Today’s the first of the year. Happy New Year!

If you’re like me, you probably get slammed by well-intentioned do-gooders from all angles. Inspiring memes on Instagram, go-get-em messages via email… The list goes on.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by messages, both positive and negative. Avoid the noise—and find your focus—by using the following 10 minute exercise for finding a New Year resolution you can stick with.

Side note: This is a great exercise, regardless of the date. I hope it inspires you to think, plan, and act!

How to Set a Realistic New Year’s Resolution

This exercise asks you to do 4 things:

  1. Write a short sentence or two on what, exactly, you want.
  2. List 3 SMART goals that will help you get it.
  3. Identify 3 role models you can look to for inspiration.
  4. List the Positive and Negative forces that can move you toward, or away, from what you want.

Let’s take a quick look at each.

Step 1: Write a sentence on what you want

You probably know what you want. Maybe it’s to lose weight. Or maybe, it’s just to feel better. Whatever it is, take a moment to write it down—in simple terms. We’ll flesh out the details in Step 2.

Feeling indecisive? Try the 5 Why’s exercise.

Start by thinking about something you want. Anything. Roll with the first thing that comes to mind.

Then, ask yourself “Why do I want that?”

Come up with an answer, then ask “Well, why is that important to me?”

Continue this for a total of 5 Q&A rounds, and you’ll be amazed at how clearly you’ll define what you want.

Here’s an example:

This year, I want to lose 10 pounds.


I don’t feel good about myself. I feel tired all the time.

Well, why is that a bad thing?

Sometimes I feel like I’m too exhausted to play with my kids.

Why is that important?

My father coached my Little League team, and those are some of my best childhood memories. I want to create those memories with my children, too.


I want to be there for my children.


Time goes by so fast, I want to make the most of it. I want to create lasting memories and have a positive impact on my family.


With this exercise, we just moved from “I want to lose 10 pounds” to “I want to create lasting memories and have a positive impact on my family.”

Which one do YOU think will create more motivation for change?

Step 2: List 3 SMART goals that will help you get there

Like most travel-obsessed entrepreneurs, I first learned about SMART goals while reading The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. Essentially, it all comes down to writing out goals in a way that makes them:

  • Specific – Goals should be simple and significant stepping stones toward what you want.
  • Measurable – Tells you exactly how to quantify whether/not the goal has been met.
  • Achievable – Makes goals realistic, given your abilities and limitations.
  • Relevant – Ensures goals align with what you want, as well as the needs of others (e.g. family)
  • Time oriented – Assigns a timetable for achievement, so everyday craziness does not distract focus from long term goals.

Let’s look at an example of how the SMART approach improves the following goal:

Ordinary goal: I want to work out more.

SMART goal: I will weight train for 30-60 minutes, twice a week, so I improve my deadlift by 8% in 3 months.

Notice: When done correctly, SMART goals will tell you how to stay on course.

Step 3: Identify 3 role models you can look to for inspiration

I love this part. There are so many (SO MANY!) inspirational people out there.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon explains how great art draws inspiration from various mediums before combining it into something truly unique.

Consider yourself to be your own personal art project. What writers, YouTubers, Podcasters, and other leaders can you look to for inspiration?

Who is doing, creating, or being what you hope to do, create, or be?

Follow them on social. Subscribe to their podcasts and newsletters. These individuals will be your torch when your world decides to unapologetically go dark.

Step 4:  List the Positive and Negative forces that can move you toward, or away, from your goal

This step can take a little bit of time. And you should revisit this step frequently, just to keep this list updated.

Positive forces: These are the people, places, and things that bring out the best in you. Remember that time you had an awesome Aha! moment while jogging? Well, Morning Run better make that Positive forces list.

And that time that binging all 13 episodes of Stranger Things made you feel a little unproductive and lazy? Sorry, dear reader. Add Netflix to the Negative forces list (I know, so not chill).

And that’s it!

Now you have a single sheet that tells you what you want, how to get it, who will keep you inspired, and specific things that will draw you toward—or away—from becoming who you want to be.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson:

“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday.”

Ready to begin?

Download a template for this exercise here!

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