5 Questions To Ask Yourself About Your New Year’s Resolutions.

Tomorrow is the big day! Day #1 for New Year’s resolutions! Are you ready?

It’s fun to think about New Year’s resolutions, and I always make them (in fact, I make resolutions throughout the year). If my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions—made right—can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds.

Samuel Johnson, a patron saint of my happiness projects, was a chronic resolution-maker and resolution-breaker. He alluded to the importance of making the right resolutions in a prayer he wrote in 1764, when he was fifty-five years old.

“I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions, for JESUS CHRIST’S sake.”

Sound familiar? How often have you thought something along these lines, yourself? The fact that a genius like Dr. Johnson wrote this is very comforting to me.

So, how do you resolve aright, and keep your resolutions? Ask yourself these question:

1. Ask: “What would make me happier?” It might mean more of something good —more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad—less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right—more time spent volunteering, a move. Or maybe you need to get an atmosphere of growth in your life by learning something new, helping someone, or fixing something that isn’t working properly. (These questions relate to the First Splendid Truth.)

2. Ask: “What concrete action would bring change?” People often make abstract resolutions. “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” “Enjoy now,” are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. “Distract myself with fun music when I feel gloomy,” “Watch at least one movie each week,” “Buy a plant for my desk” are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.

3. Ask: “Am I a ‘yes’ resolver or a ‘no’ resolver?” Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing “don’t” or “stop” (even from themselves) or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: “Take that dance class,” “Have lunch with a friend once a week.” Along those lines, my sister told me, “I don’t want a negative. I tell myself, ‘I’m freeing myself from French fries,’ not ‘I’m giving up French fries.'”

Or maybe you respond well to “no.” I actually do better with “no” resolutions; this may be related to the abstainer/moderator split. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something, or to do something I don’t really want to do—such as Don’t expect gold stars. There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you. As always, the secret is to know your own nature. (That’s the Fifth Splendid Truth.)

4. Ask: “Am I starting small enough?” Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch. The humble resolution you actually follow is more helpful than the ambitious resolution you abandon. Lower the bar!

5. Ask: “How will I hold myself accountable?” Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions–think AA and Weight Watchers. There are many ways to hold yourself accountable; for example, I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me). Or you might want to join or launch a Happiness Project group, for people doing happiness projects together. Accountability is why #2 is so important. A resolution to “Eat healthier” is harder to track than “Eat salad for lunch three times a week.”

If you want to make 2013 a happier year, probably the best place to start is by working on your relationships; strong relationships are key to a happier life. If you’re intrigued, consider joining the 21 Day Relationship Challenge. Every day, for 21 days, I’ll suggest a resolution. (And don’t worry: nothing that takes a lot of time, energy, or money! Many are fun!)

Have you found any strategies or questions that have helped you successfully keep resolutions in the past? What resolution are you making?

  • I am definitely taking a different approach to my resolutions this year in part to you and your Happiness book. I do think I have a good life and am pretty happy in general, but I always think there is something else I could be doing. I have been really thinking about how you set up your happiness project with a particular things to work on each month and that is how I am looking at my resolutions this year.
    Thank you again for adding more things to consider when putting my goals together for 2013.

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! good luck with your happiness project for 2013!

  • Sheryl P

    One of my favorite GK Chesterton quotes is “if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” Helps me assess whether the thing I’m fretting over is worth it. If it’s a worthy thing, it makes me feel instantly better about any effort I’m making, even if I’m not where I’d like to be.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love this quote! And just heard one from Mick Jagger: something like, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”

  • Lindsay Wallace

    Part of the trap I sometimes catch myself in when setting resolutions is trying to experience everything all at once. Usually, I end up abandoning a resolution or sacrificing one for another. A strategy I’m using this year is to narrow my focus on three overarching goals for the year (find joy/fulfillment in creativity, give more love, and live a balanced life). Then for each month, I have specific actionable goals that allow me to attain each of those desires. I think I much prefer putting forth more effort into just a few things rather than minimal effort into a lot of different things. Another strategy I use is to focus my resolutions on things I want to do rather than what I think I ought to do. You first have to want the change before you can be the change!

    Lindsay, http://www.gethappi.wordpress.com

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  • Lea

    A lot of these questions can be asked when trying to make any impactful change. Recently, when considering making adjustments I ask myself if it would truly make me happier just to make sure I’m headed in the right direction.

  • Shereen Habib

    I love your blog, and I am half way through your book and loving that too. I started a blog last year – just to jot my thoughts and experiences down – and I find excuses not to update it regularly. Reading your book inspired me to start posting again. I have quoted you in my latest post-I hope you don’t mind! http://flyingsaucerhamsterwheel.blogspot.com/
    I find I can relate to you easily as you are ‘normal’ and have normal anxieties and stresses of everyday life. Thanks for your insight!
    Happy New Year!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my work strikes a chord with you. Off to check out your blog right now!

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  • KimberlyAZ

    Read “The Happiness Project” last month and have definitely been inspired to work some of your ideas in to my own plan for 2013…in fact, I’ve already started! Your stories about “spending out” reminded me that I have two Waterford Crystal Millennium Goblets that were a gift from my parents in 2000. They had been sitting in the box all this time because I was afraid they might get broken if I used them! But having them sit in the cabinet certainly wasn’t bringing me any joy. I finally pulled them out last night and used one to toast the New Year with a glass of wine.

    As for tracking resolutions, I gave myself a challenge in December where I wanted to eat more “superfoods” (kale, blueberries, salmon, etc.). I put a chart up on the fridge and added a mini-sticker for every superfood consumed. I’m 45 years old, but it was still somehow gratifying to see those brightly colored smiley faces accumulating! I plan to use a similar approach for tracking my resolutions this year.

    • gretchenrubin

      Gold stars of any kind are so gratifying.

      I love the example of the Waterford goblets. Better to enjoy them and put them at risk than to let them gather dust on a shelf. That’s a kind of loss, too.

    • cbepp71

      I was searching for those Waterford toasts from 2000 online just now and this popped up. I read Gretchen’s book last year, and I realized that the subjects of those toasts were the real things I was looking to improve upon, or at least make time to appreciate: Happiness, Love, Prosperity, Health and Peace. And so my goals (not resolutions) this year are focused on those five toasts. (Now if only I could find the exact verbiage of the toasts themselves, that would be great). I happen to have all five sets of flutes, also in boxes (wedding gifts in 2000) that I determined I would take out and start using immediately. The wine is sure to taste sweeter with these reminders this year! (And dang! if my husband complains they’re not dishwasher safe – I’ll hand wash them with pride.)

  • ms_lizzie

    I have a simple but large-scale resolution: every morning I stop and consider the Dalai Lama saying that “love is the absence of judgment.” I think it will bring a certain sweetness to the year.

    But, like Gretchen, I think that making resolutions is a year around project. And to start things off this year, I’m only making resolutions that can be accomplished in five minutes a day or less.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve been thinking a lot about how to be less judgmental.

  • peninith1

    I rejoined the gym. This is one of those perpetual resolutions, that have had spotty results. I know some things that DON’T work now–I overdo it if I work with a trainer, trying too hard to please. I tend to establish a routine and not change up enough. A day or two off can easily become a long break. This year, I am thinking of the membership a different way. First: This will be a daily outing for ‘me time’ when my Mom comes to live with me. Second: I have a friend who is coming to the gym at the same time as me, so we can give each other encouragement (she’s a stick-to-it person). Third: I am ‘amortizing’ the cost of my membership, dividing what I spent on it by the number of days I’ve gone to exercise. That’s just a compulsive little thing, but it gives me a little bit of a ‘gold star’.

  • peninith1

    RE: #5 how will I hold myself accountable? In the past, I have awarded myself ‘gold stars’ for RESULTS (pounds or inches lost). INSIGHT: How about if I give myself a gold star for any day when I have completed the healthy behaviors that may lead to good results? The goal really should be healthy behavior–which may or may not lead directly to weight loss on the schedule I would like. I’m going to try that for a while and see if it really motivates me more.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is such a GREAT POINT. You can’t control whether you lose weight, but you can control how you eat and exercise, so that’s the behavior to reward.

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