New Year’s Resolutions

Here we are in the middle of the holidays and with Christmas over, we’re rushing headlong into NEW YEAR’S which for many of us means… resolutions. I’ve always loved the feeling of starting a fresh year and optimistically making a list of things I want to accomplish, so I usually spend quite a bit of time on this. I’ve read all kinds of blog posts and articles about how to effectively set goals. I even wrote a whole post about my resolution-making process last year.

But this year I can’t seem to muster any excitement for it. I jotted down a list of goals but it looked like just one more “to-do” list in a never-ending succession of to-do lists that I can never quite finish. One more set of standards I would probably never live up to. I have no emotional engagement in these goals. All I could think was, Who cares?

I tore up my list, so now I’m resolution-less. I feel untethered without my annual self-imposed marching orders, yet I’m unwilling to make myself another list.

We’ve been told over and over to make our goals specific and measurable: “I want to run a marathon” instead of “I want to be in shape.” Ironically, I think the push towards the quantifiable result can distance us from our internal motivation for the goal in the first place.

What if we went the opposite direction and stated the underlying emotional reason for the goal? Most people’s resolution to “get in shape” or “lose weight” would translate to “feel good about myself” and “look good to others.” Maybe we’d all learn more about ourselves and be able to keep “resolutions” better if we connected to what’s really driving us.

So I’ve decided to focus on my internal motivations instead of the goals themselves. I’m asking myself: How do I want to feel? What do I want to be? Once I identify those motivations, then I’ll try to make daily choices that steer me towards them, and try to avoid things that lead me away from them. A whole new approach to resolutions. Adjectives, mostly, rather than nouns and verbs.

So here are a few of my words:


Energetic & healthy.
This is my first-pass list and it may change, but I don’t want to make it too complicated. I just want the words to be a guide as I make daily choices, plans, goals and to-do lists throughout the year.

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions or goals? If you were to come up with some words that describe how you want to feel or be this year, what would they be?

© 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Margo Kelly on January 3, 2011 at 11:42 PM

    >Love this post. Thank you!

  2. Pen Goddess on January 2, 2011 at 8:18 PM

    >Quiet comes to mind. I'd like to move more slowly and be less available to all. I'd like to have time to "be." That is my priority and my goal this year. Oh, plus a trip back to bonny Scotland for visits and will throw in promoting my book for a "purpose." Blessed be.

  3. Smol Dusaran on January 2, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    >This time around I want to focus on "calm" instead of "control" (because I tend to worry too much when I feel like I'm losing control of things). Who knows? It may actually be nice to let fate take place once in a while! lol

  4. Smol Dusaran on January 2, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    >This time around I want to focus on "calm" instead of "control" (because I tend to worry too much when I feel like I'm losing control of things). Who knows? It may actually be nice to let fate take place once in a while! lol

  5. Nancy Ragno on January 2, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    >Through experience, I've found that making New Year's resolutions has a negative effect on me. I'm always far too ambitious in making them, which dooms me to failure. Then I feel guilty. I do believe, however, in the power of setting a few important goals and then developing a plan — a series of specific steps — for achieving each one. Here I disagree with you. That is, I feel that vague, generic goals are too "iffy," too hard to achieve. If you don't set a specific goal, you won't reach it. But then, I am a disciple of Napoleon Hill. I applied the 17 steps he outlines in THINK AND GROW RICH to writing goals. They work! For anyone who has the goal of writing for profit, Hill's classic work is a must-read. It's based on the power of maintaining a Positive Mental Attitude (while recognizing the reality of The Power of Negative Thinking). I highly recommend it for all writers, especially to combat those moments of self-doubt when one is tempted to give up.

  6. Sheila Deeth on January 2, 2011 at 1:33 AM

    >Mine are to keep moving forwards, and to tidy up the stuff that keeps me going sideways.

  7. Stephonavich on December 30, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    >I have four goals that all coincide with unconditional love. I've always related unconditional love with being a doormat, but I've found this was not so much the case. Thanks to Roi Ray I have only 4 New Year Resolutions:

    1. Don't try to control others.
    2. Don't try to control the outcome.
    3. Stop before I criticize, pass judgment or manipulate someone or the situation.
    4. Learn to take NO for an answer.

    These rules are strictly for my personal relationships and not business relationships because I realize for business you need to have a different mind-set.

    But with those I have a personal relationship with, I want to treat them with the unconditional love that I will give myself this new year.

  8. Ron and Jennie Dugan on December 29, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    >I'm going to write for the love of writing.

  9. Susan Bourgeois on December 29, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    >As I've grown older, I try to pass on what I've learned to my adult children and others each day. Here are a few of the things I've learned along the way that I intend to re-enforce in 2011.

    Start out each day with the goal of being productive to the best of your ability.

    Cast out the negatives as quickly as possible and make the choice to dwell on thoughts of a positive, productive nature.

    Take time out to notice nature at its best each day.

    Continue to work on finding a balance in the areas of family, health and work with a strong emphasis on spirituality as a foundation.

    Thank God for the gift for one more day.

    Steer your loved ones or anyone you meet in a positive productive direction.

    Remember that God gave each of us our own special gifts.

    Make it a goal to continually tap into your God given gifts or strengths in order to explore them to the fullest and share them with the world.

    Be the best you can be every day of 2011.

  10. kangaroobee on December 29, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    >I love this! I feel like I learnt so much last year and this year rather than a to do list I was going to write a not to do list. But that just didn't seem positive enough. Yours hits the nail on the head. I would like a year of reading more, and being much choosier which writing projects I take to the next level. Growth and improvement.

  11. kangaroobee on December 29, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    >I love this! I feel like I learnt so much last year and this year rather than a to do list I was going to write a not to do list. But that just didn't seem positive enough. Yours hits the nail on the head. I would like a year of reading more, and being much choosier which writing projects I take to the next level. Growth and improvement.

  12. Toby Neal on December 29, 2010 at 3:36 AM

    >Just letting you know I added a link to this post on my blog,

    You inspired me!

  13. Anonymous on December 29, 2010 at 1:29 AM

    >My goals have been to revise my ms. and get an agent but now I'm glad I still haven't found one yet. It's given me time to rewrite and improve my ms. until it's so irresistible they'll have to say yes. If my new & improved ms. doesn't interest an agent this year, then Amazon & Kindle, here I come!

  14. Beth K. Vogt on December 29, 2010 at 1:07 AM

    >About six years ago, I abandoned the whole resolutions tradition. Why? Because I usually lost my oh-so-carefully thought out and numbered list by mid-February.
    Since then, I focus on a word–one word–for the year. I usually start ruminating about the upcoming year's word by mid-September. It starts popping up in my quiet time. Then it shows up in some sort of visual–a quote or a framed saying. I see the word everywhere I look! Previous words have been: simplify, forgiveness (focused on that one for two years in a row), content (as in "be content with such things as you have…").
    This year's word is "hope." I have a silver Christmas ornament of the word "hope" hanging over my desk. And my verse is Isaiah 43:19, where God talks about "doing a new thing"–a thought that gives me much hope!

  15. Toby Neal on December 28, 2010 at 8:59 PM

    >This is just what I was thinking. I do resolutions, even an annual "retreat" every year, and this year it feels like one more chore. I want to put the joy back in my life, and 'unresolutions' might be the way to do it.
    Going to write about that on my blog. Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. Lori Benton on December 28, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    >I seem to need pretty high stakes to make a lifestyle changing resolution and stick to it. Take exercise for instance. I do want to feel good and look good to others, but that wasn't enough to get me exercising regularly in my twenties. Then I had cancer at 30, which was cured, but the treatment put me at high risk for other types of cancers. Being well warned that 15 to 20 years out someone like me "typically" encounters cancer again, I decided I wanted to be as strong as possible physically if/when that day comes. So I've exercised almost daily for the past eleven years since then. It's become a way of life. Short term benefits are that in my 40s I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, and my endurance is so good now that I can keep up with my husband on our mountain climbing forays. Couldn't do that in my twenties!

    All that's to say, I think it would be far better if it didn't take life and death stakes for me to "get up off the page" of my life and go out to meet those goals. I'm like my characters that way.

  17. Diane_Holmes on December 28, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    >BK, if you're reading this… could you contact me about your slogan. I'd like permission to use it on a t-shirt. 🙂

    pitchuniversity @ gmail . com


  18. Diane_Holmes on December 28, 2010 at 6:16 PM

    >Wow! What a wonderful essay and great follow-on comments. Love BK's "Be brave, buckaroo" Seriously. Love.

    That's what I'm doing in 2011. I'm reading "Who Dares Wins," by Bob Mayer, which is about conquering fear. And I'm founding , which is all about decided to be awesome at pitching to literary agents and editors (and readers).

    No more fear. Instead, learning, passion, trying again, being fearless. And a little bit of buckaroo thrown in.

  19. LAColvin on December 28, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    >I love it. You could even break it down into 12 monthly resolutions. Being patient for a month and by the end of it you shoul dhave mastered that and can move on to another one.

    Mine are
    Patience (lots since I have little)
    Slow down
    Peace in my life
    Being in the moment
    Financial Freedom

  20. Kim Kasch on December 28, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    >I want to run a marathon too but I'm starting with a 15k in March, a half marathon in June and the marathon – next year. I believe in incremental baby steps.

    I also want to start (snow) skiing again. Haven't done that one since we got the horses. Never gave up waterskiing – love it too much.

    Want to go rockwall climbing – maybe next weekend. Finish a new manuscript, knit a sweater, and . . .

    OMG – I have a huge….mongus list.

  21. Carol Riggs on December 28, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    >I make general resolutions most of the time but I don't mind if I break them. I'm rather careless about it!

    Great list! I would add: productive (in my writing), and helpful (to others in the blogging community).

  22. Donna Hole on December 28, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    >I gave up making resolutions years ago. Less stress this way.

    But I like your approach. Easier to accomplish the feelings behind the resolution rather than the goals. Hopefully, that attainment will come several times over the year.


  23. Katherine Hyde on December 28, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    >I like this approach, Rachelle. Our culture puts way too much emphasis on doing in general, and not enough on being. Here are some ways I'd like to be in the new year:

    Accepting of God's will
    Faithful to my gift
    Alive in the present moment

  24. MJR on December 28, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    more outgoing, ie, less of a hermit
    more productive, prosperous
    thicker skinned
    more concerned about doing good things for others

  25. Karen on December 28, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    >I am picking my way through The Happiness Project. In 2010, I worked on eliminating negativity. It's amazing how much more you can do and the neat things that come your way if your first thought is always Yes! Even at work, I've tried to say "yes, and" rather than looking for flaws in ideas and plans. For 2011, I'm thinking of investing more in friends and family. That sounds like a rewarding year!

  26. Kathy Nicholls on December 28, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    >I did the same thing this year, it's about three words that will define next year. My last blog post talks about it. My words are authentic, inspire, and gratitude.

  27. Tami Boesiger on December 28, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    >I like this approach Rachelle. Now you've got me thinking.

  28. Sean on December 28, 2010 at 11:23 AM

    >Great idea, Rachelle. I try to only use lists at the grocery store. Even then, I still forget stuff.

    But I believe that if you only join a gym or let people in in traffic, you're ahead of the curve. Maybe even hold a door open for someone trying to get out of the cold or rescue another from a burning building once in a while would be nice.

    I always go back to what the guy from Jaws told Bill Murray in What About Bob: baby steps.

  29. Jean Ann Williams on December 28, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    >Really like your idea!

    I want to strive for obedience to God's Word and what he has for me throughout 2011. To be kind.

  30. Wendy Paine Miller on December 28, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    >Yep. That’s what I want, to connect to what’s driving me. In 2011 I hope to teach my kids more about determination, patience, kindness and a slew of other values. And I want to teach through my actions. I want to love more and think of myself less. I hope to grow more forgiving and discerning and less judgmental.

    I want to live in all the freedom I’ve been given.

    Thanks for stirring these thoughts.
    ~ Wendy

  31. Nicole on December 28, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    >This is very similar to my approach to resolutions this year. I do have one specific "resolution" (to finish writing my manuscript), but everything else that's making me excited to move into 2011 is about what I need to do in the new year to be happier and healthier.

  32. Anonymous on December 28, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    >So my words are to feel:

  33. Anonymous on December 28, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    >I get it. I try to make a new "standard" in my life only to have something happen to keep me from my goal. That always leaves me feeling like a failure.

    I.e. This week I will write at least this many words or this many hours, only to have a child or two get sick.

    I will get up at 4 a.m. to have a quiet time and write. Only my three-year-old gets up too and starts yelling for me.

    This year I want to finish my ms. Rewrite it and start book two. We will see how it goes.

  34. 80s Queen on December 28, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    >very inspiring!

  35. Kindred Heart Writers on December 28, 2010 at 8:13 AM

    >A friend of mine recently wrote a post about how she makes only one resolution a year. One year, she resolved not to hurry. Last year, she resolved to bake different kinds of cookies. So this year, I'm chucking (almost all) goals in favor of one resolution: to play and create.

    The members of my online writing group also resolved one writing resolution (though one or two of us are keeping a few goals around, too). We posted about that this morning.

    Escaping the clutches of SMART goals feels so energizing.


  36. Jessica Nelson on December 28, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    >Love it!!!

    No resolutions for me. Well, there are things I'd like to get done but I don't like to write it down. 🙂

  37. Andrea Mack on December 28, 2010 at 7:42 AM

    >I like making goals to work towards, but I usually focus on one or two, and don't make them too specific, especially when they are something I can only try for and can't control the outcome (like getting an agent, or getting published). But I love the idea of some guiding words. My top two would be:


  38. Sharon A. Lavy on December 28, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    >Last year I focused on learning story structure. I can look back and feel good about it. Then one of your posts on brand helped me figure out mine (with the help of Colleen Coble.)

    This year I want to focus on what I can finally put into words.

    I learned a long time ago that God does smile upon the friendships of women of all ages. Mothers, cousins, aunts, non relatives. It helped my own marriage when I quit expecting my husband to UNDERSTAND me. Poor husband thought he married a crazy woman. When I talked to other woman, we thought alike. We leaned to "protect" our men from the things they could not understand and lean on each other.

    Then I learned about the women we call "unclaimed jewels" because they are unmarried. What a treasure we married women miss when we pass the unmarried over in our search for friendship.

    My goal for 2011 is to encourage the friendships of women and to search especially for those who you don't expect to give back.

    I want to encourage the GIVING of friendship.

    This will be a challenge as I find it hard to reach out to others. It is easier to be a wallflower.

  39. Buffy Andrews on December 28, 2010 at 7:18 AM

    >I am so with you on this. I want to strive to be the best mother, wife, sister, friend, aunt, manager that I can be. Oh, and writer, too. I've decided rather than saying my resolution is to get an agent blah blah blah, if I focus on doing the best I can do hopefully that will come. Hope this makes sense. It's really what I pray for every night, to do the best I can in all aspects of my life. To live and learn with all of its joys and sorrows. Peace be with you always, Buffy

  40. Bonnie R. Paulson on December 28, 2010 at 6:58 AM

    >This is a great idea!

    2011 is gonna rock!

  41. Katie Ganshert on December 28, 2010 at 6:53 AM

    >I love this!! Hubby and I were just talking about this on our car ride home from Wisconsin. About how we're so quick to add or subtract these surface things from our lives, when the real issue is what's underneath all of it. Just because a person resolves to no longer cuss doesn't mean the anger will go away. Or an alcoholic might decide to be sober, but that doesn't fix whatever drove them to that particular escape in the first place.

    I usually don't make resolutions, and then I feel like a slacker for not doing it. I love the idea of making a simple list of underlying issues. Four or five adjectives that I want to focus on – that will drive my decisions and choices this new year.

    Thanks for the wisdom, Rachelle!

  42. Bethany from Confessions of an Organized Homeschool Mom on December 28, 2010 at 6:49 AM

    >I love this unconventional approach and think I may try it myself. Yep, I know I'd better hurry. I think I even feel a blog post (with pingbacks or whatever they're called) to your post here.

  43. Janet Oberholtzer on December 28, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    >I've been mentally going over some resolutions/goals, but haven't put anything on paper yet.
    I like your idea here … but I also know that I do best if I have a solid goal to aim for, so I'm thinking I might do a combination of both … some goals and then words about how I want to feel (and would feel if I completed the goals) to go along with them.

  44. Rosemary Gemmell on December 28, 2010 at 5:04 AM

    >Love this approach! My writing-related ones are: focused, steady and committed.
    Overall they are: positive, caring and happy.

  45. Nicolette on December 28, 2010 at 4:40 AM


  46. 52 Faces on December 28, 2010 at 3:48 AM

    >Oh my goodness Rachelle, that's frickin' awesome – motivations/intentions over quantifiable goals.

    I made the embarrassing decision to make my 2010 goals public last year and it was such an epic fail. This is a nice change…

  47. BK on December 28, 2010 at 2:22 AM

    >Your untethered, who cares list was what happened to me in 2010. And not writing specific quantifiable goals actually worked to my advantage.

    I had a theme: "Be brave, buckaroo" and a scripture verse to go with it. There were some things in my life, both writing and non, I felt needed to happen in 2010 and I knew they'd take guts, which I hadn't been feeling very strong on.

    By continually focusing on that theme and that verse, I can definitely say I accomplished that "be brave" philosophy in several areas of my life.

    I haven't finalized 2011 goals yet (I better hurry. 😎