Why I Stopped Making New Year’s Resolutions — and You Should, Too
I started freelancing full-time as a writer about four years ago. The shift from having a predictable, full-time job to a very unpredictable, freelance lifestyle was jarring to say the least. Everything was up in the air: my income, my work flow, my clients, my daily schedule, and all my personal and family obligations that had to be organized around everything else. In short, it was not the time to start making promises to myself that I knew I couldn’t keep.
Come New Year’s Day, that realization hit me hard, because I’ve always been someone who made resolutions. I loved resolutions, because I felt that they made me accountable to myself and my goals. But in a time of great transition, the idea of making resolutions left me with a sick feeling in my stomach. The last thing I wanted to do was set myself up to fail.
So, I made a change. Instead of making new year’s resolutions, I opened the note app on my smart phone and typed the year at the top. Then below that, I listed one great thing that happened to me on January 1st: I’d spent it with all of my siblings; it was the first time we’d been in the same room together since my wedding seven years before. It felt like an accomplishment, something to celebrate, and I didn’t want to forget those feelings.
From that moment on, I decided I would continue to log all of my joys and successes — the big and the small — for the rest of the year, with the intent of reviewing them on December 31st. I did just that, and it changed my life. Here’s what I learned:
Many Successes Go Unnoticed or Are Forgotten
By the end of the year I had a very long list of joys and successes to review, many of which I had completely forgotten about: a pitch accepted to a small but well-paying magazine, the moment I finally taught my three-year-old niece all the words to my favorite Dr. Seuss poem. These were intensely happy things to experience in the moment, but because life gets so busy, I’d forgotten most of them by time the end of December. Reviewing all of these small moments helped me to realize that my year was full of much more love, fun, and success than I’d remembered.
Success Doesn’t Have to Mean Career Success
Back when I used to set new year’s resolutions, I’d make them all about my career: my goal for yearly income, the number of new clients I wanted to get, etc. But this narrow focus of what constitutes success blinded me to all of the other wonderful things I was experiencing — and achieving. For example, the first year I started tracking successes, I finished my first-ever knitting project. It’s something that I’d been wanting to do for years and years, and I finally did it. And given all that I was juggling at the time, it was no small achievement! Reminding myself of that success at the end of the year made me proud and happy in ways that I hadn’t felt in a long time.
My Biggest Life Joys Came From Spending Time With Loved Ones
This one should have been obvious in retrospect. There are a few things I love more than spending time with close family and friends. But in my mind, success has always equaled career success. So it came as a wonderful surprise when reviewing my yearly success list to learn that all of the things I loved most on that list — the things that had made me happiest — were the thing I’d “achieved” with family: teaching my niece, for example; successfully baking my first souffle with an aunt; finishing my first ever all-day hike with my husband. Seeing concrete evidence that I was happiest while spending time with family has helped me to make sure — really sure — to spend as much time with them as possible every year.
I Am Actually Much More Successful Than I Realized
I am my own harshest critic. Every December, my first instinct is to take account of all the things I’d failed at doing. But this list is a concrete, undeniable reminder that, actually, I am a huge success — and in many areas of my life. By tracking the small joys, the non-career successes (and the career ones!), the things that made me happiest, I realized that my life is full. And no new year’s resolution, no matter how big or small, as ever given me that.