Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (and 2 powerful alternatives)

Here’s a frightening statistic. According to the University of Scranton research, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals. Crazy right?!

If resolutions or specific goal setting just ain’t your gig, don’t sweat it, you’re doing OK. Instead of the traditional resolution-fest, I’d like to suggest a different approach, which can apply to the beginning of a new year, or any new cycle/season in your life.

Here are 2 powerful alternatives to New Year’s resolutions:

1. Set your intent. This means getting clear on your aim or purpose (in this case for the year ahead). Setting your intent can be about how you want to ‘be’ as a leader. It’s about deciding how you want to “show up”. For example, one client of mine, having read Overworked and Overwhelmed, has set his intent to be a more mindful leader in 2015. Or, setting your intent can be about making a conscious decision to start movement towards a particular dream. As Deepak Chopra says – “Intention is the starting point of every dream.” See here for some great steps to setting powerful intentions.

2. Ask the 4 “Doing Questions.”  This is a powerful set of questions I often use in my coaching practice. They can be used with your teams as part of a review/reflection exercise. And, they are just as applicable to you.


Step 1: Take at least 30 minutes of peace and quiet, ideally in nature. Under a pohutukawa tree on the beach is my favourite possie.
Step 2: Take five big deep breaths. Focus on your breaths. Continue for 2 minutes, as a mindfulness exercise.
Step 3: In your journal or on a piece of paper, answer the following four questions. Write as much as you can and try not to edit it too much – whatever comes out first is usually the right thing. When I did this exercise, I was surprised at some of the things that I wrote – but on reflection, they made perfect sense.
Step 4: Note, you can add “being” to the “doing”.

i. What am I going to KEEP DOING in 2015? When thinking of answers, think back over the past year and consider new skills or ways of being that have served you. Or, things that have put you ‘in flow’ – or resulted in positive outcomes for you or your team/s.

ii. What am I going to STOP DOING in 2015? Once again, reflect on the past year. What are the things you do that don’t serve you (or those around you). This is about what you do when you get in your own way.

iii. What am I going to START DOING? The trick here is to keep your list small. I find it’s better to only have one or two things in this list which you can REALLY concentrate on, as opposed to a big list of 10 things that, let’s face it, will probably end up in the resolution graveyard.

iv. What am I going to DO MORE OF? These are things (or ways of leading) that you may have started to do, or dipped your toes into. If you just turned up the dial a little, they could make a big difference to your leadership and your life.

Once you have written and refined your list, make sure you keep it where you will see and read it regularly. Daily, if possible.

To give you an idea, here’s a taster of what I had on my list:

Keep Doing? Blogging. My twice weekly blog posts are a powerful creative outlet and it feeds my soul.

Stop Doing? Saying yes to everything. As Greg McKeown says in his book Essentialism, “If its not a resounding yes! It’s a resounding NO!” 2015 is the year where I am determined to nail this puppy.

Start Doing? Listening to my heart and soul. This is a big one, but when I tune into my heart and soul, the answers are always the right ones – but not necessarily the easiest. Deciding to change my career from Executive Search to coaching (a courageous move at the time) was a decision made by following my heart and soul – and has led me on the best professional journey of my life. Ditto starting The Leaders Digest.

Do more of? Meditation. I started in 2014 and its been one of the best things I have ever done. See here for the reasons why.

Do one of the 2 alternatives to New Year’s resolutions and let me know how you get on. I’d love to know what challenges, learnings and benefits you experienced. Please leave your comments below. 

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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