The No-New-Year’s-Resolution Life Plan

Did you set any New Year’s resolutions for 2016? Have you broken any of them yet? New Year’s resolutions sometimes get a bad rap, but research backs them up. In fact, you are ten times more likely to achieve your goals if you make resolutions than those who don’t. Even so, only eight percent of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions.

Perhaps there’s a better way, a way to reach your goals without feeling like you’re letting yourself down when the scale on your bathroom floor tells you the wrong number or your savings account balance just isn’t as high as you hoped it would be.

The No New Year's Resolutions Life Plan (for Writers)

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

We set New Year’s resolutions for one reason: we want control, control over our weight, control over our spending, control over our reading list, control over our smoking habit, control over our work/life balance. And it makes complete sense that we would want control over our life.

However, control comes with costs. Willpower is a limited resource, and for each thing you try to exert control over, you lose the ability to control something else. This can sometimes lead you to feel more out of control than when you started.

New Year’s resolutions, in particular, set you up for failure because they focus on the things you should be doing rather than the things you intrinsically want to do. And as you exert your willpower you end up feeling more drained and exhausted, when you should be feeling excited about living each day to its fullest.

We need a better way, a way to control and plan our lives that leaves us feeling full of life rather than leaving our lives (and stomachs!) more empty.

A Better Way to Plan Your Life

I call it the No-New-Year’s-Resolution Life Plan. I’ve been using it and teaching it to others for a few years (you can see last year’s post about it here), and I think it will help you have a better start to 2016 than any run-of-the-mill resolution.

This life planning method centers around one, very simple question:

What do you want?

Really. I’m asking you. What do you want for 2016? Not what should you want or what are you supposed to what. What do you actually want to do this year?

We spend a lot of time stuffing our desires down. Sometimes, that’s appropriate, but when you’re planning your year, you need to let them out to play. Otherwise, you might either have a very boring year or resolutions that are doomed to fail from the start.

You can think of what you need to do and what you should do tomorrow. Today, focus on what you want to do.

Three Aspects to Focus On

There are three sides to this method of life planning: experiencing, accomplishing, and quitting.


The question: What do you want to experience this year?

Life is a great adventure. What do you want to see this year? What do you want to try for the first time? Where do you want to travel and who are you going to take with you?

Don’t settle for a life filled with tasks, to do lists, and cheap take out. This year, what will you experience that will bring your life more meaning?


The question: As you think about 2016, what do you want to accomplish this year?

This is where I spend most of my planning time, thinking about what I want to accomplish over the next year. For writers, ask yourself what writing projects you want to finish this year? A novel or a book of short stories? Selling more copies of your books than ever before? Reaching for a new, higher daily word count?

What will you accomplish in 2016?


The question: In 2016, what do you want to quit? What do you want to not be doing any more?

There are always things that keep us from living our best life, whether a job, a bad habit, or a task. What if you could quit? How would that transform your life?

I love what Bob Goff says:

If you could stop doing anything, what would it be? You can’t add more to your life without getting rid of something. What will you quit in 2016?

You might not be able to quit it today or tomorrow (responsibly, anyway), but figure out what you want to quit and then make a plan.


An important part of this process is to ask yourself WHY you want each of the things you want. Is there a deeper motivation behind the desire?

For example, let’s say you want to buy a Mercedes this year. Why do you want it? Are you looking to feel more significant? Do you want others to see you as successful and achieving? Is it a way to compete, to prove your worth? Or do you just have a deep passion for German automobiles? If not, perhaps there is a different way to get what you want.

We often settle for outward success when what we are really looking for is something much deeper. As you explore your desires for the new year, try to get past the superficial and figure out your true motivations.

Apply This Question to All Areas of Life

We often focus only on one area of our lives when we brainstorm like this, especially our goals for our professional lives.

However, you are a whole person. If you succeed in one area of life but fail in all the rest, you’ll be miserable. That’s why it’s so important to spend time dreaming about what you want in all areas of your life.

  • Work. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your work?
  • Writing. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your writing?
  • Relationships/Family. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your relationship with your spouse? with your children? with your friends?
  • Self. What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in your personal life? This includes fitness, hobbies, and personal goals.

Then, Pick Four

You will likely have many things you want in one or two areas of your life and just a few in others. Keep brainstorming until you have at least three things you want in each area. Then, pick your top three, the four things you want most out of this year.

You pick just four because you don’t have time for mediocre goals and aspirations. A year really isn’t very long, especially when it comes to achieving your deepest desires. The more you focus on the few things you most want, the more chance you have at achieving them.

When I first tried this exercise in 2012, I tracked each of these four things carefully for a few months. Then, I got busy with other things, and got out of the habit. However, a year later I found my list again, and I was shocked to discover that I had accomplished all of them. They didn’t look exactly how I planned, but each one was an important part of my life.

So choose carefully! What you choose will change your life!

You Can’t Do Everything, But…

Of course, you may not get everything you want, but I find that when I connect my desire with my goals, I am much more successful at finishing them.

Stop focusing on what you should be doing this year.

Instead, spend time thinking about what you want to be doing. You may learn something new about yourself, and you will definitely have a fuller, more meaningful year.

Good luck!

Did you set any New Year’s resolutions this year? What do you want to experience, accomplish, and quit in 2016? Let me know in the comments!


Spend fifteen minutes dreaming about what you will experience, accomplish, and quit in 2016. When your time is up, share what you have so far in the comments section!

Happy life planning!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Dan de Angeli

    Hi Guys.

    Here are my goals for the new year. I hope you get some ideas from my choices.

    Writing Goal: Publish my memoir by December 31. This is a biggie. I have broken it down to smaller sub goals, like find an editor, find a reader, finish a working draft by March 31. I would love to know about others with this goal so we can be a support team

    Prepare a piece for the Moth and Pitch it. Really scary this one

    Do one writing critique on this site per day. I have been really slack and want to be a quill person by February.

    Write 500 words a day, no matter what.

    Personal: Do something new with my fiancee once a month

    Do One scary thing a day.

    Save $25000 by Dec. 31.

    I am also using a Goal Tracker to keep myself honest.

    Wish me luck


    • Susan Smith-Grier

      Hey Dan, what’s a quill person?

    • Jamain Nada

      Question for you.
      What eight scary things have you done to date 2016.

      I love your memoir goal.It is very specific . Am more interested in playwriting…written a play already this year so am happy about it

      500 words every day….thats a biggie.. Am starting with less. wish you the best

    • LilianGardner

      Fantastic plans and resolutions for the new year, Dan.
      I wish you TONS of luck to be successful in what you’ve set out to do.

    • I like the Moth! That would be a lot of fun, Dan.

      🙂 I love that you’ve made it a focus to critique other people’s writing. That’s such a great way to grow as a writer.

      One scary thing? What did you do today??? 🙂

    • Dan de Angeli

      Ok about the scary things.

      This could be physical. On Christmas day I stripped down to my tidy whiteys and went in the water near our house. There were families there, my girlfriend, oh well. Thing is I basically dread Christmas and this small thing made it much better, less sad, more absurd. Funny.

      Then I introduced myself to someone I thought didn’t like me very much. It changed the dynamic. Now we are what? Not strangers anyway.

      Then I went to visit someone who has six months to live. So easy to put that off. Nobody likes to be reminded of death. It turns out he needs my help in a lot of ways.

      The whole thing with doing scary things is that it is basically the way a person can feel most alive. On my list, getting on the Moth would be by far the scariest.


    • Susan W A

      Beautifully and simply expressed goals; each one sounds intriguing and enriching.

      Wow … one scary thing A DAY! Talk about building confidence and momentum when you see that you don’t POOFFF into thin air by taking on small and large dragons. One contributor to TWP recommended to “set your fears free”. While I think “face your fears” is awesome advice, I also like the idea of setting them free, which equates to addressing issues and creating distance in a powerful and freeing manner. I would love to hear some examples of your scary tasks; I could use some more practice.

      Best of luck to you; sounds like you’re ready to take things to the next level.
      – Susan

  • Sarkis Antikajian

    I like to simplify my life, ignore facebook for one, and try to eliminate most of the newsletters that get into my inbox that I do not read or look at.

    Since I am a painter I would like to find new landscapes in our beautiful state. Do larger work than I have been doing at the present.

    Work regularly to fill the sketchbooks that I have been giving my grandchildren on their birthdays and write a personal poem to include on the front pages. I have been giving these to my two grandchildren on their birthdays for 6 years for one, and 4 years for the other.

    Not to procrastinate and let hang over my head tasks that I need done around our place before spring. Such as pruning trees, and general cleanup. Assign dates and hours to do the tasks.

    Clean up the clutter on my desk and around my computer. Read more short stories and poetry and learn how to write by practicing for a set time every day. That is why I joined the write practice group. I hope I will write a few short stories and poems in the coming months.

    • Jamain Nada

      Facebook is a hard one…will try too

    • Those are great goals, Sarkis. I like that you’ve included a few things to quit and a few new things to focus on.

    • Susan W A

      BEAUTIFUL! Annual (!) sketchbooks and poems for your grandchildren … what a treasure. That’s the ultimate in sharing your work in a meaningful way … a true GIFT that will no doubt have an impact on them for life.

      “Do larger work” — what do you have in mind?
      “Find new landscapes” … adventures to open new possibilities.

      The Write Practice is a great place to learn and practice. Enjoy!

      • Sarkis Antikajian

        Thanks Susan. Yes, I do enjoy filling these sketchbooks for my grandkids. These sketchbooks are moleskine 5×8 sketchbooks or the same size watercolor moleskine books. And I paint or sketch with watercolor, ink, gouache or crayons on every page to be looked as a book. The children are only 6 and 4 and I have done this for them since they were born. I don’t think they appreciate what’s in them at this time but they will as they get older. Not even the short personal poems that I include.

        As to large paintings I mean something like 30×40. This is the size of canvas I used to paint on for many years, but lately, I got down to 11×14 to 24×30, much easier to deal with and lug around. But I would like to go back to the larger size.

        If you are interested in what I do in art, my website is In it, I have a section on poems and stories. Please don’t look at that section because most what’s in them are drafts and I should not have them there until I edit them. But I am in the process of doing that and adding more to it. And of course, I hope, with the help of our writer friends on The Write Practice.

        • Susan W A

          Beautiful art. Thanks for sharing!

  • This was a very mind-opening post about new years resolutions.
    Great work!

  • Great stuff in this post. I also think it’s a good idea to reevaluate your annual goals every month and see if they are actually realistic and if you’re still on track. Sometimes life can get in the way, and when that does, you need to refocus and see what you can still achieve without beating yourself up for “failing.”

    • Jamain Nada

      Yer I agree thats why I and my sisters will have a goal evaluation meeting every end of the month to asetain how what we have acheived.

      • Susan W A

        Great support to keep focused and moving forward!

    • Thanks for that, Jason. Great point!

  • Jamain Nada

    I believe in resolutions and your way Joe is interesting too.I will incorporate it in my already made plans. Thanks

  • Good luck with that!

  • My only resolution: read 100 books. I have no doubt it will be easy, and enjoyable, to accomplish.

    There are things I want to do that keep getting pushed to the side because of my life as a student, mainly my novel. I wanted to be started on the second draft by now, but I haven’t even finished writing the outline for the second draft. There has just been no time of late. Of course, there is nothing I can do about it. This just looked like a good place to lament about it. 🙂

    • Susan W A

      Wow … “easy” to read 100 books. You’ve got some awesome focus and efficiency skills! I’m inspired to “up” my goal of the number of books I’ll read! (a tiny fraction of your list … which by the way, what are some of the book titles you plan to read? Would love to hear.)

      Lament away in this supportive environment. : )

      … and then carve out even ten minutes a day to focus on your writing goal! First draft completed? Perfect. Your time away from it no doubt gives you fresh eyes for the second round.

      Best of luck!

      • I suppose it’s not as easy as I made it sound, but it’s not really a chore when it’s something you love, you know? I’m going to try and read all of John Green’s books (finished The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska), Jurassic Park and maybe some other Crichton books (finished Congo), some Star Wars books, the Court of Thorns and Roses books, iRobot, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, all the Harry Potter books (because I’m a bad nerd and haven’t read them) and I’ll stop there because that’s quite enough.

        Yeah, I suppose ten minutes is doable. I’m accustomed to having hours at hand, but I should get what I can done, even if it’s very little. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [01.11.16]()

  • Kelley madick

    I want to write my book. I keep starting and stopping. Life and work get in my way. Ugh! My goal is set up a routine to write. The best time for me is in the morning. So I am marking my calendar busy for at least an hour 5 days. If that goes well I will increase the time. I still need to work but luckily I have a flexible schedule. So here we go….

  • Pingback: Read These! | Writing 12()