How to set New Year’s Resolutions you’ll actually keep

Originally Posted: December 30, 2018

At the start of December, we start looking forward to spending time with friends and family over the holidays. We start reflecting as another year comes to a close.

This year, that sense of reflection is even greater as we come to the end of a decade. Did you accomplish your goals this past year? Or did you give up on your resolutions by the end of January? Maybe you opted out of the whole idea.

There is something about the start of the year that fills us with a sense of hope and possibility. New Year’s Resolutions should be filled with hope.

But many of us set pretty much the same goal every year. Eventually, after years of not fulfilling that resolution, we give up. What is the point of setting a New Year’s resolution you never keep?

Let’s change that today.

Reflect on the year and your life so far

A successful New Year’s Resolution starts with reflecting on what has come before. Consider what is important to you. What path are you currently on? And how do you feel about that?

You’ll want to come back to these questions a few times before you move on to the next step. This will give the unconscious part of your mind time to mull over the questions. Each time you come back to these questions, you will get a deeper answer.

I have a printable in the Good Life Library that you can download and print to go over these with a cup of your favourite hot beverage. Just sign up for the email list and you’ll be on your way to get access to the library!

Or you can copy the questions below into your journal. 🙂 If you’re the artistic type you could draw the ideas that come to mind as you consider:

  • What about your life now are you grateful for? Why?
  • What successes have you had? What have you learned?
  • What makes you feel energized?
  • When did you last feel energy? What were you doing/What was happening?
  • What would your dream life look like? Is there any part of that you can do now?
  • What do you want to stop doing or do less of?
  • What have you learned recently? How can you apply that new knowledge?
  • What questions do you have that you want to learn more about?
  • What are your goals/intentions/focus? Are you working towards them now? How can you start?
  • What do you want in 2020?

All those questions above lead to these big questions?

  • What were your wins?
  • What were your challenges?
  • What changes are you wanting in your life?
  • What do you want to continue?
  • What do you want to happen in 2020?

What is your intention?

Your intention is your compass. It is not a finish line. It is the direction you want to move towards.

It is more like a practice than an outcome.

“Practice is a lifelong journey towards improvement. Practice can never be perfect, and perfect is not the aim. Practice is a humble acknowledgement that there is no such thing as perfection. Practice is the point, and there is no performance.

Your intention is a word, phrase, or mantra that you use to guide you through your day. It is a tool to make decisions.

The key question to set your intention is What do you want more of in your life?

  • A feeling: creativity, adventure, connection, quiet, learning.
  • An activity: writing, painting, walking, time with friends, game nights.
  • A question: Does this serve me? Will this add to my life? Does this feel expansive or contracting?

This stage is supposed to be a little vague. There is so much that you could do; so much you want to do. This helps to narrow it down a little and give you a sense of focus for the year to come.

Your intention is an aspect of your definition of The Good Life. It reminds you what is the most important thing you do to build the good life.

It can be helpful to look at the final reflection question, “What do I want to happen in 2020?

Create your action plan

Life is going to happen no matter what. Life always finds a way, 1 But if you let life just happen, the chances of you reaching your goals is pure luck.

This is the first point that the traditional New Year’s resolutions fail. We expect that setting a goal will make it magically happen. That’s obvious when it is spelled out. Yet, that is exactly what we do, thought thinking about it.

No outcomes are guaranteed but we can increase the odds in our favour by making a plan and doing the work.

There are two ways to make an action plan. Depending on your goal and your personality, one will likely work better than the other.

Option 1: SMART Goals

You know what a goal is: run a marathon, write a book, lift 200 pounds, get out of debt. A goal is a finish line. With a goal, there is a clear indicator of whether you did it or not. A SMART Goal is an acronym:2

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Let’s take the example of wanting to read more. You could set a goal of reading 24 books a year. That would be 2 books a month. Now let’s break it down into an action plan.

If the average book has 20 chapters and a month has 4 weeks, your action plan could be reading 2 chapters per day 5 days a week. Let’s check to see if the action plan is a SMART Goal:

Specific: Read books from my pile of unread books
Measurable: 24 books a year, 2 books per month
Achievable: I am confident that is a reasonable goal for me
Relevant: My goal is to read more, so reading books is relevant
Time-bound: I will finish reading the books by the end of 2020

Yes, it is SMART.

Option 2: Create a daily(ish) practice that moves you closer to your goals

This is a little gentler way of creating an action plan. It also works better with goals or intentions that are less concrete or you don’t know exactly how to get to the goal.

Key Question: What one thing, if done regularly, will lead you to your intention?

You will create a daily(ish) action that you can do to consistently work towards your goal. The more times you repeat the practice, the more likely it is to become a habit, something you automatically do. And when your practice becomes a habit, you’re more likely to be able to reach your goals.

This is the difference between a goal and a system.

If your goal is to run a marathon, your practice is your training sessions. If your goal is to write a book, your practice is to write. If you intend to be more connected to friends and family, your practice is to send a message, phone a friend, or maybe even write a letter. If your focus is gratitude, your practice could be to keep a gratitude journal, say a prayer, or do a gratitude based meditation.

When you have a daily(ish) practice, you don’t need to be thinking about your goals. You simply put one foot in front of the other. Work a little bit each day towards your vision of the future.

This helps us keep from getting overwhelmed when we set big goals. It keeps us grounded to the fact that the goal isn’t going to happen just because you want it. You need to put in the work too.

Let’s go back to the example of wanting to read 24 books a year. We could use that as our compass, our direction. Or we could set the intention to read more.

The practice is to read. And there are many ways to get that in:

  • Schedule the time to read
  • Delete social media from your phone and download e-reader apps
  • Make sure you have a book handy everywhere you go
  • Change the background of your phone to a picture of your bookshelf or the book you are currently reading

Adapt to succeed

This is one of the main points where peoples’ New Year’s Resolution fails them. They expect the plan to work, without any changes ever. But your life changes, so of course you’ll have to change the exact action plan. And you’ll learn things that you didn’t know before you started.

Use your journal or get a printable form in the Good Life Library. (Remember, you’ll need to sign up for the email list to get access).

  • How are things going?
  • What are your wins?
  • What are your challenges?
  • What have you learned that you didn’t realize before you started?
  • How can you change your plan to account for or get around your challenges?
  • Do you need to ask for help to reach your goals?
  • What is your new action plan?


When you hit your goal, don’t just plan the next thing. Take some time to actually celebrate!

Whether you announce to all your friends that you did it and throw a party, quietly pat yourself on the back, or something in between, it doesn’t matter. Do what feels right for you.

Take the time to celebrate. Enjoy the fact that you reached your goal. That is amazing!

Once you are done celebrating, go back to the beginning. Use that momentum to your advantage to boost you to the next level.

Bottom Line

New Year’s Resolutions have a bad reputation, but you can use them for good. You can use the fresh start at the beginning of a New Year to propel you forward in life.

It is a simple process, but not always easy.

  • Reflect
  • Identify your intention
  • Create an action plan
  • Adapt to succeed
  • Celebrate!

Let me know in the comments below, What is your goal or intention for 2020? Are you setting a SMART goal or a daily(ish) practice?

Until next time, be good.3

You are reading this because you are interested in improving your life. That means we have something in common. I’m still working on what the Foundations for the Good Life is all about, and I’d love for you to join me in this journey. I’d love to build a community with you. With people who are trying to figure out what “the good life” means, and how to set up their life to make it possible for them.

If this interests you, join the newsletter to be the first to know about updates, new articles, and to try out tools as they are developed and improved. I hope to connect with you soon.

  1. Yes, that was a Jurassic Park reference. Good catch. :)
  2. Different references may have different words for the A and the R, but this is my favourite
  3. I was a teenager when I first remember my mom saying, “Be good,” when I left the house. When I left for university, and to this day, she ends most of our conversations in the same way.
    Yes, she meant, ‘I love you’ and ‘stay out of trouble.’ But she also meant, ‘do what’s right.’ Follow what you know to be true for you. Learn from life and how to do things better.
    Now that I’m trying to understand and evolve my philosophy of life; Now that I’m trying to help other people strive toward living the good life; I want to share that phrase, “Be good,” with you. Be good. Live the good life in whatever way you define that for yourself.

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