10 Alternatives to Traditional New Year’s Resolutions

As people are preparing for the new year, many are working on that perfect New Year’s resolution. Three years ago I resolved to stop creating traditional resolutions. That doesn’t mean letting go of setting goals and aspirations for establishing a focus for the upcoming year. It is just that I wanted something different, a bit more playful and inspirational. If you feel the same way, here are seven options to consider. I focus upon education and social entrepreneurship, and these ideas can work just as well for the classroom teacher, University administrator, and educational startup founder. They also work for just about anyone else. Enjoy.

Choose 3 Words

I came across this blog post at the beginning of 2013 where Chris Brogan provided an interesting twist on the New Year’s Resolution. Instead, he explains how he chooses three words to shape, inspire, inform, and direct his life, work and thinking. I liked this idea so much that I’ve used it in both 2013 and 2014, and I plan to do it again in 2015. By the way, he suggests limiting yourself to 3 words, not 4. I ignored that advice last year and learned the hard way. 4 is just one too many to juggle, at least for me. Having three is part of the power of this approach. It forces you to narrow your focus to no more than three areas, allowing you to devote your energy and go deeper into a few areas.

Establish a Short List of Core Values

This is not about what you want to accomplish, but more about who you are as a person. What are the values that drive and inform what you do? For example, I know that faithfulness is a clear core value for me. Know that about me and it is much easier to understand why I react the way that I do to different life circumstances. It also helps me understand more about my own thoughts, habits and decisions. The provided link will walk you through a process to identify your core values.

Create or Revise a Personal Mission Statement

Most organizations have one, but they can work well for individuals as well. I’ve reworked mine a few times over the last twenty years, and I find the statement to be a wonderful guide as I work through challenge and respond to opportunities. If this is a new concept, the link above will take you to a simple 5-step guide to creating one. Creating a personal mission statement will help you refine your goals and sense of purpose while also giving focus to your activities in the coming year. Of course, it is only useful if you use it, so that means devising a plan to think of and use it daily…at least a few times a week.

Create a Bucket List

This idea caught on ever since the movie, The Bucket List, came out years ago. It is a simple idea. What do you want to do or experience before you die? Or, you can just create an annual bucket list. What do you want to do or experience before the end of this coming year? While this can just be a list of goals, many tend to focus on things that they want to experience.

Give Yourself a Title and Work Your Way Into It

Most people in leadership know that you can prepare for a leadership role, but much of the learning is on the job, it happens after you get the job and the title. Having the job is part of what drives you to learn. Either you figure it out or you need to give up the title. So, why not try this with other aspects of your life? Give yourself the title that you dream of having, but make it fun, interesting and inspiring. You might want to think of titles that have never existed. Be the first Executive Director of Encouragement, or CEO and Founder of Work/Life Balance. Once you have the title, start with your 90 day plan. What are you going to do to thrive in this new position?

Write Your End of the Year Reflection Before the Year Begins

During the holiday season, I know many who send out family letters to others, sharing what happened during the past year. What if you tried writing one now? Be creative with how you write it and don’t set yourself up for failure. However, this lets you conduct goal-setting in a creative way. You have the year to live the story that you just wrote. We all know that there will be surprises and unexpected twists. I suppose that is part of the joy ( and challenge) of living out our true life’s story, so don’t use it like a script or guilt factory. Instead, just use it for inspiration. As the year progresses, pull it out and revise it every few months. Try a Google Doc that tracks changes. At the end of the following year, see what stayed the same an what changed. Did it influence or focus your efforts? Did it add a helpful level of self-reflection and self-examination to your year?

Create a Photo Album for the Upcoming Year

Browse the web and find 5-10 photos that are amazing, beautiful, inspiring…pictures in which you would love to see yourself. Then make it your goal to take an actual picture of yourself in that same scene or something really similar. Be creative. You are using pictures to represent goals for the year while also giving you a bit of inspiration and a more concrete image of what it will look like when you accomplish the goal.

Decide What You Will Measure in the Upcoming Year

In this growing world of analytics, informatics and big data; more people are thinking about how to use this data to reach goals, increase performance, and seek overall improvements. Organizations are doing it and sites like LifeHacker tell the stories of how people analyzed aspects of their lives with sometimes startling discoveries. This isn’t for everyone, but we know that people tend to track and measure much of what they value. So, why not create a plan to track a few of the things that you value in the upcoming year? See if you can device an easy (which is critical if you are going to stick with it) and playful way to track your performance or behavior in those areas? If appropriate, consider sharing the data with someone else or certain groups to add a little accountability. People usually talk about setting a goal first and then deciding on a way to measure progress. In reality, deciding the measure and establishing the goal sometimes happens all at the same time. However, be careful that you don’t find the ease of measurement shifting you from a goal that you truly value to one that that is less important to you but just easier to track.

Create a Commitment Contract

I recently learned about StickK, a web site that allows you to set a goal and add some stakes to achieving it. So, you can commit to paying someone a certain amount of money if you do not achieve the goal. The Yale researchers behind the site claim that it increases the chances of you achieving your goal. If you think this might work for you, why not give it a try in the new year? By the way, this site also allows you to set up a person or people to hold you accountable and others to be your dedicated cheerleaders.

Focus Outward in the New Year

While many resolutions about are kicking a bad habit, losing weight, getting fit or some other personal goal; why not flip the focus to someone else, a group, or organization? What if you made it your mission to benefit others in the upcoming year? Who will you help, why, and how? Be specific.

4 Replies to “10 Alternatives to Traditional New Year’s Resolutions”

  1. Gina Fredenburgh

    Inspire – Teach – Learn. Maybe I won’t stick to these, maybe I will. They are the first thoughts I had on pondering this essay. Is it inspiring me? Can I teach someone? Can I learn something? We’ll see where this leads; it’s a path I’d like to follow this year.

  2. Laura Gibbs

    Bernard, I am such a fan of ALL your blog posts, but I really really like this one. Traditional New Year’s Resolutions work great for me (in fact, I adore them)… but I have met so many people for whom they do not work at all. What a great list of other ways to get that New Year’s vibe going. Thank you for this, and thanks for your great blog. I think I just discovered your blog in 2014 (?), which would mean it was a very nice thing that happened in 2014! Happy New Year!

    • Bernard Bull Post author

      Thank you for the comment and kind words, Laura. For years, I journaled about what I was thinking and learning, but I rarely shared it. So, the last few years, I’ve mostly just made my journal public…in the form of this blog. It has been wonderfully rewarding.

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