Career Center Blog

January 3, 2010

How to stick to your New Year's resolutions


Today a couple of freelance friends and I began tackling a shared New Year's resolution: spend more time on our personal writing projects (essays, books, and the like). To ensure we walked the talk, we made a virtual writing date, first checking in by e-mail at a pre-appointed time, then going off in our respective corners and clacking away at our keyboards, and finally checking in at the end of the session to compare notes on how we did.

Thanks to a healthy dose of social pressure and friendly competition, we wrote our collective hearts out. It's my fondest hope that with enough discipline and perseverance my pals and I can turn this into a weekly tradition.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the odds are against us. Apparently when it comes to sticking with New Year's resolutions, we humans are hard-wired to crash and burn. In fact, science writer Jonah Lehrer reported, 88 percent of resolutions "end in failure."

"Bad habits are hard to break -- and they're impossible to break if we try to break them all at once," Lehrer wrote. What's more, Lehrer noted, lack of energy due to stress, sleep deprivation, and skipped meals (paging crash dieters!) all weaken our resolve to stick with whatever resolutions we've made.

But all hope is not lost. As Lehrer put it, "We should respect the feebleness of self-control, and spread our resolutions out over the entire year."

Zen Habits blogger and author Leo Babauta offers some helpful suggestions for doing just that. Among them: Pick six habits to change in 2010 and concentrate on one at a time for two months each. Tell friends and family about each new resolution so you're not just accountable to yourself; blog about it if you can. Break the desired behavior change into eight baby steps and tackle each a week at a time. (See Babauta's comprehensive collection of tips on sticking with New Year's resolutions.)

Over at The Happiness Project, blogger and author Gretchen Rubin echoes a similar sentiment: Start with one small, surmountable change you want to make in your life this month (go to bed half an hour earlier, do 50 jumping jacks in the morning, and so on). The simpler your goal, the thinking goes, the easier it will be for you to succeed. Once you've mastered that small change, move onto the next one in February. (For added cheerleading, follow along with your fellow resolution makers on Rubin's site.)

As for me, one day does not a new creative writing habit make. Ask me in six months how I'm doing. In the meantime, I plan to leave my messy office as is. Ditto for my overflowing inbox, lack of culinary skills, and limited understanding of economic theory. Why risk jeopardizing my Sunday writing stints with additional resolutions I likely won't stick to?

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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