THE BLOG

Stuck on New Year's Resolutions? Try This, Instead

I've always loved the idea of New Year's resolutions, but for all my ever-so-good intentions, I never quite seem to keep them. So this year, I'm try­ing some­thing new. Instead of establishing a list of goals and strug­gling to reach them, I've decided to think in terms of possibilities.
12/27/2011 03:57pm ET | Updated February 26, 2012
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

I've always loved the idea of New Year's resolutions -- the clean slate, the fresh start, the opti­mistic resolve -- but for all my ever-so-good intentions, I never quite seem to keep them.

So this year, I'm try­ing some­thing new. Instead of establishing a list of goals and strug­gling (and fail­ing) to reach them, I've decided to think in terms of possibilities.

Inspired by an essay in Wise Bread, I took 20 min­utes out of Christ­mas morn­ing to scrib­ble down 100 things that I want to do -- things that, at some level, seem to be call­ing to me. Noth­ing was too big. Noth­ing was too small. As more thoughts came to mind later in the day, I added them to the list.

By the time I was fin­ished, I had some 85 items rang­ing from going to Thai­land to tak­ing a photog­ra­phy class to buy­ing a KitchenAid mixer. To some­one else, this com­pi­la­tion might appear a weirdly ran­dom assort­ment. To me, it makes total sense. Read­ing it makes me happy.

Let me be clear, this is not a to-do list -- it would take me years, if not decades, to accom­plish every­thing I wrote down, and besides, that isn't the point. What I was after was some­thing more intan­gi­ble, a frame­work for think­ing about what mat­ters to me and how I spend my time.

Look­ing over my list, I was instantly struck by how the things that call me come in clus­ters. Travel is a big one -- no surprise -- but so is orga­ni­za­tion, or rather the idea of cre­at­ing a more ordered home and with it a more ordered life. Cre­ative work, time in nature and cook­ing with friends are other recur­rent themes.

I was heart­ened to see that my big changes of recent years -- most notably my move to wes­ern Mass­a­chu­setts from the Boston area -- have made it far eas­ier for me to spend time in ways that feel mean­ing­ful. It was good to feel that I've been head­ing in the right direction.

And as inter­est­ing as what I wrote down was what I left out. Many (though not all) of the things on my list are inex­pen­sive or free. Big-city glamor is in notably short sup­ply. Mak­ing waf­fles, play­ing mini-golf, cross-country ski­ing. String­ing white lights around my liv­ing room win­dows. Re-learning how to knit. Cor­ralling kids to make a gin­ger­bread house and hol­i­day cook­ies next year.

Think­ing in terms of pos­si­bil­i­ties seems espe­cially appro­pri­ate for the post-Recession world (aka Plan B Nation), where we need to be open-minded and strate­gic if we're to move forward.

Rather than choos­ing a sin­gle con­crete goal -- say, get­ting a job at X organization -- we're well-advised to think more broadly. What is the essence of what we want? (Mean­ing­ful work, an income ade­quate to sup­port us in other life goals, inter­est­ing col­leagues.) What are some alternate paths to these same ends?

I imag­ine con­sult­ing this list many times in the year ahead, espe­cially when­ever I'm feel­ing at a loss or stuck. Twelve months from now, I'll def­i­nitely be curi­ous to see how many of the items from the list made it into my life. But again, that isn't really the point. These aren't goals so much as poten­tial paths: They are step­ping stones, not the destination.