Why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions

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What’s your policy on New Year’s resolutions? Me? I don’t like them much and I don’t think they’re helpful for most writers….

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

If you do, odds are high that you’ve already failed to keep them because today is Jan. 5. And odds will be even higher by Feb. 15 when a shocking 80 percent of people will have failed at their resolutions.  

But here’s the really interesting point: A recent study by Finder shows the main reason people aren’t able to see 2021 resolutions to success is because they “don’t have the willpower.” Others blame it on forgetting or being too lazy. 

Well, if your resolution is to start writing, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need buckets of willpower or an iron memory or military discipline. You simply need to pick a small enough goal

This may sound like cheating, but it’s not. Instead, it’s an acknowledgement that big goals are daunting and off-putting. According to Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, the more frequently people experience a sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive. 

Here’s how she describes her findings: “How happy workers feel; how motivated they are by an intrinsic interest in the work….all these combine either to push them to higher levels of achievement or to drag them down.

When we think about progress, we often imagine how good it feels to achieve a long-term goal or experience a major breakthrough. These big wins are great — but they are relatively rare. The good news is that even small wins can boost inner work life tremendously.”

In other words, your small achievements — your small wins — help you feel as though you’re accomplishing something important. They give you the motivation to keep going and, over time, the small wins add up to a significant accomplishment. 

Many of my new clients have previously made the mistake of setting writing goals that were too daunting. Typically, when I’ve met with them, I’ve encouraged them to scale back, do less, be more modest. If they are more modest, I tell them, they’re more likely to feel happy with themselves. And this happiness will lead to the wonderfully self-sustaining principle of one success begetting even greater success.  

In fact, I sometimes even have to convince myself to pursue smaller goals … 

In producing my last book, Your Happy First Draft, for example, I had the habit of writing at 6 am every morning, cranking out 500 words with little difficulty. When I finished the first draft I then spent about six months editing it and, following that, sent it out to my beta readers for feedback.

The feedback was helpful and generally positive. But all of my beta readers agreed I needed to write two more chapters. When I resumed writing, however, I had new difficulty hitting my 500-word target. In fact, the challenge was so overwhelming I found myself starting to procrastinate about writing. 

Say what? I hadn’t felt the need to procrastinate about writing in some 20 years. What the heck was going on?

I learned the answer, accidentally, thanks to a client with whom I had a coaching call one afternoon. She was complaining about her own procrastinating ways and I heard my suggestion, “why don’t you cut your goal in half?” coming out of my mouth. As I said those words, I realized it was not only excellent advice for her but something I needed to do myself.

The next morning, I sat down to write with my new goal top of mind: 250 words not 500. It was like magic! All of a sudden, I felt enthusiastic about writing and the words came flowing out of me.

And here was the bigger, even more delightful irony: Although my new goal was just 250 words, most days I hit 500 or more quite easily. I had given myself permission to do less and, as a result, I did more. I finished those two chapters in a single month. 

Whether your goal for 2021 is to eat better, exercise more regularly or write a book, remember that less is usually more. If you develop small daily habits, you’ll eventually be able to harness those small wins into a massive achievement. 

No resolutions required. 


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. The group is now full but there is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 


What do you think about New Year’s resolutions? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Climene Arruda, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a Dec. 15/20 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Climene!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Jan. 31/21 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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