On New Year’s Resolutions

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Next post in this series.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “What are you talking about? It’s the end of March!” Or maybe, “Is this an April Fool’s joke?” No, it isn’t. I want to talk about New Year’s resolutions precisely because we’re a quarter of the way through the year. Specifically, I want to explain how I’m doing with mine and how I think my methods can be helpful to others, even when it’s not January.

Studies say 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by mid-February. Well, it’s been twice that long, now, and I’m still going with mine. What’s my secret? I was careful and specific about how I designed them. And yes, there are plenty of guides online about how to make good resolutions, but I want to give my perspective as someone who didn’t actually think to look at those guides and came to this point by trial and error.

Back in 2018, my New Year’s resolution was, “Make a serious effort toward getting a book published.” This went almost exactly nowhere. I sent two query letters in all of 2018.

So, I decided to change it up. I’ve learned from experience that I am more productive when I give myself a schedule to follow. For example, I spent about three years when I had a daily writing goal, and I met it almost every day. I blogged about the Magic Spreadsheet at that time. Unfortunately, my circumstances later changed due to a number of factors, and it didn’t work so well for me anymore. I just couldn’t keep a consistent daily schedule with such perfect consistency anymore.

I’ve struggled with this for a long time, and this year, I finally decided that I could probably do better with a weekly schedule. If I set various goals to be done each week, and I know they have to be finished by Sunday night (and if they were something I knew I could pull off), I thought I could manage that. In fact, I was so confident that I didn’t just make one New Year’s resolution this year. I made five. True, some of them may sound minor, but all of them are important to me, and more importantly, all of them are things I struggled with last year.

My New Year’s resolutions for 2019 back in January were:

  1. Exercise 30 minutes at least 3 days per week, except when I’m traveling. (At home. I’m not dealing with the friction of going to the gym, especially in winter.) Completion rate: 89%.
  2. Send 1 query letter for one of my novels to an agent per month. Completion rate: 100%.
  3. Read at least 1 chapter each of paper books and audio books per week. (This is mostly so I don’t fall out of the habit, like I did last year.) Completion rate: 96%.
  4. Publish at least 1 blog post per week. Completion rate: 92%.
  5. A complicated set of weekly and monthly writing goals. (I’m keeping this one private because it’s more complex, and there are several different projects involved.) Completion rate: 93%.

So, that looks pretty good so far, and I’m keeping at it. Now, how can you apply this? Well, the online guides are actually pretty good, but I want to take it a step further.

A lot of these online guides talk about setting “SMART” goals, where SMART is an acronym for, “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-limited.” You don’t have to follow the script exactly, of course. I actually made my resolutions before I looked up this information, but I instinctively captured the core essence of this method by making resolutions that involved a specific amount of work in a specific timeframe that I know I can reasonably meet. And so far, it’s worked pretty well. Not perfect, but easily two or three times better than I was doing at this same stuff last year.

However, looking back from three months in, I decided it was time to readjust my goals. There are places where I made them too easy, and other places where it’s been challenging to meet them, so instead of idling and waiting for the end of the year, I’m changing them now. I again didn’t realize it until after I made the changes, but this is actually one of the (many) extensions to the SMART system: “Evaluated and Reviewed.”

As such, I have made the following changes my first three resolutions:

  1. Exercise 30 minutes at least 3 days per week, except when I’m traveling, and one of them must be Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
  2. Send 2 query letters for my novels to agents per month.

—Read at least 3 chapters per week, including one from audiobooks. (I added another book to my pile. Long story.)

I’ll be making another post on this near the end of the year (and possibly before then) to give you updates and as a reminder of my advice to my readers. The moral of the story is, when you’re making New Year’s resolutions, don’t just make them aspirational. Set goals that are challenging, but doable. Set them on a fixed schedule. Don’t sweat it too much if you miss a day (or a week) here and there. And don’t be afraid to change your resolutions in the middle of the year to make them work better.

Good luck.

About Alex R. Howe

I'm a full-time astrophysicist and a part-time science fiction writer.
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