How to make the best New Year resolutions

I’m a big fan of goals in life generally, and I always take a few days over New Year to consider what I want to achieve in the year to come, both in my personal life and my writing.

It takes a few days because it’s a broad field, if you don’t measure success only in terms of finances and career development, as we tend to do in our culture. There’s creative satisfaction, greater understanding, social engagement and every other aspect of life to consider.

So how do you narrow it down? Well, according to Alain de Botton on the radio this week, it helps to ponder your own mortality. Most people don’t really think about the prospect of dying until they’re in the 40s or 50s, but de Botton suggests we should all start to think about it from at least the age of 10.

Having faced the fact that you’re going to die, and it could happen at any time, then, says de Botton, it’s good to think about regrets. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret never having done? Maybe you’d wish you had travelled more, or read more, or written a book, or taken up a musical instrument, or learnt to fly. Or managed to master your temper better, or speak up for yourself, or say sorry, or tell someone you love them.

Whatever you would regret not having done in this life if you were to die tomorrow, those are the things you need to get on and do today. Even for things that are going to take much longer than just this coming year, you can still make a start.

Like any journey, once you start, you build momentum. You see the way unfolding ahead of you, and feel the excitement of working towards the place you want to be. It doesn’t matter whether you arrive or not – you will have extended yourself, and striven, and felt energised along the way. And discovered new goals to start going for, like unexpected signposts and turnings in the road.

So if you haven’t set any New Year resolutions yet, imagine the Grim Reaper were to come for you today – what would you wish you had done? Write a list of things you can do right away and things that could take a long time. Select two of each. With the long-term goals, make a start this week – write that email enquiry, make that phone call, start that conversation, do that search.

It feels good – and that’s why I’m a fan of goals and resolutions!


15 thoughts on “How to make the best New Year resolutions”

  1. I do like your views on this, and I feel it is important to make the most of what we have right now. My experience about thinking about death, I was in 3rd grade when I wondered for the 1st time what would “heaven” be, or life after death. That was just after I was kicked out of Sunday school, as I told the Sunday school teacher they don’t understand the Bible correctly, In the Bible was written animals and plants also have souls, but the people taught only humans have souls. After I was kicked out, I thought I’d probably go the Hell now, so I wondered what Heaven would be like. At the time, I also refused to go to the school toilets, I thought it dirty and not private enough, I just didn’t like it. Then I had a dream where I was trampled to death, a stampede of elephants coming for me. There was nowhere for me to go, I knew I was going to die, in the dream… so I lie down, and let it be. I could feel the heavy elephants over my body… Then I floated up, and I thought, great! I am going to Heaven now! And where did I end up in my dream Heaven? In my school toilets! My lesson I learnt. We are here to learn, and to accept certain things, even if we may not like it. I learnt the lessons we haven’t learnt here, we take it with us. There is a reason for everything that we experience!

    1. How interesting, Petri – and your story really shows the power of dreams as lived experiences that can change the way we think and live. I’ve had a number of dreams of dying in my life too, and they always herald a big change in me.

  2. I’ve decided I’m going back to Scotland this year for a writing expedition – not sure when or how, but I’ve started a fund. Feels like I should celebrate having successfully achieved 4 kids going off to live on their own. Now is my time for a proper writing routine, and some adventures. Dreaming crazily right now 🙂

    1. Wow Josie, that’s so exciting! I started to go up to Scotland with my little tent for 3 or 4 weeks every Summer when my children had all flown the nest – you’re right, it’s something to really celebrate. I don’t know how well you know Scotland but, for me, the far North West and the isles are worth the extra travel. I always come home feeling creatively renewed 🙂

      1. I want to visit Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, where I have 5 generations of ancestors. Maybe go back to Pitlochry in Perthshire, and the highlands and then visit the islands for the first time. I’m thinking tent – but possibly hostels. Bit daunting for the first time, but that won’t dissuade me.

        1. Five generations – that’s powerful stuff. I explored Dumfries and Galloway a fair bit the year I lived in Ayr, and loved it. I know pretty much all of the islands, where I’ve done a mix of camping and hosteling, so if you fancy a chat pm me in fb and I’ll give you my number, Josie. It is a bit daunting the first time, but I know that won’t put you off!

          1. I believe one was in prison for a dastardly deed lol. Thanks Jen, when I get to the stage of planning I’d love to have a chat – it’ll give me some confidence x

  3. Such a simple and powerful technique for focusing – thank you. I keep that phrase ‘ye know not when’ uppermost in my mind.
    On another note lots of people seem to be experiencing potent dreams at the moment …

  4. The reality of death hit me hard after two instances: in 1989, when an aunt died of cancer, and again in 1993, when a close friend died of AIDS. Death had always hovered in the back of my mind, like a stalker; mainly because I was often depressed and introverted growing up. That, in turn, made me have more than a few suicidal thoughts. Writing was among the few things that saved me.

    The deaths of my father and my dog within a 5-month period last year definitely had a dispiriting effect on me. But it wasn’t so bad I wanted to end my own life. Again, my literary aspirations kept me focused. I have a slew of story ideas, and who else would write them but me?

    I don’t make New Year’s resolutions anymore because I realized how pointless it is. I’m always trying to improve myself and I don’t feel the need to wait until January 1 to start something new or make a change somewhere.

    You’re absolutely right, Jenny: none of us really knows when exactly we’re going to die until maybe the days or weeks before. My father always used to point out that youth is wasted on the young. That’s why I vowed, after the death of that one friend, that I’ll never get “old” in the spiritual sense.

    Thanks for the inspiration and best wishes with your writing!

  5. I’m sure I was saved by writing too, Alejandro. I’m struck by the way the death of your friend made you make a life-changing decision about how to live your life – my sister’s death, when I was 23, made me decide never to tread water, waiting for some future time to do the things that felt important to me, in exactly the way de Botton suggests. Her death took so much away, but it also gave me the gift of living purposefully from an early age. Never to get ‘old’ in the spiritual sense – that is a wonderful way of living.

  6. It really is a wonderful way to frame our goals. If I were to die tomorrow I probably wouldn’t regret that I had decided to eat lots of pasta in my lifetime yet I would regret not travelling or creating enough. Guess where my goals always lie though??

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