How To Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

First: Don't call them resolutions.

Resolutions are formal declarations. They end up being these grandiose affairs, even if you never share them with anyone. They're a mark made to denote a turning point or change. The problem is, they start from a place where we're unhappy with ourselves. "I resolve to lose weight." "I resolve to eat healthier." "I resolve to write more."

These are declarations that, by stating what you want to do, actually expose exactly what you don't like about yourself. And every time you think about these goals, two things is going to happen: Either you'll succeed for the day and remind yourself what you don't like about yourself, or you'll fail for the day and consider yourself a failure for "not being better."

You're building failure into the plan when you do it like that, because you will never, ever be this perfect thing you've created as an ideal to aspire to. It's not realistic. You can't help but fail -- and when you do, you've become a failure.

I am going to put this on its own line, because it's very important that you read it, understand it, absorb it and live by it:


Don't beat yourself up with your aspirations. Your aspirations and desires and wants for yourself should be positive things; things that -- when you think about them -- fill you with joy. Not dread. So, don't call them resolutions.

Call them goals. Call them affirmations. Call them whatever you like. I call mine a yearly to-do list. And that leads me to the second thing.

You can't achieve concepts. Don't choose amorphous, shapeless things as your goals. "Eating healthier" is not a thing, it's a concept. "Eating 2,000 calories a day" is a thing. "Eating less than 150g carbohydrates" is a thing. "Eat no High Fructose Corn Syrup" is a thing. And, each individually is actually "eating healthier." Do you see what I mean?

"Losing weight" is a thing, but it is too big a thing that covers too much. You can lose weight in a thousand different ways, the simplest of which is cutting off body parts. Here's a helpful hint: Make your yearly to-do list a bunch of verbs. "Run every day." "Write a book." Something measurable. And the third and most important step involves actually measuring that goal:

Get a calendar. This piece of advice comes from none other than Jerry Seinfeld. You need a paper wall calendar, not a digital one, not your iPhone, not a joke-a-day calendar, but an actual big block month by month calendar with big boxes for each day.

At the top of each page, write the goal you're achieving -- write your book, work out, eat 2000 calories a day, whatever it is. And every single day, make it a point to do that thing, and then put a big red X in the day.

Now, do it the next day, and the next, and the next. Soon you have a chain of big red X's. Don't break the chain.

This one tool to measure work is what helped me lose over 100 lbs. and play football. It got me through writing two books (and a third right now). It keeps me writing this blog. It absolutely works.

The secret is in creating a motivation that comes from nowhere else but inside you. It doesn't come from other peoples' opinions of how you look or what you're doing; it's a soul-satisfying measurement and record of consistency and accomplishment. It turns the volume down on the aspiration aspect and amps up the loudness on the "get it done" part.

Lastly, treat each and every day as a unit of measure, not the year. Did you eat less than 2000 calories today? No? Okay, you can tomorrow. Start that chain again. Did you write on your book today? It's alright -- it's just a single space gap in the calendar chain. Start again tomorrow. Don't break the chain.

Breaking the chain is not failure. It's just a stoppage. It's the machines shutting down at the assembly line; the lights going out at the ballpark. Flip the switch and get those suckers back on. The game is not lost just because it went dark for a bit, it just stopped a while and got delayed.

Finish the game.

Gina Trapani has a great post about lessons learned about keeping your goals. In it, she reflects a few of these ideas, and shares some of her own. I hope you read it, and I hope this advice helps you.

And just a little bonus advice: I've been emailed a lot this year (already) about advice on writing a book as a New Year's goal. This is the best advice I can give, aside from pointing you to my guide to writing and publishing your book:

Understand that books don't actually exist at the point you write them. They exist after you've completed a story, and that story can't be complete until you've written it all down, gone back through it, edited it, cleaned it up, sped up the slow parts, slowed down the too-fast parts... In other words, a book is not 200 pages of writing. It's the crafting of a story, and typing it all out is just one aspect of it all. A book shouldn't be seen as a labor of putting X words on N pages across Y days. It's done when the story's done.

Same with a comic or graphic novel or movie or anything else. The physical act of getting the content into the medium is simply the translation from brain-wave to consumable format for the audience. Don't analogize it as climbing a mountain or hiking a forest or anything else, because those things start at point A and end when you reach the end. There's no clear end for a book or work of art. It ends when it tells the story you wanted to tell, not a second sooner.

So, that should make the idea of writing your book every day a little simpler. It's not about x words on the page today, it's about getting whats in your brain onto the page (or into the word processor) so you can actually do something with it.

Good luck!