How to Make New Year’s Resolutions You’ll actually Keep

Notebooks for goal planning

Today is Monday, January 15th. That means that by now, 80% of us have already given up on our New Year’s Resolutions. That’s if you made them at all – in the poll I created on Instagram, 75% of you said you didn’t make resolutions, but instead preferred a “Word of the Year,” a single word or phrase to focus on throughout the year.

I have a hybrid approach that combines the best of both. I’ve developed this method over several years, refining and adjusting the process along the way. I started with classic resolutions I’d make in January, and forget about until the end of the year, and then feel guilty that I hadn’t accomplished what I set out to do, and amazed at how different what I thought I wanted at the beginning of the year was from what I wanted at the end. This method of setting goals certainly wasn’t having much of a positive impact on my life. But I couldn’t give up on the idea.

We only have “one wild and precious life,” and I didn’t want to waste it. I knew there were things I wanted to change about myself, my environment, and my life, and changes weren’t going to just happen if I kept living every day the same as the day before. I wanted to be an active participant in life, not a passive receiver of whatever happened to me.

I truly believe we are never stuck in life. We always have options. Maybe those options aren’t always things we want to do, but they’ll get us to a better place in the end – like quitting a job to take one making less money, but that brings more joy.

As much as I liked the “Word of the Year” approach, it was impossible to find one word that encapsulated everything for all year. In three months, it felt outdated, and without specific benchmarks, it was hard to know if I was living “brave” or with “focus.”

Two things came together for me that made all the difference. The first was a “30 Day Push Challenge,” a series of daily videos and tasks by fitness guru Chalene Johnson that actually didn’t have anything to do with fitness, but about digging deeper and making stuff happen in your life. The second was bullet journaling. Bullet journaling allows you to essentially build your own planner, including monthly and daily spreads, with built-in trackers.

Combining all of these elements makes a system that in 30 minutes once a week, has helped me accomplish astronomically more in a year than I ever have before.

Let’s break it down.

Year:

I start by creating 10 or so goals and resolutions to guide the year. How is this different from how I made resolutions before? Resolutions tend to be things you resolve – like “I resolve to lose weight and be healthier.” These ten goals I make are usually a little more vague, they almost act as categories where I want to see changes this year. For example, my 2018 goals are:

  1. Art and Creativity
  2. Find my voice
  3. Health
  4. Home
  5. Financial
  6. Relationships
  7. Spiritual
  8. Fun and Adventure
  9. Brave
  10. Work Related

I’ll determine these broad categories through journaling, and brainstorm potential sub-goals. For example, under goal #1:

  1. Writing
    1. Research writing routines
    2. Trial and error to find what works
    3. Start blogging consistently
    4. Take a blogging class
    5. Start writing a book or two

Each of my categories of goals could have several sub-goals or ideas. Do NOT get too locked into these. Dream a little! Also, DO NOT think that you have to all of them at once – if I have five sub-goals for each of my 9 goals, that’s an impossible amount of things to do at one time. That’s why the next step is so important…

Seasons:

Instead of making specific resolutions or picking a world for the next 12 months, I’ve found it much more effective to think of the year in terms of seasons – four seasons of three months each. Each season will have it’s own focus. Some are more about rest, some are more about productivity, etc.

Once I’ve made my categories, and set some specific sub-goals, a theme usually emerges. This is my word of the season. There are times that it doesn’t come from my goals, but through a Bible verse, a quote, a song, or some other means, and I use it to guide and focus my sub-goals for the season.

Every three months, I’ll stop and evaluate in my weekly time (I’ll get to that) and see whether that word of the season still fits, or if things are shifting.

Monthly:

On a Sunday afternoon at the beginning of the month, I’ll create the month’s spread in my bullet journal. If you’re not familiar with bullet journaling, here’s a collection of videos on YouTube that I find explain it well. It’s a system that you make work for you – it can be as elaborate or as simple as you want.

My spreads consist of two pages, and they’re not the most artistic bullet journal pages out there, but I’ll show you what it looks like. I use a Leuchtturm 1917 dotted notebook.

bullet journal monthly spreadsDecember monthly goalsMonthly and Weekly goal tracker

At the top are my Monthly goals. Here, I write my Yearly Goals, or the categories. After each, I’ll add a sub-goal or few. I can add them throughout the month too, but I try to have at least one in each category, even though this Season I may be focusing more on Work than on Home, or vise versa.

On the next page are my Weekly and Daily goals. These track habits or practices I’m cultivating on either a daily or weekly basis, like doing yoga daily, and going to small group weekly. Each daily or weekly goal is part of a habit or practice that connects to one of my Monthly goals. Doing yoga every day is connected to my health Monthly Goal, as is being gluten- and dairy-free. Sleeping without electronics is connected to my writing goal, health goal, and spiritual goals, because it helps me get up earlier in the morning so I can do yoga, read my Bible, and write.

In the free space, I’ll also add lists of things that I want to be reminded of throughout the month, like blog post ideas, self-care ideas, “artist-date” ideas, ways to encourage people, etc.

Weekly and Daily:

Once a week, usually on a Sunday afternoon, I sit down with my bullet journal and pens and fill in the boxes for each day that I did the thing I wanted to do. I also look at my Monthly Goals, and then, I create a one page Weekly Spread, that looks like this:

weekly bullet journal spread

Here, I’ll copy over some of the Monthly Goals that I can accomplish this week, or break them into smaller goals to work towards them. I also record any events and appointments for the week, and then I have a Planning Meeting with my husband to go over it. We also go over our Monthly Goals as a family.

I’ll create my daily task lists (right side of the notebook) each morning and add to it as the day goes on. I’ll refer back to my Weekly Spread to make sure I’m crossing things off my list. Then on Sunday, I’ll sit down for 30 minutes to review my Monthly Goals again, fill in my trackers, and make my Weekly Spread.

How do I keep track of which days I do yoga, take vitamins, write, etc. when I only fill in the tracker once a week? I’ve found a quick and easy way to keep track of those things using something I always have with me – my phone. I use the Strides app to track my daily and weekly goals, and set up reminders for logging them. That way on Tuesday, I can log if I went to small group, and at 8 am every day, I can log if I slept without any electronics. I refer to Strides when I sit down to fill out my bullet journal on Sundays, and it makes it quick and easy to color in the right squares. If for some reasons I don’t have time on Sunday to update my tracker, all is not lost, since it’s still recorded.

To recap, my daily tasks and habit tracking connects to my weekly goals and tracking, which connects up to my Monthly Goals, which connect to my Season Focus, which helps filter and prioritize my Yearly Goals/Categories.

Writing that out loud just gave me Monica Geller vibes, and I haven’t even watched Friends!

Why it Works

  1. It’s flexible. By starting the year with categories and varying the monthly goals, I can fit the goals to my season of life. Busy with work? I’ll make more monthly work goals and fewer Home and Fun goals, while still keeping some balance in my life. I may not accomplish all of my weekly or monthly goals, but I can move them to the next month. Or, I might realize halfway through the year that I actually don’t want to run a 10k after all, I’m more of a yoga girl, and I can pivot to a new goal. I once had a goal for gratitude journaling every day, but after months of never doing it, I realized I could just “journal” every day and get the same effect, so I dropped it.
  2. It’s specific when it needs to be. Instead of starting the year with the goal of “Lose weight,” or even, “Lose 15 lbs,” and never breaking that down into smaller steps, I can set the category for Health, and one of my Monthly Goals could be losing 2.5 lbs, and my Daily Goal could be going for a run, and my Weekly Goal could be meal planning healthy meals. Even if I don’t lose all 2.5 lbs, if I’ve gone for a lot of runs and made healthy meals, I’ve still made great progress for my health.
  3. It’s achievable. If there’s a major life change you want to make, like starting a business or running a marathon, this allows you to break it down to things you can do every day to make that happen. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

I believe we can take make those big life changes one step at a time. Even something as simple as sleeping without my phone each night has made it possible to get up earlier, work out every day, read my Bible and journal, start writing, and get my work day off on a better foot, which increases my family’s happiness and helps me be more successful at work. The ripple effects of that one choice every day are enormous!

How to Make Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend getting a bullet journal, and downloading the Strides app. With those two tools, you can build a system that works for you.

If you try this, let me know how it goes! Tag me in a photo of your spreads on Instagram, or comment below.

What’s your word of this season, or a goal you’d like to accomplish this month?