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6 Unusual Alternatives to Traditional New Year's Resolutions

You don't want to make a New Year's resolution? Try these fun and easy options.

Key points

  • New Year's resolutions work for many but are only a good fit for some.
  • A nudge word or "nudge motto" is a way to give yourself a gentle attitude adjustment.
  • Options that offer alternatives to traditional resolutions include making a series of one-month resolutions and a "to-don’t" list.
Image by Dimenshteyn, pexels, CCO.
Source: Image by Dimenshteyn, pexels, CCO.

Do New Year’s resolutions really work?

New Year’s resolutions have jump-started big changes for many people, despite the widespread belief that they don’t work. People who put down the effectiveness of New Year's resolutions cite studies like this one showing that just under 20 percent of “resolvers” have kept their resolutions two years later.

Two years later!?! One out of five people maintained their resolution after two years? To me, that glass is half full. Okay, one-fifth full, but that’s still a pretty good drink of water. In a more recent and larger study, 55 percent of resolvers had maintained their resolutions at a one-year follow-up.

So, yes, New Year’s resolutions do work for many. Still, if you are opposed to traditional New Year’s resolutions for whatever reason, there are other ways to help yourself become healthier and happier in the New Year. Just select one of the six non-traditional pathways described below or use them as inspiration to design your own change.

Option 1: Find a “Nudge Word”

A popular alternative to making a specific resolution is to choose a “nudge word” rather than a behavioral goal.

Health writer Tara Parker-Pope describes a nudge word here:

Instead of setting a specific goal, choose a word that captures the mind-set you want to adopt in 2023–a word that will nudge you toward positive change whenever you think of it.

I prefer to think of it as a “guide word,” since for me, “nudging” seems too much like “nagging.”)

Last year I decided to try this method. I chose the word “explore” because I wanted to sample various writing projects and topics before I zeroed in on any particular one. This guide word altered my mindset in other ways, too. “Explore” helped me face numerous situations and decisions with a more open and flexible attitude.

Other examples of possible “guide words” are: “light,” “growth,” “connect,” and “grateful.” You can select any word that reverberates with your values and goals and helps you turn your attitude in a more helpful direction.

Along the same lines, you could choose a short motto to guide you. Examples: “Excellence, not perfection.” “Any amount of exercise is better than none.” “Keep calm and carry on.” “Slow and steady wins the race.”

A nudge word or "nudge motto" is a great way to give yourself a gentle attitude adjustment.

Option 2: Create a “To-Don’t List” for the New Year

Sally Helgeson and Marshall Goldsmith suggested this option in their book, How Women Rise, described briefly here. The idea here is to set better boundaries by deciding ahead of time what you won’t do anymore. Once you’ve broken the habit of taking on too many “to-dos,” you can focus on what’s truly important to you.

    Get in touch with your inner rebel and vow not to fritter away your energy on people, projects, or places that aren’t really important to you. Here are some possibilities:

    • Don’t automatically say yes to a request. Use these time-honored words: “I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
    • Don’t schedule more than one appointment or event per day.
    • Don’t feel obligated to finish a book or article you aren't enjoying.

    What do you want to stop doing in the New Year?

    Option 3: Make a “One-Month Resolution”

    I’ve been impressed with the effectiveness of “Dry January,” a one-month sobriety challenge for people who want to drink less.

    Yes, it’s just one month. But most people who participate in Dry January do not boomerang back to their old habits come February 1. According to this Washington Post article by Anahad O'Connor,

    Studies show that people who participate in Dry January and other sobriety challenges frequently experience lasting benefits. Often, they drink less in the long run and sustain other changes to their drinking habits that lead to striking improvements in their health and well-being.

    In addition, participants reported that “taking a break from alcohol triggered immediate health benefits, like weight loss, better sleep, and a boost to…mood and energy levels.”

    You could use the idea of “Dry January” as a model for your habit change, choosing a particular month for a trial run. For example, you could create “Jogging January,” “Journaling January,” “Smoke-free February,” or “Assertive April.” Giving your desired change its own month and name adds an element of fun and also reduces the pressure to succeed long-term.

    Could you take a one-month vacation from a destructive habit?

    Option 4: Make a Series of “One-Month Resolutions”

    Instead of one single New Year’s resolution, consider making a series of “New Month’s Resolutions.” That is my plan for tackling a bunch of onerous tasks. For January, my goal is to de-clutter my desk. In February, I will do my taxes. In March, I will get three bids on a home improvement project. To bring my goal to the “top of my mind,” I’ve written reminder notices in my appointment book.

    Not all of my goals will be “grit my teeth and make myself do it” kind of goals. April, for example, could be a month to take a “one-tank trip” with my boyfriend. The month of May could also be merry, with a trip to visit my daughter and her family.

    The biggest advantage of becoming a member of the “Goal of the Month Club” is to free your mind of worry. Knowing you have already set aside time for the next task enables you to focus better on the current task.

    Option 5: Try the “Mini-Goal” Approach

    Some people like to “go big or go home.” Unfortunately, when it comes to habit change, many of those people will end up at home. Of course, if “going big” works for you, that’s fine. But for many, such an attitude is self-defeating; getting discouraged and giving up is a common outcome for those who try to do too much too soon. Moreover, when it comes to an exercise goal, launching into intensive workouts without building up your endurance can even be dangerous.

    As an alternative, consider dividing your big goal into small, specific “mini-goals,” as I suggest in my book Changepower. For example, if your goal is to exercise for health, start with ten minutes of walking three to five days a week in January. Stick with that, or add additional times and distances in February. Then a little more in March. You get the idea. (Of course, before starting an exercise program, it’s wise to get your doctor’s OK.)

    Option 6: Bring more healthy pleasures into your life.

    New York Times writer Melissa Kirsch points out that resolutions don’t have to be difficult or painful. “Take a daily nap” might be a perfectly fine resolution for many. Here are other resolutions that focus on healthy pleasures:

    • Get a regular pedicure. Healthy feet are critical to your mobility as you age.
    • Read more books. You’ll have fun and increase your life span, too. See References below.
    • See a film or go to an art event every month. Besides the joy of it, you’ll also live longer.
    Image by PxHere, CCO.
    Source: Image by PxHere, CCO.


    Remind yourself that you can make a resolution at any time, not just for the New Year. Some people might resolve to make a change on their birthday, in honor of a cause, or just whenever the time feels right. You’ll still get the “fresh start effect,” as habits expert Katy Milkman terms it.

    There’s more than one way to make a change in the New Year, and the best way is the one that works for you.

    © Meg Selig. All rights reserved.


    Mini-goals. Selig, M. (2009) Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. New York: Routledge, p. 115-121.

    Art events, books, and lifespan. Selig, M. (2020). Silver Sparks: Thoughts on Growing Older, Wiser, and Happier. Sierra Vista, AZ: Jetlaunch, p. 45-48.

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