Resolve to Make Better New Year Resolutions

By Sheila O’Shea

It’s time again to make resolutions for the new year so we can break them in February and feel disgusted with ourselves. Whee! If that’s how your resolutions end up going, there are other ways to approach the new year that may work better for you.

How To Phrase Your New Year Resolutions

  • Instead of vague aspirations, like “read more,” try quantifying things. For example, “I resolve to read at least 12 books by the end of the year.” Reading a book a month doesn’t work as well, because life has a way of getting in the way of things. By measuring it as a number, you can read two books in one month to make up for a missed month. You can even go on a reading binge and knock out your 12 book minimum in the first few months of the year!
  • Focus on things that are within your control. “Get a job” has too many variables that you have no influence on, however, “apply for at least 50 jobs”—one job a week, with two weeks off—is something that you can take complete responsibility for.
  • Keep your ambitions reasonable. Set your numbers as “at least” and find a number that’s ambitious without being too much to handle. Give yourself room to go past it.
  • And, most importantly, forgive yourself if you fall short. One of the nice things about quantifying is that you can see how much you did do, even if it fell short of what you’d planned.

Another thing you can do is pick a single word to set the tone for the year. You can pick a word that’s a quality you’d like to cultivate in yourself (mindfulness, patience, or strength), something you want to focus on (peace, prosperity, or environment), or anything that sums up the kind of year you’d like to have. It doesn’t even have to be obvious to anybody else. One of the podcasters I first heard the idea from once had “pantry” as her word of the year. It made sense in context. You can take a larger idea like, “I want to spend this year starting a business making hats and selling them,” and sum it up as “Business” or even “Hats.” You’ll know what you mean.

Put the word somewhere you can see it. I have mine on a sticky note under the window that faces my desk. My word for 2022 is “discipline.” Weigh what that word means in your head. You won’t be able to constantly keep it in your mind, of course, but when you can, consider it and ask yourself if the moment you’re in reflects that word. And, as above, don’t beat yourself up if you fall short. Be curious and figure out why you’re having trouble with it.

The new year can be a good reset button for your life and your habits. But cramming that year beyond capacity with unfocused resolutions is only setting yourself up to fail and feel awful. Narrowing your resolutions to measurable goals, or even a single word, can help your list be a lot less overwhelming—and a lot easier to achieve.

Happy New Year!

A portrait image of Sheila O'Shea.

Sheila O’Shea is a writer, recovering poet, and one of the first graduates of the Creative Writing program at Emory University. She acted in Theatre Gael’s production of Waiting for Godot, sang on the album The Mod Mod Sounds of Middlesex, and DJed for Emory’s college radio station. She’s currently working on The Ten Thousand Flowers Project, in which she draws flowers and gives them away to people, with the intention of drawing and giving away ten thousand of them. She hopes to hit 5,000 flowers by the start of 2022. You can find out how to get one at She also works as a freelance copywriter, with an emphasis on narrative marketing. You can find out about her writing services at