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Worried your New Year’s resolutions will end in disappointment? Try this.

Gemma Hartley

I am someone who consistently makes bold New Year's resolutions and rarely follows through for more than a month.

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I feel like each year gives me the chance to wipe the slate clean and create the ultimate version of myself, even if I know from past experience that it never quite pans out. Last year I had a whole system in place that involved an excel spreadsheet of goals I wanted to conquer each month that would compound one upon another until I achieved a status of near perfection. January would start with health-related goals, like going to bed at the same time each night, drinking eight glasses of water a day, and running three times a week. February was focused on my relationships and included letter writing and phone calls to relatives and remembering to bring home special treats for my dog once a week. I do not remember the rest of the months because I stopped mid-February, exhausted and defeated. I'm not alone in my failure. Although about half of all people make New Year's resolutions, only eight percent are successful in achieving their goals. I like to think of myself as having a high achieving, type-A personality, but in reality, following through with New Year’s resolutions don’t seem to be part of that picture.

Still, I can’t seem to beat the allure of a fresh start. A new year always seems so full of potential for evolution. Even when I know I have a complicated resolution track record, I still want to seize the opportunity to improve on it each new year that arrives. So instead of making the traditional New Year’s resolutions that involve altering my habits, I’ ve found an option that allows for change without the looming sense of failure that normally creeps alongside my lofty goals. Instead of making a specific goal, I’ve been using a single word to guide my year, which is becoming an increasingly popular New Year’s tradition, and one that might finally change the way I approach the new year. Holding a single word in my mind for a year might help guide me in an intentional direction—without worrying about hitting a specific benchmark. If I decide to focus on bravery, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to run with the bulls or jump out of an airplane or even try stand-up. It simply means that every day, when faced with choices, I will have a word in mind (like bravery, or enough) that will hopefully guide my actions. And if at the end of that year my life looks a little more fearless than it did before, I can look back and feel like it was a success. I will feel less of an instinct to wallow in disappointment because the measure of success isn’t actually something that can be measured at all. There is less space for disappointment, but there is boundless opportunity for direction, mindfulness, and a whole new year.

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