Failed Your New Year's Resolutions? Do This Instead

You all know how much I love New Year's Resolutions, right?

(I've written about it here and here before.)

I think they're an awesome way to take advantage of that "New year, new possibilities" feeling to make changes.

But that feeling goes away, our resolutions don't always work, and that can get frustrating.

If you've already failed some of your resolutions, let me share how I accidentally fell into a simpler way of ringing in the New Year.

Even though the New Year feels a while back, this approach might still help you too.


Let's backtrack to December 2016.

Some of you may remember I was in the middle of a difficult time back then. Getting through each day was already a challenge; even thinking of making the New Year's resolutions I usually found exciting felt overwhelming instead.

So last year, I did something that felt easier: something I'd heard about but never taken seriously before.

I didn't set any goals at all.

But I set one - just one! - verse from the Holy Bible to live by for the whole year.

Why a Bible verse?

(If you're not a reader or believer of the Bible, keep reading. This approach will still be useful to you, promise!)

You might have heard about the trend to not make resolutions but instead, pick a word for the year instead of resolutions.

Personally, I feel choosing one word is just too vague to motivate me. One word in different situations can mean so many different things.

But something longer and a bit more specific - whether a phrase or a sentence - that aligns me with my values and points in a direction I want to go? I'm all in for that.

The Holy Bible was a natural choice for me as I'm a Christian, and my church has encouraged us to choose a verse from it for each year for as long as I can remember.

But if that's not the case for you, other classical literature from ancient authors also works.

Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less --- which is an awesome book with some practical minimalist concepts, by the way --- that making space to read classical literature "broadens his perspective and reminds him of themes and ideas that are essential enough to have withstood the test of time."

And the great thing is you probably won't even need to buy classical literature if you just want to give reading them a try. Most of them are no longer copyrighted and available online for free. (Seriously free, just Google "free classic books" to find them!)

The practice of choosing this verse for 2017 made me:

more intentional about my life choices.

When I was about to make decisions in 2017, I asked myself if it aligned with my verse of the year. It made the best way forward a bit clearer.

less overwhelmed.

I love how living by my verse felt less hectic. It was more about living with intention a certain way instead of focusing on the results of my iron-clad resolutions.

So if the result of something I wanted to do wasn't all good, it was ok. I would do better tomorrow instead of angsting over the "I can't believe I fell off the wagon again" feelings.

It also naturally became less overwhelming 'cause of the number of things I had to keep track of. We all know working with too many resolutions is a recipe for failure, so just having one verse to focus on instead was a refreshing change.

more content about who I am.

Wanting to make all the changes now now now often felt like a race. It implied I wasn't good enough just as I was at that moment so I needed to hurry to become my best self. But when I got to that endpoint, I would eventually shift gears towards another way I could be better, and I was back to not being good enough.

We want to grow as people, of course, but balancing that desire with the joy of today is essential. Living by a verse instead of hard and fast resolutions made that balancing act easier.

So how did making this change turn out for me in 2017?

I mean, when we're not setting hard and fast goals, we aren't getting things done, right?

I've found the opposite's true actually.

My verse for 2017 was

[We are] persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed
— 2 Corinthians 4:9

With this phrase in mind, I entered the year ready to meet challenges and even more ready to get up after each one again. To me, the verse implied holding on to my values regardless of what I couldn't control.

Aside from the benefits I mentioned up top, I found I did a lot without feeling super-stressed!

Off the top of my head, I

  • worked a lot but was less of a workaholic. I spent less hours at work but got more done than I used to.
  • traveled so much. Toronto, Cologne, Venice, Warsaw, Melbourne, and the South Island of New Zealand are just some of the places I ended up exploring last year.
  • spent more time with people I care about. I got closer with family I hadn't gotten in touch with in a long time, and made an extra effort to be there for friends.
  • was more serious about my faith. I was more active at church, and more importantly, started reading the Bible every morning. I'd done this before but never consistently, and it centered my day.
  • was more intentional about my free time. I shopped waaaaay less, read more books, and even learned to enjoy napping in my off-time.
  • started cooking for myself at home. I stopped eating out almost every night - my lifestyle for probably the last ten years - and stayed in. I started with one meal at home every other day then built up a routine from there.
  • had my most meaningful Christmas season ever. I wrote about this last month, but in summary, I did / spent / ate less but enjoyed the holidays more.

The funny thing is I never planned any of these as my resolutions for 2017!

I just chose to match the way I lived day-to-day to my verse (which was, in essence, my values), and I found myself making changes to reflect that and enjoying each step.

I spent more time developing relationships and my faith as I saw how they anchored me during a difficult time, for example. They helped me feel "persecuted not abandoned", so to speak.

Or how I saved more money - like with eating at home and shopping less - in order to contribute more to what mattered to me: my faith, travel, and the environment. Doing this helped me feel richer, and definitely "not destroyed".

The changes were all just a natural extension of taking that verse to heart throughout the year.

Combined with the 10 Questions year-end exercise I shared last month, it's been a less stressful way of bettering myself while still enjoying the day to day.

Which is why I chose another Bible verse for 2018, and am looking forward to how this verse takes me through the year.

Is choosing words from classical literature something you want to try?

January technically hasn't ended yet, and it's not too late to pick words to live by for your 2018.