New Year: Resolutions, Goals and Themes

As we welcome in a New Year, many people are turning their minds to New Year’s resolutions. According to Dr. John Norcross of Scranton University, the tradition of resolutions dates back to Roman times, when people offered resolutions to the god Janus. Janus has two faces – one looking backward, and one looking forward. It was a time new beginnings – as well as a time to look back, wipe the slate clean, and move forward with good intentions.


Nowadays, most resolutions represent broad goals about personal transformation. A typical resolutioner uses this time of year to embrace healthy living. Whether we vow to eat better, sleep more, or get to the gym – a huge number of us start the new year with a goal of transforming ourselves.

They say only 50% of us will make a resolution and stick with it. So what is the difference between a successful resolution and one that is abandoned by the time we hit March?


For me the difference is in the goal. I like having the big picture resolutions – like “get fit in 2017” but then I need to break this down into specific measurable sub goals, small steps and actions that I know will get me closer to the goal of getting fit. Things like:

  • Sign up for that yoga class I have been eyeing, and get there twice a week
  • Go swimming three times a week with my swim club
  • Walk up the stairs three times a week at work, rather than taking the elevator

With smaller sub goals I can measure my progress and make adjustments if I am not achieving the goals week by week.

Or I can set myself a big goal that supports a theme-based resolution. So for example, if my resolution is to “get fit” I can set myself a big target like a race that I have always thought about doing. In 2010 my get fit goal was underpinned by signing up for my first standard distance triathlon in August of that year. I had something big on the horizon, and a solid seven months of training to plan and do in order to achieve my goal. The big goal and the smaller steps all supported my “get fit” resolution for that year.


But what if the idea of a big goal doesn’t appeal to you?

Maybe you remember a show called “Ally McBeal”? In it, one of the characters had a “theme song” – a kind of soundtrack to daily life, to keep one on track and motivated. The idea of a theme song spread through the office, and we were treated to hilarious scenes of the main character Ally listening to Barry White, her theme song crooner of choice.

Taking inspiration from “Ally McBeal,” why not choose a theme word for the New Year? Rather than a resolution, which may or may not fade in time, a word can keep you company and give you direction throughout the year. Unlike a lofty resolution or a scary goal, a word you can write out, put on your mirror or by your desk, and it becomes a little piece of familiar to keep you company throughout the year.

I have chosen words like “rooted” and “intently” as my themes for past years. I like to choose a word that summons a feeling I want to have. A word that I can revisit. A word that I can come back to and reflect on, especially when making life choices: “Does this fit my theme for this year?” “Does this add to or take away from my theme for this year?”

I also like to revisit my word regularly to check that it is still fit-for-purpose. Like last year. I couldn’t really land on a single word, so I chose two. And then by February I had taken my 2016 words and thrown them out the window in favour of a personal mantra. I decided that I was happier using a sentence that captured my complete aspiration. I still use that sentence as a way to check that my choices and actions align with my values and ambitions.


Whether you choose a word or a goal, use this time of New Year resolution setting to pause, reflect and give thanks to the year that has been, and to look forward to the new year with gratitude and optimism.

We wish you all the best for 2017!

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