I’ve Succeeded at Every New Year’s Resolution I’ve Ever Made. Here’s How.

Ah, January. The time when everyone bravely makes a super ambitious New Year’s Resolution to Lose Weight™, Get Better At Money™, and Stop Stalking Exes on Facebook™. And then, before the Ides of February, quietly shelving said resolution and wallowing in nihilistic self-loathing. “Nothing ever changes, so why bother?” millions ask as they wipe Cheeto dust from their fingers to scroll through the Facebook profile of ex-boyfriend Doug Jackson and wonder how he can look so happy and fit now that he’s dating what’s-her-face.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you could make a New Year’s Resolution and actually keep it?

According to Kitty, I am the only person in America who ever completes a New Year’s Resolution. I therefore consider myself a bit of an authority on the topic.

For the past five years, I have made a New Year’s Resolution. And every single year, I have succeeded at my resolution. Here’s a quick tally:

2013  Read a book a week (52 in all)
2014  Run a 5k comfortably by the end of the year
2015  Write 100,000 words by the end of the year
2016  Save $10,000 by the end of the year
2017  Do a good deed every week (52 in all)

Every one of these goals was made in the spirit of self-improvement and creating a life I love. They were rewarding, challenging, fun, and empowering. I am #livingmytruth and a dozen other inane platitudes AND SO CAN YOU!

Below, I’ll use each of my goals from the past five years as an example of effective New Year’s Resolutioning. Buckle up.

SMART goals

The entire corpus of Internet writing published in the month of January describes SMART goals. So if you’re already familiar with the concept, feel free to move along. If, however, you’ve been grown in a lab and have just been released, fully-formed into the word of adults hellbent upon self-improvement, then you’d best pay attention.

To succeed at any New Year’s Resolution, it needs to be SMART:

Specific

A broad, general goal like “get healthy” is useless. Its very lack of a clear definition makes it easy to fudge… with fudge.

By contrast, “lose five pounds” or “eat salad for dinner at least once a week” or “exercise four days a week” makes way more sense.

I couldn’t make “write more” my goal. There were no parameters. But “write 100,000 words in a year” was specific enough to give me a clear goal. There’d be no confusion about whether or not I’d succeeded.

I started a spreadsheet, and every time I wrote (whether it was a blog post, a Goodreads review, or The Obligatory Millennial Novel), I added my word count. There was no room for ambiguity: I either made my word count by the end of the year, or I didn’t.

Measurable

On that note, you need some way of tracking your progress. A numerical measurement like a word count makes things much easier than a qualitative measurement like “get better at writing.” For how do you measure an increase in quality? What’s your baseline for improvement?

Know where you’re starting from and where you want to end up. Slap a number on your goal and track it. I have a spreadsheet for every New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever made and I take nerdy delight in watching my numbers creep ever closer to my goals.

Achievable

Bear in mind your own limitations. You have to give yourself a chance to win!

When I resolved to save money, I took a good long look at my finances and determined a savings rate that was a little bit of a reach, but still something I could nail if I really put my mind to it.

By contrast, if I’d resolved to save $50,000 in a year, that would have been completely unachievable… because I was making $46,000 a year at that point.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by choosing an impossible goal. It’ll only frustrate you and make you feel like a failure… which is not the point of a New Year’s Resolution.

Realistic

Sure, I could try to become Duane “The Rock” Johnson in the span of a year. But could it really happen? No. No it could not.

It isn’t realistic because Duane “The Rock” Johnson is a perfect creature who sprang from the mind of Zeus himself and is here on Earth to bless us with such classics as Race to Witch Mountain and The Rundown, though we do not deserve him.

I could never realistically become him. He is singular. Incomparable. The Rock.

Timely

You need a fucking deadline. Conveniently, every New Year’s Resolution has a built-in deadline: one year. But I strongly recommend breaking it down into smaller chunks of time.

For example, writing 100,000 words in the span of a year feels a bit daunting. But when you figure it’s only about 9,000 words every month? That’s way more doable. Fifty-two books a year is only four or five books a month. Training to run a 5k means I have a whole six months to get comfortable running a mere mile and a half.

Easy as eating pancakes.

You gotta wanna

There’s a reason my New Year’s Resolution wasn’t “run a marathon”: because I don’t fucking want to. Marathons are for people who hate having toenails. They’re for those who take the first rule of zombie apocalypse survival far too seriously (read: I don’t have to outrun the zombies, I just have to outrun you).

I have no desire to run a marathon. I do, however, love the feeling of running an eight-minute mile without breaking a sweat. I love running without pain. I love running to raise my adrenalin and get out of my head for a while. It’s a great way to manage anxiety. And I can achieve that in under ten miles.

Working at something you really, really want is much easier than putting yourself through hell while constantly asking, “For whose benefit am I eating all this kale?”

I started my resolution spree with reading because I really, really love to read. And I was already reading about thirty to forty books per year. Resolving to read a book a week was literally about doing more of something I really wanted to do. It was about increasing time spent in enjoyment and intellectual fulfillment.

It wasn’t something I did because I wanted other people to think I was well read (though I totes am). And I certainly didn’t make my goal in the hopes of instilling a love of reading that wasn’t already there.

Comparison is the enemy of improvement

I have a friend who volunteers with Team Rubicon. Last year she dropped everything to fly to Nepal in the wake of an earthquake to administer medical care to people who had lost everything. Before that she lived in Nicaragua healing and teaching. She’s a paramedic and an inveterate do-gooder. I’ve just been informed the Pope is fast-tracking her canonization this month.

By comparison I… volunteer at a middle school? Donate to the food bank sometimes? This one time I helped an old lady with her bag at the airport!

There’s no way I could ever live up to my saintly friend’s example of extreme charity. Setting the bar that high would have doomed my resolution to do a good deed every week before I’d even started. So instead of comparing myself to Mother Theresa and Angelina Jolie, I compared myself to myself, circa January 1, 2017.

I didn’t have to parachute into a war zone and singlehandedly save the whales from childhood illiteracy. I could simply shovel my disabled neighbor’s sidewalk when it snowed. I could donate my money and time, do really big favors for my friends without accepting anything in return, help strangers whenever the opportunity arose.

I did it myyyyy waaaaaay!

Before I started running, I hated working out. And I hated it because I worked out with sadists who would say “Just thirty more seconds!” but mean “We’ll stop in three hours when you’re exhibiting symptoms of organ failure.” It was miserable. It made exercise feel like a chore. And it didn’t work for me.

So when I decided to start running, I knew I had to do it on my own terms. This meant training alone and starting laughably slowly. But by the end of a year, I had completed my goal: I could run a 5k without breaking a sweat. Now I run better, faster, and farther than ever. Instead of a torturous obligation, running has become a joyful, powerful experience that makes me feel like the Valkyrie I was born to be.

Snowball your goals

It’s all well and good to complete a New Year’s Resolution once. But what good is that year’s worth of self-improvement if you immediately abandon all your progress and revert to old habits as soon as the ball drops over Times Square? You just worked at something for a year. The real test is if you can permanently make it part of your life.

This is why I always snowball my goals. In 2013 I read a book a week. In 2014 I read a book a week and trained to run a 5k. In 2015 I read a book a week, trained to run, and wrote 100,000 words. And every year I just tack on a new resolution to the previous year’s.

By now, reading a book a week isn’t even a stretch. I’ve long since mastered my exercise regime to the point that a 5k ain’t no thang. Writing 100,000 words? Bitch you’re reading 1,700 of them right now!

Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill and according to Phillippa Lally it takes two months to form a habit. If you choose your New Year’s Resolution based on a true desire for self-improvement, make it a SMART resolution, ignore comparison, pursue it in a way that works for you, and stick with it even after the year is over, it’ll become ingrained in your life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a kitten stuck in a tree and I’ve yet to do my good deed for the week.

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22 thoughts on “I’ve Succeeded at Every New Year’s Resolution I’ve Ever Made. Here’s How.

  1. Your words never cease to amuse yet make the reader think. I’m so glad you chose that 10,000 words a year resolution! The world needs those words, ladies.
    Also, your experience of running made me LOL several times. “Marathons are for people who hate having toenails.” SO ACCURATE! Have you read The Oatmeal comics about ultra-marathoning? Too real. “…running has become a joyful, powerful experience that makes me feel like the Valkyrie I was born to be.” You are a beautiful Valkyrie, you. Maybe your words will motivate me to get back to it myself… as soon as I’m able to breathe through my nose again and it’s warmer than 10 degrees.
    Cheers to an amazing 2018!

    1. And your compliments are what keep us alive!!! Gawd yes, the Oatmeal is the most accurate representation of running ever made. All those people like “Oh it’s not that hard…” are LIARS and SADISTS and I hate them.

  2. You are an authority on the topic! I’m actually pretty good at setting goals, though I do sometimes wonder when I meet them if I didn’t challenge myself enough. Last year, I failed twice at my decluttering goals, and I think I grew more then than I did with some of the goals I actually met. As someone who is 100% failure phobic, it was a weird thing to acknowledge.

    But yes, we should set goals that are within reason. And I think my favorite part is how you really choose one thing to focus on (not 97 like a lot of people do every NYE!).

    1. Why thank you! I should definitely have added that it’s better to focus on one thing at a time than to have 97 goals every year… but snowballing is definitely my favorite thing about the way I do goals!

  3. We are not worthy of your wit and charm and kick-assity and 1,700 words on resolutions! *insert Hercules “we are worms” gif*

    Stacking/snowballing resolutions is genius. I’ve never thought about it, but I guess I’ve done some of that myself, especially with 2016’s “go to barre at least three times a week” and “limit ice cream servings to three or fewer scoops.” Those are still going strong, most of the time! Since I’m taking a new approach this year of monthly goals, I’ll see if I can’t stack some of those.

  4. Before I read this, I thought I was pretty efficient, but damn. Seriously. You write a kick ass blog, you read 52 books a year, you run 5ks without breaking a sweat, you do (some) good deeds and I think you teach middle school. WTF?? Plus, judging by your GIFs and your references to your teen following on Tumblr, it doesn’t seem that you’ve eschewed all pop culture and crawled into a self-improvement isolation tank in order to achieve these feats. I’m humbled and inspired.

  5. Clearly I need to take all that wonderful Piggy advice because my goal accomplishing history is the pits. I said in my post last week that my goal for this year was to be better at goals…we’ll see how that goes but I’ll be consulting back when I start caving.

  6. All the world’s a lab, and all the men and women merely lab technicians. Love your annual experiments, and your strategies for seeing them through. This year I vowed to forego fast food and television/YouTube. Can I go a whole year without the crap my gut and mind has grown accustomed to? Pray for me, Piggy.

  7. Yes yes yes. SMART goals are the way to get so much shiz done in life. You also have to hold yourself accountable and regularly check up on how you’re doing at your goals. As you say, you gotta want it!

  8. Yes, yes, yes! Avoid the marathons! Mrs. Cubert will lay out all the reasons why. But mainly, how can that be FUN at all? Sorry, not going to do permanent damage to my heart and joints. Half marathon? Maybe… 5K? Genius distance. That’s the length we trot in dis house.

    That 10,000 hours theory is fascinating to me. I read an okay book a few years back called “Talent is Overrated” that also ascribes to this notion. If you start a skill and repeat over and over, you’re bound to master it. Why does that rarely work with relationships I wonder…

    1. My husband volunteers at an annual 100-mile race and I… just don’t understand. The runners come through at the 75 mile mark looking like zombies… and they still basically have a marathon to run!
      The 10,000 hours rule has been hotly debated, but I think you’re right: practice makes perfect, as they say.

  9. Loved reading this! I’m all about them SMART goals 😉 While I haven’t made any official goals for myself this year, this has me thinking about what I want to do this year for self-improvement. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. Love your blog, please don’t stop writing.

    As for marathons, once I got into running (via my husband) my running goals keep getting longer and longer. First it was running a 5K, then a 10K, 15K, half-marathon, and finally 30K. I haven’t tried a marathon … but … it could definitely happen. I find that it’s the challenge I like – I was never very athletic or fast, but if I can keep putting one foot in front of the other for 2 to 3 hours, I can finish something most people wouldn’t even start. I’ve taken a large break from the long races (pregnancy, childbirth, and a baby/toddler keep getting in the way from training), but I want to get back to it. Running is an addiction but I don’t mind being hooked. 😀

    1. I solemnly promise not to stop writing. Oddly enough, one of my college professors wrote that in his book when he gave it to me…

      Running IS addicting, and I love how you look at it: something to complete, simply by putting one foot in front of the other. Now that you mention it, I feel the same way. It’s such a wonderfully satisfying feeling. Don’t quit!

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