Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Simplify Your New Year's Resolution Process: Reflect, Select, Remove.

“To tear ourselves away from the everyday, from habit, from mental laziness which hides from us the strangeness of reality, we must receive something like a real bludgeon blow,” wrote playwright Eugene Ionesco in 1959.

Ionesco’s metaphor may be violent, but with good reason. Breaking from our usual habits is difficult and often painful – requiring not just willpower and stamina but also the courage to take risks, to fail, and to pick ourselves up again.

The turn of the year presents a dangerous allure: That of the clean slate. We make big, bold resolutions as if starting from scratch. Didn’t accomplish those 2011 resolutions? Well then, it’s time to double-down for 2012!

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Most of us have existing commitments (jobs, relationships, etc) and a slew of bad habits (a Twitter-checking obsession, a weakness for mindless Netflix instant movies) that don’t go away at the end of the calendar year.

Now, before you think this post is going to depress you, my point is not that we should throw up our hands and do away with New Year’s resolutions. Rather, it’s that we should simplify our goals – fully recognizing our existing constraints, strengths, and weaknesses – so that we can actually achieve them.

Let’s choose quality over quantity this year. Let’s dispense with the resolutions list that’s a vague mishmash of broad ambitions and aspirational new habits in favor of a more targeted, more meaningful, more achievable list of goals.

As you consider a simplified approach to setting your resolutions for the New Year, here are a few guidelines and resources:

1. Reflect on what you have accomplished.

I love Chris Guillebeau’s annual review approach, not least because it begins with an oft-overlooked activity: reflection. He starts by asking two questions: What went well last year? What didn’t go well last year? It’s a very simple but useful exercise that takes stock of where you’ve built new skills for success and where there’s room for improvement. After a clear-eyed assessment of what you’re capable of, you’ll be in good stead to set your goals for the year ahead.

2. Select 1-3 meaningful goals that will make an impact.

When it comes to resolutions, research and experience show that you’re much more likely to be successful if you: (1) lay out a small list of very specific goals, (2) outline a clear plan of action to achieve them, and (3) plan for what will happen in case of setbacks, distractions, and interruptions. So consider this: What matters most to you in the coming year? What are you passionate about and well-equipped to achieve? Choose your battles wisely, and commit to them completely.

3. Remove the inessentials with a “stop doing” list.

Chances are, you probably weren’t working at 80 percent capacity last year. In fact, I bet you felt too busy. So just where does the extra bandwidth to work on these new resolutions come from? That’s where bestselling author Jim Collins’ “Stop Doing List” comes in. To gain the time needed to enact these new goals, know that you’re going to have to give up something. It may be extra client work after you meet a certain monthly financial goal, or maybe it’s just sleeping in an extra hour. Identify what those elements are, and commit to NOT doing them.

What’s Your Take?

How do you decide on your resolutions? What have you been meaning to do for awhile that you haven’t done?

More insights on: Achievement, Career Development

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
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