Alternatives to Traditional New Year’s Resolutions

A new year. A clean slate. A fresh start. January is a time many of us will make New Year’s Resolutions or set goals for the year. Research shows that about 40% of us make New Year’s Resolutions, but only about 8% of us achieve them. Why? Different theories exist – maybe we weren’t truly invested in the goal; maybe we didn’t set ourselves up for success; maybe our resolution was too vague; or maybe the task was too broad or overwhelming.

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So, how can we approach New Year’s Resolutions in a way that can help us be successful? Maybe we just need to think outside the box. Here are some alternatives to the traditional New Year’s Resolutions!

Unique New Year’s Resolution Alternatives

Gratitude Journal or Jar

We could all stand to be more grateful in our lives. Challenge yourself to find one thing every day for which you are thankful and write it in a Gratitude Journal or on paper and put it in a Gratitude Jar. Look back at the end of the year and be inspired by all the things in your life for which you are grateful. A related option is to do a Memory Jar, similar to a Gratitude Jar, but write down things you do or experience. You can then read them in December and revisit your special memories from the year.

Word of the Year

You can choose a word or phrase that you’d like your year to embody. Last year I chose the word “intentional.” I wanted to be more intentional about how I spent my time, how I took care of my body, how I kept my home, etc. Some other examples for a word of the year might be courage, strength, generosity, simplify, invest, space, connect, light, balance, courage, peace, or create. Really, the sky’s the limit!

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In 2016 I participated in an ongoing project called One Little Word®. There were monthly prompts to help participants relate to their word and incorporate it into everyday life. I found it to be a cross between a journal and a scrapbook, and I’m looking forward to trying it again this year! To find some inspiration on finding your word, check out this blog.

Vision Board

Maybe you’re more a visual person. You could put together a vision board where you collect magazine clippings, quotes, photos, etc. Anything you find inspiring and/or want to have your life look like. Think of it as an inspirational collage! Hang it where you can see it regularly to serve as inspiration.

Bucket List

This could be the year you start working on your bucket list. Or maybe you commit your bucket list to paper, not just the recesses of your mind! You could do a 2017 Bucket List, but make sure you incorporate something from your “lifetime bucket list,” too! Another similar option is to do “101 things in 1001 Days,” “52 things in 52 Weeks,” “30 Before Age 30,” etc. This can help you focus a little more on the big picture and what you want out of life.

Reverse Resolutions

Take a different approach on resolutions: instead of focusing on yourself, commit to focus on others instead. For example, this may involve volunteering more, giving more, or spending more time with friends and family. Maybe you’ve always wanted to volunteer as a Sunday school teacher but never have. Make this the year you do it! Do you feel like you hardly ever see your girlfriends? Commit to a girls’ night once a month this year. By focusing on others, not only will those around you benefit, but you will reap the benefits, too.

The Day Zero Project

This site bills itself as “an alternative to boring New Years’ resolutions.” They offer several prompts to help you think about what you want out of the upcoming year. You fill in the blanks:

  • Learn how to… (a new skill or hobby?)
  • Start… (develop a habit)
  • Stop… (break a habit)
  • Take a vacation to… (where would you most like to vacation?)
  • Find… (what are you looking for?)
  • Try… (one new thing you want to try)
  • Be more… (a personal characteristic to improve)

On The Day Zero Project site you can look at how others completed each of these statements to get your inspiration.

Focus on the good

We most often think about New Year’s Resolutions as making a change, but you don’t always have to think about changing yourself. Make a list of things you are good at or that you love in your life. You are enough! You don’t have to change anything. Some years making a change may just feel like too much. Focus on your talents and the positives in your life, and use these things as a jumping-off point to become even better in those areas.

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Making “Traditional” New Year’s Resolutions Achievable

Maybe you don’t want to stray too far from the more typical resolutions, but you want a different angle or approach. Here are some options for you!

1. Positive:

Put a positive spin on your resolutions/goals. Instead of “Spend less time online/on my phone,” resolve to “Get together with a friend in real life at least twice a month.” Instead of “Lose 20 pounds,” resolve to “Go on walks with your spouse 3x a week.” Isn’t it always easier to embrace the positive?

2. S.M.A.R.T.:

Make SMART goals. The way you set your goals or resolutions can make or break your success. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

3. Steps:

Break your resolutions down into steps. For example, instead of committing to lose X pounds, you could make a plan to drink more water daily in January, add a serving of veggies to two meals a day in February, take 10,000 steps a day in March, cut out pop in April, etc. All of these smaller steps will build on each other and help you get to your original overall goal without feeling so daunting.

Another example would be to “get organized.” It’s big, and it’s overwhelming, so break it down. Commit to organizing one thing every day or even every weekday. It could be as small as cleaning out one kitchen drawer and getting rid of utensils you don’t use. It might be more involved like going through your filing cabinet (or, in my case, big piles of paper). You could commit to go through 3 files a day or 1 inch of paper a day. There are good resources out there for breaking organization down into monthly plans or even daily tasks.

4. Short Time Frame:

Give yourself a shorter time frame. Parkinson’s Law states that, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” I don’t know about you, but if I have a project, I’ll most likely scramble in the last few days to get it done. This is Parkinson’s Law in action. So instead of giving yourself the whole year to complete a goal, set an earlier “deadline” to complete your goal by June 1st, or before your birthday, or by the time school starts next year. An added benefit is that you can adopt a new resolution or goal in the place of the one you have finished “early.” By starting on a new goal at an “odd” time of year (not January 1st), it can take some of the implied pressure off yourself, too.

5. Use Tools:

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find and use tools and resources available to you. For example, instead of resolving to save $1000 this year, use a chart to tell you how much to save each week to end up with your total goal. If you want to get more sleep, use a fitness tracker to help you monitor your progress. Use your calendar. If you’re a paper calendar gal, use it to schedule your activities that help you work toward your goal. If you use an online calendar, set alarms and reminders to help keep you on track. There are many resources and tools available to help you in this digital age; take advantage of them!

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6. 10 Minutes:

Start small or “start with 10 minutes.” This philosophy can be applied to anything, really. You want to read more? Take 10 minutes each day and read. You want to spend more quality time with your kids? Play on the floor with them for 10 minutes a day. How about being more unplugged? Start with 10 minutes today and unplug from all electronics. Ten minutes feels like a manageable amount of time, but once you get into a routine, you may likely find yourself spending longer than 10 minutes on something and carving out a larger period of time.

7. Just One:

Pick just one resolution instead of a whole list. It can be a “bigger” resolution, but just choose one. For example, maybe you want to be a more organized housekeeper. Maybe you want to lose 50 pounds. You can set your overall goal, but break it down into smaller milestones. All of your smaller goals are ways you are targeting your overall goal. (See #3 above!)

8. Accountability Partner:

Find an accountability partner. Research has shown that when we articulate our goals and let others know what we’re trying to achieve, we have a higher likelihood of accomplishing them. I can think of 1,000 excuses to skip a workout if I’m not feeling motivated, but if I know that I’m meeting a friend at the gym because we’ve committed to work out together, it is much harder to back out. She’s helping hold me accountable because we scheduled a time to work out together. This can work in so many areas, and your accountability partner doesn’t even need to be geographically nearby in many cases. If someone knows what you’re working toward, that person can ask you if you’ve done it, offer you encouragement, send you a quick reminder, cheer you on, etc.

New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be so onerous that you either abandon them by February or don’t even make them at all! Think about the options I’ve laid out here and see if, by thinking about resolutions a little differently, you can find your own alternative to the New Year’s Resolution!

What is your plan for the New Year?


Sara is a NW Iowa native who moved across the state to become a Hawkeye! After her time at the U of I, she left for optometry school and residency before coming home to Iowa to start her “adult” life in Coralville. She was in clinical practice for 5 years before trying her hand at the research side of eye care, working on clinical trials in the pharma/biotech industry. Sara is a wife, mom to a 5-year-old boy, and step-mom to four teenagers! Because her son was born at 25 weeks and had a lengthy NICU stay, Sara is passionate about all things related to prematurity, especially parent support in the NICU. She loves connecting with fellow NICU moms, both online and in person. Sara also enjoys spending time with friends and extended family, reading, scrapbooking, organizing, knitting, travel, keeping up with tech trends, finding new wines to enjoy, honing her photography skills, and serving on the Family Advisory Council for UI Children’s Hospital. She’s a consultant for Jamberry Nails, too, which lets her dabble in her creative side.


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