If you’ve tried New Year’s Resolutions only to see them wither and die by Valentine’s Day, it may be tempting to forego the entire tradition. Instead of writing it off as a bad idea, break out of the box and put resolutions to work for you. Instead of setting goals that make you feel deprived or trapped, try these novel twists on the old self-improvement tradition.

Set an Entire Year of Smaller Resolutions

Instead of starting to “eat better” on January 1, set a series of small goals that build up month-after-month. Make January’s goal to replace dessert with fruit. Then in February, you can add in getting five veggies a day. In March, improve your water consumption. Each goal is easier to integrate into your lifestyle than a full-on dietary reset. And each new behavior gets a full thirty days to become a habit before you add another. By December, you’ll be a model of progress.

Focus on Adding, Not Taking Away

Resolutions based on deprivation are hard to want to stick with—especially when the thing you’re trying to ditch is a coping mechanism for managing stress. Instead of taking something away, focus on adding something else. We only have room in our lives, our days, and our dinner plates for so much. 

Old Deprivation Resolution: Stop eating sweets.
New Adding Resolution: Eat four servings of fruit each day.

Old Deprivation Resolution: Stop shopping, save $500 a month.
New Adding Resolution: Start a new side hustle to earn $500 a month.

Old Deprivation Resolution: Dump toxic friends.
New Adding Resolution: Join a class or group to keep busy and make new friends.

The trick to making this approach work is planning to make the right choice in advance. It’s much easier to choose fruit over donuts if you’ve taken a serving of fruit salad to work. Likewise, it’s easier to say no the invitation of a toxic friend if your schedule is already full with a class, a workshop, or your new business venture.

Co-Commit with a Friend

Resolutions are easiest to abandon when the only person we’re letting down is ourselves. If the idea of letting down a friend makes you cringe, then enlisting one for your goal is a winning strategy. Your goals need not be identical—just aligned. Check-in with each other each day, and meet up each week to work out or grab coffee and chat about your progress.

If you don’t have a friend on your same path, look for an online group and invest time helping others there. Answer questions, share resources. Talk about your successes, failures, and tips. Check-in daily to get—and give—motivation. The more you invest, the harder it will be to let down your group.

Reward the Process 

Marathons have big, waving mile markers for a reason. It’s harder to keep plugging away at a goal if you can’t see how far you’ve come. Reward yourself often—every day if needed—for the progress you’re making. Just make sure it’s a reward system you pre-planned and that it supports your growth without sabotaging it. Here are some ideas we like:

  • Take a relaxing bath each day you hit the gym.
  • Book a massage every month you kept working at your goal.
  • Treat yourself to new leggings when you’ve run 50 total miles.
  • Plan a race that’s out of town, so it’s a mini-vacation.
  • Get pedicures with a friend when you’ve ticked off some boxes in your business plan.
  • Take an exciting workout class when you’ve logged 15 gym visits.
  • Visit the fancy grocery store to restock on fresh veggies and fruits.
  • Put $50 in a “fun money” account when you’ve hit your first earning/savings goal.
  • Try a healthful meal-delivery service to keep your cook-at-home resolution going on week four.
  • Put the money you save by eating healthy home lunches into a vacation fund.
  • Take your weekend workout to a new locale or schedule it with a friend.

Dream Big, Work Small

The SMART goal-setting methodology encourages goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. Goals like “lose 100 pounds” or “make a million dollars” often fail because they fail the SMART test. If you have a big dream, that’s great! But to succeed, it helps to break it down into pieces you can realistically accomplish in a specific amount of time.

An experienced salesperson with a yearly commission goal knows how to set smaller goals to reach her finish line. If she woke up every day merely thinking she needed to sell a million dollars in widgets, she’d burn out from mental exhaustion. Instead, she relies on good daily habits and sets weekly and monthly goals about contacting prospects, being active on social media, and keeping up relationships with current clients.

Breaking goals down works because each success builds on the next. And with each accomplishment, our motivation and confidence get a boost that carries us forward.

Learn from the Past and Plan for Slips

Every year Jenny starts with a resolution to eat better and work out. And every year, she attends a late-January tradeshow for work. By February, she feels like a failure and falls back into old habits. Sound familiar?

Look at your past attempts to conquer your goal. What tripped you up? The chances are good that it wasn’t a lack of willpower, but a lack of planning and a lack of forgiveness. Slips happen. Jarring changes in our routine happen. Plan for them as best you can, but be prepared to forgive yourself and move on.

In 2020, Jenny could handle this tradeshow a couple of ways. She could make plans to work out at the hotel gym and research low-calorie cocktail options. And she could also acknowledge that her feet are going to hurt and her schedule will be full of client meetings and poor food options. Instead of aiming for perfection, she could set herself up to recommit when she returns—with a pre-scheduled training session with a friend, and her wholesome grocery list already on order.

Whatever your 2020 goals, we hope you make the year one of positivity and discovery. Find joy in your process of change, and remember to forgive yourself for the slips. And remember, the word “perfection” is actually pronounced “pure-fiction” because it simply doesn’t exist outside fantasy.