5 Steps to a New Year's Resolution You'll Actually Keep

It’s that time again.  The beginning of a new year when we’re bombarded with messages of resolution making:  Eat healthier!  Get out of debt!  Quit [insert bad habit here]!

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against making a resolution or two (or more), but I am against making resolutions that have no chance of being kept.

Wanna learn how to create a New Year’s resolution you’ll actually keep?

Step 1: Conduct a meaningful review of the past year.

Grab a glass of your favorite beverage (oh, hello Mr. Shiraz), put on some mellow tunes, turn off your phone, close your laptop and reminisce.

  • What went well?
  • What didn’t?
  • How did you feel about last year?
  • What habits, thought processes, ways of being do you want to leave behind?
  • What do you want to continue this year?
  • What do you wish had gone differently?

Take some time to really think and write down answers to these questions.  Yes, actually write rather than type; my fave place is in a journal (and I’m pretty anti-journal, for the record) with some fun pens (you know, the kind you can't use at work).

You might be surprised at the emotions that come up along the way.  But let yourself feel those feelings, lady--it’s part of the process!

Step 2: Focus on how you want to feel, not what you want to do.

This is why your feelings about last year are so important. Think about yourself a year from now and how you want to feel as you look back on your year.  Figure out what gets you inspired and excited about the year ahead.

Maybe you want to feel accomplished. Fulfilled. Healthy. Peaceful. Energized. Free. Respected. Financially secure. Loved. Joyful. Balanced.

It’s completely up to you.  And the ways you want to feel this year will be your guide as you set your resolutions.

Step 3: Brainstorm actions that will cultivate your desired feelings.

One of my desired feelings (I’ve got five!) for the year is to Be Still/Relaxed.  I came up with several ways to get me to that feeling:

  • maintaining my gratitude practice
  • implementing a daily meditation ritual
  • reviving my yin yoga practice
  • limiting screen time
  • remembering to BREATHE
  • not taking myself too seriously

Um, that’s a lot, right?  I’m not necessarily going to prioritize all of them, but I did write them all down since they popped up during my brainstorming session.  So they’re worth exploring.

For example, the simple act of breathing has saved me from my anxiety disorder countless times.  And over the past year, I discovered that meditation combined with breathing exercises is a fast track to bliss for me.

Thus, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to implement a daily meditation ritual.

Step 4: Create an action plan.

Once you’ve figured out the best action to achieve your chosen feeling, the key to success is planning out how you’re going to incorporate that action into your lifestyle.

Let’s go back to my goal to meditate daily this year.

Wait. Did I say DAILY?! But I’ve got a business to run, and a baby to care for, and a marriage to nurture, and friends to connect with, and a house to maintain, and books to read and…and more excuses to come up with!

::deep breath::

I know that meditation creates the stillness and relaxation I’m craving.  And I would love to feel that way every day.  But right now, adding a daily ritual to the organized chaos that is my day-to-day life feels incredibly overwhelming.

Rather than discard the notion of meditating daily, however, I’ve decided to build up to a daily meditation practice over the course of the year.

Right now, it feels reasonable to meditate for ten minutes, three days a week. So I’ve literally blocked off ten minutes on my calendar at the end of the day (read: after the baby is asleep) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when I sit down in a room by myself and listen to a guided meditation (calm.com is my app of choice).

If I feel like doing additional days, great.  Or maybe I’ll need to change up which three days I target.  But my initial goal is three times a week--regardless of how I go about it.

Step 5: Develop an Accountability System.

Once you’ve created your action plan, you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to stick to it.  What’s that?  You thought you were done once you planned out all the steps?  Ha!

Yep.  That’s where most people go wrong.  You’ve got to have a system of checks and balances (for lack of a better phrase) in place.  Whether you involve others in holding you accountable or commit to doing it yourself, you really do need to monitor progress on your resolution to stay on course.

For me, that means quarterly reviews with myself and monthly check-ins with a group of lovely ladies I met through a year-long mastermind with my life coach.  At the beginning of the year, I go into my calendar and block off a few hours for each review at the end of March, June, September and December.  And I hop on monthly conference calls or Google Hangouts with my mastermind ladies for a little love, support and accountability.

When you do a review is less important than making sure you set aside the time and actually complete a review.  End of a quarter would have been a completely absurd time for a review when I was a transactional attorney!  So do what makes sense for you.

Share in the comments your new year’s resolutions and the feelings you’re hoping to cultivate. Can’t wait to hear the amazingness you’re planning this year.  Until then, happy resolution setting!

This post first appeared on Ms. JD as part of my year-long column as a Writer in Residence, "The JD's Life Coach". Ms. JD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.