Alternatives to New Year’s Resolutions

So, we’re only a few days away from the start of a brand new year. This can be a brilliant time to pause, reflect and consider the year ahead of us. But, is there room for an alternative to New Year’s resolutions?

Truth be told, you can do this at ANY time of year. There seems to be a lot of pressure placed upon this big, fresh start that comes in the new year.

A few years ago, after ‘failing’ at my resolutions, like I did pretty much every year, and getting completely fed up with beating myself up about it; I decided something needed to change. I still wanted to have some focus for the year ahead. But I didn’t want to be setting myself up for failure. Or give my mind any ammunition to beat me over the head with. Anxiety doesn’t need any fuel.

So I did things differently. And my plans for the year felt fluid, nourishing and made me less likely to be mean to myself. Here are some of the ways I have played around with a different approach to New Year planning, alternative’s to New Year’s resolutions.

A word for the year

This is planning for the New Year at it’s most simple, and sometimes, that’s what you need. Sometimes you have no idea how your year is going to look, where you might be, what you might be doing or who you might be with. So keeping it simple is a great way to reduce the overwhelm.

This process was part of a meditation that I began in early December, in a year when things were super busy and I just couldn’t bear the thought of resolutions. I began thinking about my experiences over the past year, which ones stood out more than others and also what I felt was lacking during the past year.

I then looked for themes across these, and decided on a word for the year. A word that could be my anchor and that I could return to, no matter where I was or what I was doing. A word that I couldn’t ‘fail at’ or ‘break’ like I might a goal or resolution.

In the past few years my words have included fun (when I was feeling like I needed more joy in my life), wild (when I was craving connection with nature, both the world and my own) and pleasure (when I was finding it tough to let myself experience pleasure of any kind). These words guided my decisions throughout the year, reminding me what was important and giving me a way to reflect on my experiences.

What word could you have as your focus or theme for the year?

Desired feelings

A step on from a word for the year, is desired feelings. Danielle LaPorte is most well known for this approach. In a similar way to above, you might consider what feelings were present during the last year, and what you would like to feel more of.

It’s important here to really try to nail those feelings down. When you say happy, how can you be more specific? What element of happy is it? Is there another feeling in there? Or perhaps, it’s not really happy that you really want to feel, it’s carefree, or content? Often we set goals without really sinking in to the why behind them.

For example, I want to go for a walk everyday, that is a goal – but why? Maybe it’s to feel connected (to my body, nature or a walking buddy). Perhaps it’s because I’d like my fitness back, so I want to feel fit – but was is ‘fit’? What does that encompass for me? Well, it means my body feels strong and I have energy. So those feelings may become ‘strength’ and ‘energetic’. Similar to the word for the year, these feelings can guide decisions throughout the year.

Tapping into the root of why you want to do something, or why you are setting a goal, can help you to achieve them. They have substance and meaning. You go beyond the action, to what you are actually getting from doing (or not doing) whatever it is you have decided to be your focus.

It’s also really important here, to focus on what you do want, rather than what you don’t. That isn’t to say avoid difficult or unwanted feelings. But it’s better to attend to and promote what you are working towards rather than what you are moving away from.

What feelings would you like to feel more of? What feelings would you like to have prominence in 2019?


Sometimes a resolution can be a goal which creates a laser like focus and captures what is important. This can be useful and for some, having a resolution they don’t want to break makes them tick. For others, like me, set a rule and I’ll want to break it. So as an act of emotional self-care, I don’t set myself unnecessary rules.

So after I’d played around with a key word, and then desired feelings, I looked at intentions. I now do this every year. It’s hard to break an intention. An intention requires a level of commitment certainly, but it is something that can be flexible and fluid. Intentions can change – and that is ok! Setting an intention gives you permission to go with the flow and adapt to your life as it happens.

Intentions aren’t black and white, unlike resolutions. Often resolutions can either be kept or broken, and there isn’t much room for ‘well I did my best there’.

Returning to the goal above of walking everyday, if I don’t walk every day and it was a resolution, it’s broken. I failed and that’s when my mind starts beating me up. Making me even less likely to be kind to myself and help me get ‘back on the wagon’.

An intention however, means that I do my best. Sometimes I might walk every day, other days I might feel awful, so I may just choose to sit outside for 15 minutes. The intention is still there, but I am not beating myself up when I can’t reach my goal.

Of course, this requires some self-discipline if you really want to achieve your goals. But I’d argue that if you don’t have this self-discipline, how much do you really want to achieve that goal in the first place? (Note – it’s totally OK to change your mind!).

What intentions would you like to set for 2019?

Why just New Year?

I’m not a fan of the emphasis placed on New Year as this magical time where we can completely change ourselves.

When we wake up on January 1st (or perhaps go to bed on January 1st for some!) we are still the same person we were on December 31st. It’s unfair of us to place these huge amounts of pressure on ourselves, expectations we probably wouldn’t have for any one else.

The great thing about the approaches above are that they don’t just centre around the New Year. You can use these approaches for the month ahead, the week ahead or the day ahead. I try to focus each morning on what I want to feel today, and think about what I will do in order to feel that way.

On tough and overwhelming days, when small steps are all you have, it’s a process that can be used hour by hour. How do I want to feel in the next hour? How will I work towards this?

For example, I’m at work with a ton of marking to do, but I want to feel calm. How can I try to promote this? I will take 5 minute breaks every 25 minutes. I’ll have my favourite cup of tea next to me. I might keep my feet firmly planted on the ground and light a candle if I’m working from home. I might not achieve that feeling of calm, but I can be safe in the knowledge that I tried.

Personally, I consider the time around the Winter Solstice – where the days start to get longer again and the light begins to return, as the New Year. This is when I set my intentions, choose my word for the year and some feelings I’d like to promote in 2019. However, I also take time to reflect at the end of each month, and around my birthday – which happens to be halfway through the year.

I’d love to hear whether you might consider taking a different approach this year? Whether you already do any of the above and whether you prefer one over the other? Leave a comment below, or pop over to my instagram or twitter to let me know your thoughts!

I’d like to take this moment to say a huge thank you for everyone’s support in 2018. I have lots of amazing ideas and plans for 2019, and can’t wait to dive into this more as my PhD draws to an end. I’m wishing each and every one of you a wonderful 2019.

Until next time 🙂

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