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Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work: How to Find Your Word for the New Year

This New Year’s Resolutions blog post was first published in December 2019 for the start of the coming new decade and has been updated for 2021.

Forget New Year’s resolutions, find your word for the New Year instead


Another year is about to close and a fresh blank page is about to be rolled out. And it’s not just another year, it’s a brand new decade that is about to begin. What will you do with it? Who do you want to be?

Many of us start the new year with New Year’s resolutions. We promise ourselves to do things better this time round.

But wait a second, how did your New Year’s resolutions work out this year? Did you start that jogging routine? I certainly didn’t.

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they set us up for failure. I’ll loose weight, or, I’ll stop overeating,  puts pressure on us to set unrealistic goals.

Remember that guilty feeling when you have to admit defeat one month into the new year because you still don’t go to the gym three times a week, despite the expensive membership? You’ll feel like you have let yourself down for the rest the year.

But there is another way to approach the blank page that is about to unfold. Each year we are given the opportunity to write another chapter of our personal narratives. Anything is possible and it’s up to us to make it happen.

Of course we can’t predict everything that will happen in the new year. We remain beholden to our routines and responsibilities, but we can ask ourselves some simple questions about what we wish to achieve and what we need from ourselves in the new year. It’s a way of setting intentions rather than unrealistic goals.

How I started setting a word for myself each new year

Almost 10 years ago my life fell apart and I was handed the proverbial blank page. I was challenged to re-shape myself and to give my life a totally new direction.

Every year I’d start with a firm set of New Year’s resolutions. I would write the first draft of a memoir and I’d set up a copy writing business while traveling the world living the lap top lifestyle. I’d do all of it at the same time. Each year, I felt defeated and exhausted in the face of my New Year’s resolutions.

Discovering the practice of choosing a word instead of setting New Year’s resolutions was a game changer. Like all good things, I learned about it at a yoga class.

It was the first class of the new year and instead of setting an intention for the class, the teacher invited us to think of the word that best expressed the intention we’d like to set for the year ahead. ‘LOVE’, ‘STRENGTH’ and ‘EVOLVE’ echoed around the room. I remained silent. I had no clue what my word might be.

All through savasana, my mind kept on stretching and twisting. Why had I failed so miserably at my New Year’s resolutions for the years following my bereavement? Suddenly there was my word. I had lacked CLARITY. For the years after my husband’s death I had been running on the spot trying to catch up with my New Year’s resolutions. Year after year I’d set unrealistic goals. I was exhausted from so much running. I needed CLARITY in order to move forward.

I shouted CLARITY into the yoga hall. I wrote it on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall above my computer.  I didn’t need another list of New Year’s resolutions. I needed to set an intention and stick with it. And you know what? Clarity came to me before the first quarter of the year was up.

Why choosing a word is better than setting New Year’s Resolutions

Setting a word is a way of manifesting an intention for the year ahead. Rather than imposing another set of rules on yourself, a word inspires and empowers.

It can become your personal mantra, or you might like to think of it as a motto or a theme. You can meditate on it, you can write about it in your journal, but unlike a New Year’s resolution, you can’t break it. It’s neither a set of goals, nor a set of rules. It’s an invitation to feel inspired to do what connects you with yourself.

Every year I look forward to downloading Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word workbook.

In 2019 I chose SELF-CARE and I failed miserably at making time for myself. But that’s ok. It’s all about learning what we need from ourselves to be happy and well. I’ve learned that self-care isn’t just about scented candles and massages. Self-care starts with saying ‘no’ to doing too many things and setting clear boundaries.

For 2020 I chose the word WRITE and I am happy to say that I finished the second draft of my memoir. Having the word WRITE at the back of my mind made it easy to remember what to prioritize whenever I get sidetracked, and I easily do.

I am not sure yet what my word for 2021 will be…below are some suggestions on how to find it.


How to find your word for the New Year:

To find your word, allow yourself to come into stillness so that your word can find you. Try to feel your way towards the word that will be your theme for the year ahead.

Ask yourself:

What will the new year be about? How do you want to feel in the new year? Where are you headed? Are stepping away from something? Are you stepping towards something?

How will the new year bring you closer to living a joyful and authentic life? Or maybe you are on the top of the world right now. How can things get even better for you?

Do you want to break old habits? Maybe you want to stop eating sugar, maybe you want to wear less black or maybe you want to do something more radical like sell all of your belongings, become a minimalist and live in a van? Does the word CHANGE sum it up? Is it about time you made more time for yourself and did what is good for you? How about NOURISH? Do you feel weighed down by too much clutter, or maybe you carry unresolved pain and anger around with you? How about “LET GO” (let’s not be a stickler, two words make one theme).

Bonus exercise:

If you draw a blank, try this technique:

  • Do a short meditation. If you like you can use this guided singing bowl meditation.
  • Take a piece of paper or open your journal on a fresh page. Write down 5 things you are proud of in 2020.
  • Then write down 5 things that you feel didn’t go as expected in 2020.
  • Now freewrite for 10 minutes about what you would like to achieve or change in 2021. How do you want to use the new blank page that is about to roll out to shape the narrative of your life?
  • Finally, write a letter to yourself and describe how you wish to FEEL in 2021.
  • Now distill this down into one word. Write it on a post-it-note and stick it above your desk or on the dashboard of your car or above the kitchen stove. Whatever works to remind you of your intention of the year ahead.

Join me in a mindfulness reset

If you want to go deeper, I’ve created an end-of-year Mindfulness Reset self-care kit for you. This is based on our popular end-of-year live workshop we’ve held  many times on the last day of the year. It’s always been our most popular event of the year.

This year we are bringing it to you as a digital download you can do at your own pace. The download compriss of a 40-page workbook with carefully chosen journaling prompts and 5 original soundbowl meditations (3 of which are guided by yours truly). It’s a powerful way to take stock and to mark the end of the year and the beginning of a new decade with an intentional ritual of setting new intentions, letting go and giving gratitude. It’s a way to reset your mind, clear out the old so that you can embrace the new. You can purchase it here at our pandemic special price.

Instead of setting New Year's Resolutions, try this Mindfulness Reset


What will your word be for the New Year? Or do you prefer New Year’s resolutions?


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Hi I am Kerstin

Kerstin Pilz

I am a published author and former academic with 20 years university teaching experience. I discovered the healing power of writing when I went through the darkness of grief. Writing was my lifesaver.
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