Common New Year’s Resolutions (and How I’d Rewrite Them)

A big problem with New Year’s resolutions is not something intrinsic to the practice of resolving to make positive changes in the coming year—these can be beneficial forces in a person’s life—but with the way we word our resolutions. Word choice determines everything. Words mean things. The words we use determine everything that follows. With just slight modifications to the wording and by being more specific, these resolutions can become more powerful, more effective, and more true to our nature and our actual desires.

How would I rewrite eight common New Year’s resolutions?

“I’m going to lose 50 pounds.”

This might be the most common goal. The world has a growing obesity problem, and the vast majority of people implicitly understand that this is indeed a problem to be solved. But “I’m going to lose 50 pounds” doesn’t give you a roadmap. It doesn’t even give a specific destination. Are you going to lose 20 pounds of fat and 30 pounds of muscle? Are you going to count calories? How many do you plan to burn and consume? What are those calories going to consist of?

This is better: “I’m going to lose body fat and gain or retain lean mass by eating foods that naturally increase satiety and inadvertently cause a reduction in calories.”

“I’m going to focus on my relationships.”

A noble goal, to be sure, but what does it mean? Which relationships? How are you going to “focus” on them? Determine which relationships you’re most concerned with and identify what they lack and require most. Then, resolve to provide what they’re missing.

Better options: “I’m going to find a reliable babysitter and plan a date night every Wednesday with my wife/husband.” Or: “I’m going to read to my kids every night.” Or: “I’m going to get together every Sunday morning with my friends to hike/grab coffee/work out.”

“I’m gonna exercise more.”

This is a popular resolution, and, at least for a couple of weeks, people stick with it. But around mid-January, the gym depopulates. The newcomers all migrate elsewhere. They don’t stick with it, despite quite honestly wanting to work out more often. What goes wrong?

They’re not specific. They don’t make concrete plans or set a schedule. It’s one thing for someone with a lot of gym and training experience to practice “intuitive training,” where they just do what feels right and interesting. That’s pretty much how I train, but I’ve been doing fitness for most of my life. The total beginner will flounder if they try to go to the gym without any experience or any plans.

Better options: “I’m going to lift heavy things twice a week, go for a 30-minute walk every day, and do some intense anaerobic activity like sprints or rowing.”

“I’m going to meditate.”

I see it all the time. Someone listens to a podcast with a business guru who swears meditating got him where he is today, and that it’s the single most important thing anyone can do. They try meditating, and it just doesn’t work. They can’t stick with it. So New Year’s rolls around, and they resolve to finally make it happen.

Maybe meditation will work. Some say that it’s those who have the most trouble meditating who need it the most. Perhaps. But as someone who’s dedicated to improving myself and never has trouble doing hard things like lifting or pursuing business ideas or taking risks, meditating simply didn’t work. What did work?

Going for walks in nature.

Going paddle boarding.

Even guided meditations worked better for me.

In essence, “finding the flow” is what worked. Finding that activity that allowed me to turn off my mind and just be.

Better options: Find the thing that allows you to reach that Primal state of flow. “I’m going to go for a quiet walk without any stimulus in nature every single day.” Or: “I’m going to go surfing/rock climbing/play music.”

“I will live life to the fullest.”

Too often this translates as, “I will stay up late getting black-out drunk as often as possible.” Maybe that’s someone’s “full life,” but I don’t recommend it. That doesn’t take “resolve” to do. That’s the kind of thing that people revert to when their better inhibitions fail. It’s the opposite of what a good resolution looks like.

Better: “I will embrace looking stupid and try new things that I’ve always wanted to do but have felt nervous about being bad at.” Or: “I will pick something new and novel to do at least once a week (with an allowance for repeating if the new activity sticks).”

“I’m going to learn a new skill/language.”

Be more specific. What are you going to learn? What is the thing that keeps surfacing in your mind as you drift to sleep? What do you dream about? What do you keep noticing in your everyday life?

Better: “I’m going to learn how to change my brake pads.” Or: “I’m going to learn German.” Or: “I’m going to take judo classes.”

“I’m going to stop drinking.”

This is a noble resolution, but it may not be effective by itself. When someone’s alcohol intake becomes a problem, it’s usually masking a deeper issue. People don’t drink to excess because they’re celebrating real life too much or living a totally fulfilled life when sober. Drinking becomes a problem because you’re covering something up.

Instead of just “not drinking,” plumb the depths of your soul to determine the true cause of your over-indulgence in alcohol. Figure that out, come to peace with it, and figure out a resolution to address it. In doing so, you will have a better chance at fixing the drinking.

A better option: “I’m going to figure out and overcome the reasons I’m drawn to drink so much alcohol.”

“I’m going to read more.”

I’m a bibliophile. I understand the joy of reading books and the frustration that comes when the end of the year rolls around and I realize I haven’t read as many books as I would have liked. There are so many to read, so little time, and time squandered is reading time you won’t get back.

“Books” is such a general category to be useless. Get more specific about what kind of book you want to read. Read only what you truly enjoy. Don’t feel guilty about stopping a book after 30 pages if it hasn’t grabbed you (it’s just an inanimate object, it won’t feel anything). Go to the library (having a time limit forces your hand; sometimes owning a book means you shelve it and forget it).

Better: “I’m going to read books I enjoy and quit books I don’t without feeling guilty.” Or: “I’m going to get a library card and start checking books out.” Or: “I’m going to read more fiction.” Or: “I’m going to flip through books and read what I want without worrying about reading the whole thing.”

The hardest resolution is the one we can sense but can’t articulate. In my experience, almost everyone in this modern age is missing something, is searching and yearning for something that they can’t quite pin down. If it exists in some immaterial dimension of potentiality outside of language, the resolutions we write down won’t capture it. That, I suspect, is a major reason the resolutions we choose do not complete us.

How do we fix that one? How do we find it? Maybe by moving through the world, by throwing ourself into meaningful pursuits that resonate in the moment, by taking long walks and letting the mind and body wander where they will, by letting go of our need for constant stimulation and embracing boredom.

What are you resolutions this year? If you could rewrite them, what would you say?

Have a great New Year, folks. Take care!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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21 thoughts on “Common New Year’s Resolutions (and How I’d Rewrite Them)”

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  1. Yes. Superficial resolutions have a true deeper meaning and a need to resolve.
    One step at a time. To many try to get to the second floor in one leap.

  2. Love this. Thank you Mark! So wise to have plans of actions no matter how small they may seem. Every movement forward, towards a goal, every increment matters. Repeated steps albeit small or large makes the mile. Thank you

  3. In 2019, my resolution/goal was to log 2019 miles on my fitness tracker. I reached that goal in mid-November. In 2020, my goal is to eat 2020 servings of non-starchy vegetables. That’s just over 5.5 servings a day. And, yes, there was a spreadsheet in 2019. And, yes, there is one for 2020!

  4. I’m going to finish my movie (produced, edited and distributed).
    I’m going to find at least two new income streams.
    I’m going to get back to my competition weight (198) and find a way to stay under 200 long term.
    I’m going to have better relationships by being fair, honest, loving and giving toward all my family and friends.

  5. Mark,

    Thank you so much for offering your wisdom around New Year’s resolutions. Your notes are so true, and your recommendations are so helpful.

    Happy New Years

    With gratitude,

  6. I like and appreciate those re-workings. Happy New Year and best wishes.

  7. I’m taking advice from Steve of Nerd Fitness, and picking one habit and making it small and easy. Last year I got my diet down, I quit sugar and never looked back. This year I want to create an exercise habit again. I’ve been extremely inactive this last year. I’m starting with 5 squats and 5 incline pushups (I can’t even do a knee push up at my current strength level) every morning. I can do way more squats than that, but I’m making it so easy that there’s no reason I can’t do it, then upping the difficulty later, as per the NF advice. My cue will be making my morning cup of herbal tea. My reward will be savoring my tea and knowing that I took a small step toward creating a life long healthy habit. 🙂
    I enjoyed your advice here Mark. Thanks for all you do for us and happy New Year!


  8. Last year I started doing micro-resolutions, which worked well for me. You pick one (or more) resolution for the month of January, then change to a different one in February, etc. It was less daunting than trying to maintain a new resolution for the entire year. Another benefit: after you do something every day for a month, it often becomes a habit and continues on naturally for the next month (or longer). For example, last January my resolutions were to get outside for a walk every day (I live in New England, so the weather isn’t always great), give up alcohol and floss every day. In February, it was to read one book, meditate daily for at least 5 minutes and think of three things for which I’m grateful every day. I never had much luck keeping New Year’s resolutions for the entire year, but the monthly ones work for me.

    I have read MDA almost every day for the past 8 years but rarely ever reply, so let me just say thanks to Mark and his team and to everyone in this community. I’ve learned a lot and have lived a happier and healthier life because of all of you. Happy New Year everyone.

  9. I don’t do “resolutions.” I set some goals, and I set some intentions. For things that I can quantify (like the number of running races I want to do this year), I set specific goals. For things that don’t really have an end point or a measurable target, I set intentions — I choose words that represent things I want to give more of my attention, and I insert those words into my life in my Bullet Journal, phone apps, and other places where I will see them frequently. And as I have time and opportunities, I plan actions and reflect on experiences that relate to those words, and let the specifics evolve. I think we sometimes set goals as ends in themselves, and forget that the purpose of losing ten pounds or running a marathon or whatever is to be healthier or happier or more fulfilled. What if you just placed your focus on being healthier, happier and more fulfilled, gave some thought every day to what that might look like, and just keep correcting your course to go toward it? That’s my approach.

  10. Thank you for the way you impart wisdom in a form of gentle guidance. This is me… “I’m going to figure out and overcome the reasons I’m drawn to drink so much DIET COKE.”

  11. Another great article Mark. I have two resolutions every year. One of them is always the same: stay committed to a healthy lifestyle. The other one varies but is always very specific. This year, my resolution is to write at least 50 blog posts on my website.

  12. These are great. Thank you for your thoughts. You always seem to really care about your followers well being in every way, not just diet. Happy New Year!

  13. Thank you Mark, this was probably my favorite post of yours. Constantly reframing common things we beat ourselves up about into manageable and realistic yet accountable language.

    If it is true that thoughts become actions and that all thoughts began as words in our head then HELL YEAH words matter!!

    Thanks again for all you do!!!

  14. Often our goal is generalized for easy comprehension. If I tell people I’ve made a resolution to lose 20 pounds, no one has trouble understanding what that means. But whatever modification you choose to make in your life, you’ll want to list the baby-steps that will help bring the goal to fruition. Most folks don’t want to hear your baby-steps, otherwise one gets lumped into a category like, “The first rule of Crossfit is you must tell everyone, frequently, that you do Crossfit.” 😉

  15. Good points… I did not make any “resolutions” at all. However, I did buy a membership at a swimming facility, and have made plans to go there and swim for about 1/2 hour on the way to work on Mondays and Thursdays. And I have planned to talk to my boss about working from home one day each week – hopefully Wednesdays to break things up. I have an hour’s commute each way, and, after I turned 60, I began to feel just how onerous that is…
    When I look at the timing, I see that these are my New Year’s resolutions!

  16. Rewrote my resolutions tonight. I have your 2017 audio Primal Blueprint and just bought your 2019 hard copy. I like listening and reading along. Helps re-enforce all the information for me. Glad I found the website tonight.

  17. Fantastic article. Really well thought out and presented. As someone who has made resolutions for a long time this article is of huge benefit. Thank you for your insights and for sharing.