Five things to do instead of New Year Resolutions

new year resolution

I am not sure about you, but I am not a big fan of New Year Resolutions. I still remember the good old school days when teachers asked us to write down New Year Resolutions in the journal. Although I’ve carried this childhood habit over the years, I am less convinced about the usefulness of this tradition. Every year, my resolutions would look more or less similar to last year’s and sometimes it felt more like New Year’s Day Resolutions rather than New Year resolutions.

It’s no surprise that psychologists have also done researches on why New Year Resolution doesn’t work. They found that the lack of specific plans, over-reliance on willpower to act later, together with optimistic bias in predicting future based on current circumstances (e.g we tend to believe we will be less stressed in January just as we do now during holiday season) often results in the failure of following through well-intended resolutions.

If you feel tired of making (and failing) New Year Resolutions year after year, here are a few alternative things you can do to set you off for a great start for 2015:

1. Write a letter to your future self, dated one year from now. Imagine you look back at 2015, from a place of having achieved your most important goals for the year. In the letter, thank your present self for your courage and efforts to achieve your goals and be as specific as you can. You can also give yourself some compassionate advice from your wiser self. Research shows that connecting to your future self this way will quietly influence the choices you make to become the person you want to be, as well as allow you make a more objective observation of the current situation to help you succeed at your goals. The extra bonus is that in one year’s time you will be receiving a letter from your past self as a special new year gift.

2. Review the past year and list both your highlights and challenges. Life can get so busy this time of the year with multiple festive events and family gatherings that we forget to pause and look back what we have achieved and overcome during the past year. Research shows that recognising what went well in your life – your achievements, your happiest moments and your strengths will not only enhance your well-being but also increase your perseverance and willpower. If you didn’t get a chance to celebrate your success properly during the year, the holiday season also gives you a perfect opportunity to celebrate it with family and friends. Reviewing the challenges you faced allows you to reflect on what you’ve learnt and how you could do better in the future.

3. Choose one theme word for this year. Rather than being overwhelmed by a list of things you want to do in the new year, why not think about one theme word that present how you want to feel, who you want to be, or what you want to achieve for the next 365 days? Throughout the year, the theme word can also serve a reminder so that you are aware of your priority you set for yourself. You may also choose different theme words for different areas of your life.  You can also get creative by selecting a picture or photo that represent the feeling of the theme word and put it at a place that you can see everyday to inspire you.  For me, “focus” will be my 2015 theme word for professional life and “space” for my personal life.

4. List out things you want to deprioritise or let go. The tendency of “having it all” sometimes can put us under stress. As human being, our brain has a strong preference of avoiding losses to acquiring gains. A quick look at my ever-crowded closet always reminds me of the importance of letting go. I have now set myself a rule that whenever I buy a new piece of clothes, I will need to give away an old piece. It is the same principle with the mind. If we don’t declutter from time to time, it will get too busy to help us achieve what we want to do.  Before adding new items on your 2015 calendar, have a thorough audit of what’s on your plate right now and let go of those items that are no longer priorities for you. The mental de-clutter will help you create more headspace as you start off the new year (of course, you are most welcome to do a closet de-clutter too!).

5. Change one small thing for 30 days. Forget about big resolutions. Start with tiny habits. This is what Harvard psychologist BJ Bogg found through his 20 years of research on habits and behavior change. Bogg identified three steps to make behavior changes: 1) get specific (by translating the outcome into specific behaviors); 2) make it easy (as simplicity changes behaviors) and 3) set a trigger (no behaviors happen without a trigger). For me, the one thing I want to improve is to be more mindful on a daily basis (target outcome) so I set myself to do 5 minutes of meditation every morning (simple behaviour). The trigger will be when my alarm clock rings in the morning (trigger by design). So, instead of relying on your willpower to make big changes,  introduce a tiny tweak in your daily routine for 30 days and see what it brings you.

I hope these alternatives give you some new ideas to try as you set intentions for the year ahead. I’d love to hear from you – which one(s) would you give it a go? what’s your own version of New Year Resolution routine if you have?  If you find the article helpful, please also feel free to share it with your family and friends.

Wish you a spectacular new year,


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2 Responses to “Five things to do instead of New Year Resolutions

  • Why not doing nothing and just give yourself a big smile “Happy New Year” ^_^

    • Of course that’s a great new year gift to yourself! Thanks for sharing:) Best wishes, Jessie

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