My 2013 New Year’s resolution: no more resolutions!

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From the Smithsonian Institution | flickr
From the Smithsonian Institution | flickr

This is the time of the year when many people either make resolutions to change, stop, and/or improve something in their lives, whether it’s to finally write that novel or head to the gym. Waiting for these people are the gym membership specials and writing workshops ready to take these resolution holders’ money, even though they know that most will fail.

In the past, I’ve made similar resolutions. The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are designed to fail: after a couple weeks — or, if you’re good, months — it’s easy to fall back into bad habits. When a resolution is set, the tendency is to think that if it’s not met right away, the resolution was a failure. This repeats the cycle of starting and failing at resolutions when they’re not met.

So this year, I’m done with resolutions. I want to see what it’s like to live mylife without worrying about some ridiculous set of rules or unrealistic achievements.

That doesn’t mean I won’t set goals or try to achieve my best. In fact, setting goals, instead of making resolutions, is a more effective strategy, according to a MarketWatch article by Chuck Jaffe (“Make goals — not resolutions — for 2013”). In the article, Jaffe says that setting goals will allow you to achieve more in smaller increments (toward a larger goal) and helps you avoid the crash-and-burn of resolution failure:

That’s why I gave up on resolutions back in the 1980s and instead started setting annual goals. I didn’t want a single mistake to sideswipe a long-term pledge, so I started drawing up a wide-ranging list of personal targets covering everything from the family to the financial. I would write down my goals, put them in a sealed envelope and send them back to me, with the envelope tacked unopened on my office bulletin board as a subtle-but-constant reminder that I had promises to keep.

Like Jaffe, I have a list of long-term goals this year, but I have short-term targets to meet throughout the year. Some of these are professional, some are personal…but all of them help me achieve my best this year. I started doing this about six months ago, so even though I have specific plans for 2013, I’ve been working toward these goals for a while. I see more success when I focus on short-term targets with the long-term goal in the back of my mind.

For example, I want to get in shape. I enjoy running, so for the last few months, instead of focusing on how many miles I’ve run or my running pace, I’ve focused on creating the habit loop. (For more on habit loops, read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.) Now I’m in the habit of running on a schedule, so I can focus on how many miles I run regularly. Then, I can start focusing on other exercise routines. I use apps on my smartphone to track this for me, and I can see improvements as a result. Instead of focusing on the failures, I focus on what is working.

Think about the resolutions you have set this year, and consider turning those into goals. Set up short-term goals (or achievements) that help you build up to achieve the long-term goal. Don’t focus on the times you fail — there will be those times. Instead, make sure you keep working towards the larger goal.

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website,