How to Succeed at New Year’s Resolutions

December 29, 2019 Updated: December 29, 2019

Of making many resolutions, there is no end. So it is with a sense of weary skepticism that I listen to people tell me how they are going to be better in the coming year. 

Yeah, right.

I can see, ironically, with 20-20 clarity, that you will not have lived up to your rosy vision of yourself come December 31, 2020, because you’re doing it all wrong.

Take it from me, someone who has never broken a New Year’s resolution in his life.

I’m going to reveal my secret methods for making resolutions you can keep gratis, in writing, so you don’t have to take notes. 

Step 1 in my “Keep Your Resolutions Guide” is—be realistic. I don’t mean by the sort of “one weird trick” solution you see on the internet after you click through 12 pages of ads, like—“Don’t make any resolutions—you’re welcome!”

No, I mean that you should take the measure of yourself and your limits before committing yourself to a program of eating only flaxseed and wheat germ to lose 30 pounds. I resolved, after a great deal of reflection, to give up water-skiing in 2019. Let’s face it; water-skiing is an expensive sport that consumes disposable income better spent on food, clothing, and shelter. You need skis (two), a tow rope, a boat, an engine, a trailer to lug the stuff around, and a body of water, none of which—particularly the last—comes cheap. 

After putting pencil to paper and adding all that up, I decided it just wasn’t worth it, and decided to go “cold turkey” on the sport. 

It helped that I’d never actually succeeded in getting up on water skis, and hadn’t even tried in more than 40 years, but this is a personal idiosyncrasy of mine that you may not suffer from. 

Another approach I recommend is, set goals that don’t require a full 12 months to achieve. One of my New Year’s Resolution for 2018 was “Drink more beer next year,” and I nailed that lofty aspiration in late August—before Labor Day!—without breaking a sweat. Granted, I had the support of a lot of my friends—which is key, don’t get me wrong—but ultimately, you’ve got to do it on your own.

For those who despair of ever ending a year with a clear resolution conscience, a more complex strategy may be required.

When I first encountered “modern math” in eighth grade, I was astounded to find that there were other methods of counting besides the “base ten” system I’d been taught at my mother’s knee. Residents of other planets, or even different solar systems, had apparently devised devious schemes in which “9” wasn’t followed by “10,” but an entirely different symbol, like “A” or “B”—which I thought were already taken.

This got me thinking—since I was still trying to get up on water skis—what’s so special about 365 days, or 366 in a leap year? Sure, that number corresponds to the time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun—but so what? A year on the planet Neptune is 60,182 days—that’s 164.8 earth years! With that kind of leeway to work with, it won’t make any difference if you kick back and enjoy another beer or two.

So let us drop our hidebound and narrow-minded prejudice in favor of New Year’s Resolutions. The Olympics is every two years—that’s plenty of time to learn French.

U.S. senators are elected for six-year terms. That should do it if you want to finally organize the back issues of National Geographic you inherited from your grandmother.

They only take a census once in a decade. If I start in January, I may be water-skiing by 2030.

Con Chapman is the author of “Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges.”