New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is a time for people to reflect: On the year just passed, previous years, and the year ahead. The Roman deity Janus was the god of the transition between years: appropriately, Janus had two faces, one facing forward and one backward.
So people often make "New Year's Resolutions," as a way of acknowledging that this can also be an opportunity to change. There are many good reasons to do so, if you do them right. I never do. I feel like NYRs are almost by definition things you break--think of all the jokes about it, or how many resolutions are recycled from the previous year. I prefer not to keep that association. Also, even for those it does work for, why limit yourself to one day a year?
For those who do make resolutions, I have a few suggestions to make 'em work for you.
1. Set a clear goal - so you know you're there.
2. Set a measurable goal, preferably one with incremental measures, so you can measure progress as well as outcome
3. Set a challenging but realistic goal. That's the hard part--you have to tinker with the goal, your timing, and your support systems to figure that out.
4. Set something you really want to do, not something you have to do.
So: "I want to lose weight" isn't really a goal, it's a statement of intent. "I want to be a better person" is similarly unspecific.
"I want to lose 20 pounds" is specific. Is it realistic? If so, is it too realistic? Is it challenging? Have you considered how to do that?
"I want to write a book, sell it, and publish it." Not that realistic in a year unless you already have a contract! What is ridiculous for some is too realistic for others.
Once you set a goal, you should work out your action plan to get there. It's okay if you don't have all of it worked out, if you have the first steps worked out. So if your goal is to finish your NaNoWriMo book, for example, you can set as your first step to re-read your story from first to last, marking it up as you go. Your second step is to assess how much work needs to be done, from minor editing up to shredding it and starting over with the raw elements (e.g., reuse the character, change the setting and plot). Then your third step becomes "set up my action plan for the rewrite." Setting a plan to set up a plan isn't quite as foolish as it sounds, as long as you know the ultimate outcome. Otherwise, you lack information needed to set a realistic goal at all, and that may doom you before you begin!
Whatever your goals or resolutions, I wish everyone out there a happy, productive, and motivated New Year!