How to Make & Keep a New Year’s Resolution

Note with the words New Year Resolutions written on it

January 1 isn’t far away, and that means we’re in the season for New Year’s resolutions.

People often ask me, “Is it a good idea to make New Year’s resolutions?”

The fact is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for happiness and good habits. If January 1 feels like an auspicious day to begin, embrace it. If not, don’t.

I’m a big fan of any reminder to stop, reflect, and consider what changes could make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative—whether that prompt comes from the new year, a milestone birthday, an important anniversary, a birth, a death, a move, a new job, or anything else.

That said, many people make New Year’s resolutions, and many people get discouraged when they fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

As an Upholder (see #5), personally I love New Year’s resolutions, but for the many people who don’t love them, or for people who’d like to try something new, there are many creative ways to approach the “clean slate” of the new year.

1. Choose a one-word theme for 2022. Choose one word, or a short phrase, to sum up what you want to focus on for the new year. When we distill our aims into a single word or phrase, it’s easier to remember—and to take action.

In the past, I’ve picked words and phrases like “Upgrade,” “Bigger,” “Lighten Up,” “Re-purpose,” “Open.” I’ve heard of themes such as “Dolphin,” “Green,” “Energize,” “Free,” “Sunshine,” and “#6.”

Then spend some time thinking about all the ways that you could put your theme to work in the new year.

I find it helpful to keep a notecard with my one-word theme tacked onto my cork board; I see it every day, so it stays fresh in my mind.

2. Write a “22 for 2022” list. Write a list of 22 things you’d like to get done in the new year. They can be big or small, enjoyable or challenging. I usually include a few whimsical items, too. (Download a free PDF to track your progress.)

I’ve made these lists for the past few years, and they’ve included items ranging from “Try cryotherapy” to “Work on my aphorism book” to “Watch Mad Men” to “Visit the Metropolitan Museum every day.”

You can also have fun with the number, such as “Try 22 new hikes in 2022.” I plan to “Delegate 22 tasks in 2022.” (I’m not very good at delegating.)

I’ve never managed to cross off every item on my yearly list, but I’ve made more progress than I would’ve made without the list.

3. Do ___ for 22 minutes each day in 2022. For the past few years, on the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast, my sister Elizabeth and I have challenged listeners to join us for a challenge tied to the year: “Walk 20 minutes a day in 2020” and “Read 21 minutes a day in 2021.” We’ve heard from so many people about the great gains they’ve made from these short daily challenges.

We’ll announce our 2022 challenge soon, but you could set yourself your own daily challenge. “Speak Italian for 22 minutes a day in 2022” or “Write in my journal for 22 minutes a day in 2022.”

4. Frame an abstract resolution as a concrete action. We often make resolutions that are fairly abstract, but resolutions such as “Be more optimistic,” “Find more joy in life,” or “Eat more healthfully,” are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep.

Instead, we do better when we identify a specific, measurable action that we want to do. “When I feel blue, listen to one of my favorite upbeat songs,” “Watch a classic movie every Sunday night,” or “No fast food” are concrete resolutions that will carry you toward abstract goals.

It’s important that an aim be concrete and measurable, because we manage what we measure. That’s why the Strategy of Monitoring is one of the most powerful of the 21 strategies of habit change.

5. Consider whether you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel. My “Four Tendencies” personality framework can help you figure out the best way to set a new year’s resolution in the way that’s right for you.

Don’t know your Tendency? Take the free, quick quiz here—more than 3.5 million people have taken this quiz.

If you want to keep a resolution—for the New Year, or at any other time—knowing your Tendency can help you stick to it.

For instance, if you’re an Obliger, spending time focusing on justifications won’t help. If you’re a Rebel, signing up for a class probably won’t work. If you’re a Questioner, you’re not going to follow someone else’s program without questions.

You can read more about the Tendencies and New Year’s resolutions here.

Bonus: If you’re like me, you read a book to put yourself in a frame of mind. If you want a book to help get yourself energized for the new year, consider these…



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