What do you think of New Year's resolutions?

I have mixed feelings about them, myself, but I'm slowly starting to like them. My mom's cousin, a woman we all loved dearly, said to me once, "You should strike the word 'should' from your vocabulary." Of course, it's only a word! But that group of words - "should", ought" "must", mustn't", and so on - can be very guilt-inducing. If you fail in one of your "shoulds" or "musts", you can simply feel like a failure, in which case, you might stop striving towards your goals. That's the exact opposite of what New Year's resolutions are supposed to achieve.

For many years, as a teenager and young adult, I was focused on the "shoulds". I would get all anxious and punitive - I must get up earlier! I must exercise! I must write every day! and so on. But-

If you think about it, you can see that I was focusing on (1) what I wasn't doing, and (2) what I thought I ought to be doing. If I failed in a goal, I would beat myself up mentally for failing. It was all rather joyless. So, as a young adult,  I decided I wasn't going to make any New Year's resolutions. Then, two or three years ago, I decided I'd make one, but I thought about it rather differently. Instead of promising myself, "I will write every day," I resolved that I would get up fifteen minutes earlier, turn on the computer, and write between alarms. I would try to do this every weekday. If I missed a day, or was sick, I'd just get back into the swing as soon as I could. That was a resolution I managed to keep. As the year went on, I found that I looked forward to my writing time and almost never missed a day. I also found that I was achieving new writing goals, such as finishing a draft of a novel. 

And here's the thing: I finally managed to make a resolution that was focused on what I truly wanted to do. I want to tell stories! So I need to give myself some time in the day to do that. That's very different from saying: I have to write, or, I have to exercise, or, I have to practice my music. In a way, if you set small, concrete goals like writing or exercising for ten or fifteen minutes each day, you're making space and time for what you value. That's not punitive at all! It's not guilt-inducing. It's just a matter of focusing, if only for a short time, on something that's at the core of your being.

So here's what I think of New Year's resolutions now. They can be good and helpful, but you need to be careful. Don't ever guilt-trip yourself! Instead, ask yourself: What will make me feel happy and centered this year? Perhaps it's a prayer meeting you've been thinking of going to; perhaps it's dinner with your family; perhaps it's learning to ski or to sing; or maybe you want to write a novel.  Or perhaps there are several things - but I find it helps to focus on just two or three, at most.

Once you've thought about what you truly want to do, resolve to do it! But, again, don't feel that you have to commit to "every day" or "three hours a week" or some arbitrary goal of that sort. Instead, think of just one concrete step you can take toward each of those goals. Those concrete steps are your resolutions.

Basically, I still don't make New Year's resolutions very often. Because I value my writing times in the morning, I'm resolved to try to get up a little earlier. In order to do that, I will need to go to bed a bit earlier. In addition, I've resolved to contact at least six people about my middle-grade fantasy novel, and to continue sending out queries for HONOR. That's it for me, as far as resolutions go. How about you?