What to do instead of setting a New Year’s resolution

Image by Joy Miessi

Fun fact: just 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions. That’s not a lot, which kind of makes you wonder if the problem is in the premise: the idea that your life is something that needs to be resolved.

A few years ago, my friend Vincent told me about how he sets themes for the New Year and I’ve been doing it ever since. Whereas resolutions are often tactical (“I’ll go to boot camp every morning”) or goal-oriented (“I’m going to lose 10 pounds”), a theme is less about something to accomplish or fix and more about how you want to live your life.

One year my theme was enthusiasm. The etymology of enthusiasm is:

en = in
theos = god

The god within, or filled with the divine spirit. Enthusiasm became kind of a litmus test for my decision-making: I did my best to either minimize doing things I wasn’t enthusiastic about or bring as much enthusiasm as possible to things that needed to get done. At the risk of sounding pollyannaish, most things are whatever you make of them. Why not feel good, if you can?

How do you pick a theme?

Sometimes it’s totally obvious what you want. Or it might mean shifting what would have been a resolution like losing a certain amount of weight to a theme like active or balance. At Women Catalysts, Kim and I individually write our own visions for the year and then come back together to talk about what we want for ourselves, our community, and our business. The act of writing our visions helps draw out our themes.

What’s a vision?

A vision is a picture you paint of your future. It can cover specific areas of your life like career or relationships, or it can be a broader description of what your life is like through the lens of a typical day. And it can be set at any point in the future, though around the holidays is a natural time to examine where you want to be in a year.

Here’s a few good reasons to write a vision:

  1. What we think and feel influences how we behave, which in turn affects our real-world outcomes. If that’s a little out there for you, check out the counterclockwise study.
  2. Personal growth requires reflection. Self-awareness is a skill that serves us well in all areas of our lives.
  3. We have a strong desire to behave in a way that is consistent with who we say we are — it’s one of the principles of the psychology of persuasion. Once we make a commitment, we’re more likely to follow through.
  4. Having a vision we can share means that we can invite others to be part of making our visions a reality.

If you’re curious, my themes this year are create and love. I’d love to hear your theme in the comments! And if you’d like some guidance refining what it might be, check out the visioning workbook we made for Women Catalysts. You can download it for free here. It’s something you can do on your own, with loved ones, or a mix of both.

Whether you choose a resolution, a vision, a theme, or something else, be kind to yourself — because it’s not just about what you do, but how you do it.