely. Having spent the past 366 days discovering that, sometimes, New Year’s Resolutions actually do work, I wanted to share a few tips that have helped me stick to my plans:

Be specific. Make your Resolution quantifiable and measurable. When goals are vague, it’s easier to let them slide. For example, “Do more yoga” isn’t going to be as effective as “Go to five yoga classes per week.” With the former, I can justify waiting a few days or even a week to get started, while with the latter, I know I need to attend at least one class by Tuesday.

Create accountability. There’s conflicting research on whether sharing a goal publicly makes it more or less likely that you’ll achieve it. Some people find success by announcing every CrossFit session attended or chapter written, but you may be more comfortable keeping things on the DL than blasting your progress on Facebook. If the latter, you can still create accountability by identifying a single partner to hold you to your Resolution. Ideally, you’ll select someone who’s working toward a goal of their own so the relationship is symbiotic — with each of you having more incentive to hold the other accountable.

Plan ahead. If your goal is to go to spin class once a week, pre-pay for a class package (bonus: you’ll likely save money that way) and sign up for individual classes ahead of time — especially if there’s a fee for bailing. If you want to learn a new skill each month, pick out your first three or four skills in January — and commit to a non-refundable class, strict timeline, or non-negotiable deliverable that’s going to help you stick with them.

Reframe failure as progress. Let’s say your Resolution is to post one Instagram photo per day that represents each day of the new year, so that at the end of the year, you have a visual diary of 2017. Everything is going great, until Day 256, when you drop your latte on the subway, find yourself stuck in a rainstorm without an umbrella, get some undesirable feedback at work — and are so focused on making it through the day that you totally forget to document it.

So what? You could totally scrap your goal because of one slip-up, or you can post an extra photo on Day 257 and move on with your life. While you didn’t stick to the letter of your Resolution, you stuck to the spirit, and the end result — 365 photos that remind you of what happened throughout the year — is the same.

Similarly, let’s say your New Year’s Resolution is to run a marathon in 2017. You run a half in May, only to be sidelined with plantar fasciitis for the next few months — throwing your training schedule off in a way that means you won’t complete 26.2 by the end of the year. It’s easy to look at this as falling short of your goal. But instead, don’t let the plantar fascists get you down. Consider where you were in January (barely able to make it through a 10K) vs. now (halfway to your goal). With any “failed” goal, the progress you’ve made has undoubtedly changed your life in positive ways, even if it’s hard to remember that when you can barely walk to the corner and your eyes are surrounded by broken capillaries from prescription-grade Aleve.

Here are a few of my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions, some of which I expect to “fail” at:

  • Do one new thing every day (and actually keep up with documenting them)
  • Read 25 books by people of color
  • Go to four yoga classes per week
  • Run a marathon
  • Walk 10,000 steps per day
  • Come up with 10 ideas every day

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