Summary: A few years ago, instead of a New Year's resolution, I experimented with setting twelve: one for each month of the year. I liked it much more than setting "traditional" resolutions, and I'm planning to try it again this year.
I haven’t made many New Years’ resolutions in the past, and when I do, they usually haven’t lasted beyond about January 10th. But a few years ago I tried something I really enjoyed: monthly resolutions.
The idea is simple: rather than setting goals for the entire year, set one for each month. When February rolls around, rather than being stuck on your January resolution, you have a new target to focus on.
I found this had several advantages compared to a 'traditional' New Year’s resolution:
(Some of these benefits are similar to the ones CGP Grey highlights in his video on choosing "themes" instead of resolutions. He also calls out that a year is a long time to focus on one thing, and suggests "seasonal themes" as a solution.)
I've only tried this once, a few years ago. Which leads to an obvious question: if it's so great, why haven’t I been doing it every year?
I’m actually not sure. The biggest downside is that it’s hard to come up with 12 resolutions instead of just one. The real reason might be that I’m just not that invested in resolutions anyways. We'll see how things go this year.
For some examples of what this can look like, here’s a brief overview of my monthly resolutions from last time around, and how they went:
I wanted to start with something easy to build confidence, and this was a good choice. In fact, this has been the most impactful resolution long-term—I still aim to stretch every morning, and do a pretty good job.
I chose this for the shortest month since I thought it would be the hardest. I was able to break my habit of watching Netflix in bed before sleep, and was pretty easily able to avoid Instagram after blocking it on my phone. However, I really struggled to avoid sites like Reddit and especially Spotify. I'd give myself a C+.
I've struggled with nail-biting for most of my life. I thought maybe including it in this process would help, but it didn’t really.
While this was a daily challenge to my willpower, surprisingly, the simplicity of the rule made it pretty easy to follow. I didn’t keep this up beyond April, but practicing this kind of self-control felt empowering.
I read 22 books, and I’m very happy with that—for comparison, I typically read ~1-2 books a month. To be fair, I did pick several plays and novellas to make this easier (Hamlet, The Old Man and the Sea, etc.).
This month was even more of a success because some of the things I read are now among my all-time favorites. Two that stand out in particular are 100 Years of Solitude and Pride and Prejudice.
Moderately successful—I went to the gym more than normal, but not every day. I did injure my knee towards the end of the month, which could signify I was overworking myself.
This was easily the most interesting resolution.
After about 5 days of headaches and exhaustion to start the month, I started sleeping consistently and waking up energized and refreshed. And beyond the effects on my body, it was fascinating to see interpersonal changes, too—there were several times where it seemed like other people chose not to drink because I didn't. Even in places where I thought I wouldn't have as much fun sober, like at concerts and parties, I ended up having a great time.
I wanted to keep this up beyond the month, but after another week or so I broke down and had a couple of drinks one night, then woke up tired the next morning and had a coffee to perk up—and I haven’t looked back since. I would love to try this again sometime.
This month started strong, but then I started grad school and forgot all about this resolution.
Total dud. I think my failure here was not having enough structure—I just wrote stuff down in my Notes app. This petered out pretty quickly after a few days.
I don’t remember doing this at all. Certainly I have no record of keeping a journal. Not sure if I forgot, or whether this was just really forgettable.
Just like biting my nails, this is something I've struggled with for years. This was sort of hit-miss throughout the month.
I actually started the year with only 8 or 9 months planned and figured I'd add more along the way, but I never came up with a good one for December. By this point I was a little worn out from resolution-ing anyways and fully engaged in grad school.
Looking back on the year, I think I re-learned a couple of lessons I should have already known:
I'm excited to try this again! See below for my planned resolutions—some repeats from last time around and some new ones. I'll try to come back and update with my progress throughout the year.