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.
load comments (26)
  • Yom

    Just in time since I’m currently writing a post on how 2011 went on my end. And I have to agree with these tips. I would like to have a more thematic year and simply focus on what I think would be relevant for success and learning.

  • DIY Business (DIYBA)

    We’re down with anything that streamlines a process. Also, as another shout-out to Jim Collins, who co-coined the term Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals, we’re starting the #BHAG2012 Movement. You can read about it here: http://diybusinessassociation….

  • Jacqjolie

    The “what went well” and “what didn’t go well” were concepts I first read about in Jinny Ditzler’s book “Your Best Year Yet” – written about 10-15 years ago.  In the book, she recommends 10 goals for the year, but with only one being your major focus.  The others are just to incorporate some kind of balance over all your various “roles” in life.  It’s really quite a good book.

  • jkglei

    Sounds great. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • future graphics

    “Choose your battles wisely, and commit to them completely” – here here!!
    And gratitude, gratitude, gratitude :)

  • Heather Huhman

    Great article, Jocelyn! Your strategy is definitely applicable to those who want to advance in their skill set or career. It’s important to keep track of what works and what doesn’t work in order to get results. 

  • Jacques Allrich

    Instead of focusing on my resolutions, I focus on getting results…and your article actually speak to this, thanks for sharing

  • ciaran

    If you found this article interesting, check out Niel Fiore’s “The Now Habit”, which is structured upon similar lines.  It makes for seasonal reading for me!

  • HR Uncovered

    Excellent advice.  Too often, we focus on what we want to change and what we want to stop doing.  It is important to take the time to honor what you’ve accomplished and what went well – to reflect on those activities that energized and elevated you.  That way, you can strive to lean further into those things over the next year and do less of those things that deplete you.

    Happy New Year!

  • 99designs reviews

    Great post. It features a great set of resolutions that every
    designer would love to stick to and accomplish in 2012. I feel
    that viewing such posts with such information are a great motivation
    for the year ahead. I definitely agree with all of these points but
    feel the best advice would be to learn from the past year.

  • Achim

    I Love the first point “Reflect on what you have accomplished.” I actually do it every Friday and “celebrate my successes” now matter how small. It helps me to finish the week on a high note and helps me to not forget that I actually have accomplished things and can be proud of myself.I will do the other 2 points of this post too. thanks!

  • Andrew Halfacre

    These processes work well if you know more or less what you want. I use something similar to “Your Best Year Ever” BUT… I find a lot of clients have a more fundamental problem of not knowing what they really want. For this I have a collection of tips at

  • Elizabeth Saunders

    Excellent article Jocelyn~

    Here are a few more non-traditional strategies that work effectively for my time coaching clients:

    -Make a goal to consistently move forward instead of making a goal of completion. For example: I will spend from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday nights moving forward on my website.

    -Make a goal based on creating support structures. For example: I will give a monthly update to my mentor, colleague or design friend on what I have done in the last 30 days.

    -Make a goal based on accomplishing something internally. For example: I will work on overcoming my fear of failure by noticing when it controls me and taking steps to overcome it.

    To a brilliant 2012!
    Elizabeth Grace Saunders

  • Sandra Martini, Biz Mentor

    Great article Jocelyn.  To help me focus on reflection all year, I keep a gratitude/success journal on my desk (it’s one of the few things allowed top-of-desk space).

    I find that by celebrating the daily, often small, successes, the larger ones come more easily and my goals are achieved with (what feels like) a lot less effort.

    Each year I also look at what won’t be coming with me into the New Year — whether bad habits, relationships which no longer support me, etc. and then take steps to manage those in order to manage my energy.

    Happy New Year,

    Sandy :-)

  • Sara

    An interesting and inspiring post, Jocelyn! Right in these days I’ve been writing on my blog about my own New Year’s Resolutions, and about the importance of setting up not vague and theoretical, but real, useful goals that you have some control of, that you can actively work on achieving. You make quite good points on this, especially about learning from the previous year. Thanks!

    Here are my own New Year’s Resolutions, mostly writing and art-related.
    1. Finish and self-publish the novel I’m revising.
    2. Prepare and self-publish a promotional artbook for the novel.
    3. Open my own shop on Cafepress or Zazzle for shirts and accessories design.

    “Writing is not an alibi”

  • Fran

    Thanks, Jocelyn. Great comments. I especially liked the idea about the Stop Doing List. Hadn’t thought about that. Also liked your emphasis on positive reflection and appreciating the small victories.

  • gluten free gift

    Having a buddy system is really key for me. My pal and I have been doing this for over 10 years – we review the year (what worked, what didn’t) and then we make a BIG list – which we talk to each other about until we can determine what the “main” goal is and a couple of manageable sub goals. Working together we have accomplished quite a bit, because we check in throughout the year and are committed as much to each other reaching goals as ourselves.

  • Angelina S.

    I love this! One of my resolutions is to finally do a complete overhaul of our website! :)

  • Cobi

    When I ventured into this article, I thought all the answers would be given but then came the REFERENCES…… In the end I spend  my time reading all this positive garbage rather than enacting in real Life :)

  • Nicole Pyles

    Very true! Actually, just around my birthday I started writing a letter to myself for when I turned 26 (I turned 25 last december) and instead of writing what I hoped would happen, which always ends up being depressing, I wrote about what I was proud of having accomplished.

    As far as Resolutions, I came up with a goal (finish my novel) with a plan that I will be able to work with this year. And in fact, it’s gonna happen by this February, just as I have planned. I have maintained a chapter a week, and I am doing it!

    The approach you suggested is right on – focus on the positive and find a way to choose a goal you know you can be successful with. My rule this year was make a goal that I know does not involve someone else in it (I didn’t say I wanted to be published this year…I would like that, but it involves someone else, and it’s too likely that won’t happen).

  • Eric Johnson MBA

    Phenomenal. The “Stop Doing List” is excellent. People assume they can have a infinite to do list at time. The stop doing list is great, because it forces people to eliminate… and elimination is how we get the ever so valuable FOCUS that we desire.  I’ll be sharing this with my private clients.  

  • Free Logo Design

    Brilliant article, its such a nice example oriented stuff. A good will and a good humanity being raised your self confidence. My resolution is to be serve the humanity. 

  • Charles Lee

    We are 2 week into the new year, how many of you are still keeping your New Years resolutions?

  • krspeace

    Most resolutions can be kept especially if you really want them and are not just making them just because. Those were some great tips. Here are some awesome new year’s resolutions for those who want to make money online or want to make more:

  • Kristie

    All of us at Your Turn want to help with a successful 2013!!. Check out some new NYR advice on our blog at:

  • Adrienne Farrelly

    This is a great posts on how to achieve your goals. I love the part about removing the inessentials. I have written a post on the same topic, with slightly different advice. If you are interested it reading it you can visit

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