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A Step by Step Guide to Bulletproofing Your New Year’s Resolution

A Step by Step Guide to Bulletproofing Your New Year’s Resolution

You Can Do It! But Don’t Wait!

(For best results PRINT THE “BULLETPROOF YOUR RESOLUTION” PDF OUT NOW and use it as you read the blog post.)

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Every January we get lots of calls from students who are making a New Year’s resolution to play guitar. That’s awesome–it’s always a good time to make your dreams come true!

But I’ve realized that the students who are most successful in learning or improving guitar skills in each New Year are the ones who began thinking about their goals and strategy before waking on January 1st!

So this year I’m giving you science backed tips to successfully learn guitar–or reach any other goal RIGHT NOW.

Don’t wait until January to start thinking about what you want in the new year. 

Below is a research backed guide to planning a resolution and making it bulletproof. It includes a detailed my advice is to print this article out, and then close your phone and computer and start reading and writing. 

You can download and print a PDF of the worksheet here.

Start With A Meaningful Goal and a Believable Path

Where do you want to go and what is your initial idea for how to get there? France on a boat? Mars on a rocket ship? 

Everything starts with recognizing what you want to do or who you want to be, and getting a first idea of an activity that you have confidence will get you there if you maintain it. 

  • A goal you sincerely want. At NYC Guitar School, the goals usually hear are things like “I want to be a guitarist” or “I want to improve my lead playing.” But we also hear goals like “I want to make musical friends” or “I want to finally have a fun hobby that is just relaxing.” These are all great…as long as you actually want them! Whether it’s playing guitar, saving more money, or speaking another language, start with something that you truly desire, at least most of the time. (The rest of this article will help you with those moments when your motivation wanes.)
  • A path, activity or habit you know would actually work (if you did it). Then you need a path that you feel confidence in. How about “taking a weekly class and practicing every day” as a path to becoming a guitar player? Pretty hard to argue with, right. (You don’t have to be 100% confident that you’ll actually maintain the habit yet–that’s what the rest of the article is about.)

Now, Bulletproof Your Goal With Science-Backed Strategies

There are many proven ways to maximize your chances of maintaining your new activity and reaching your goal. Most people who reach their goals don’t use all of these approaches at the same time–but if you use even one, two, or a few of them you’ll dramatically improve your odds. 

As you read through this section, fill out your worksheet! (You printed it out, right?)

  1. Identify your goal and the activity you believe will get there.

Your goal is to be a “real guitar player”, and you believe that if you take a class and then practice guitar daily, over time the magic will happen. 

  1. Be absolutely clear about how this activity or habit aligns with your life.

You want to play at family holidays, make friends jamming with others, and enjoy progressing in a hobby you’ve always dreamed of, so learning and practicing guitar is absolutely aligned with your music and family loving self!

  1. Get specific about both the habit and goal.

You’ve decided that a great marker of progress toward being a “real guitar player” would be to play a song at your brother’s wedding reception. And your basic practice session will be about 25 minutes long, starting with a standard warmup up, then practicing new material from your last lesson, and finishing with playing a song from your expanding back catalog.

  1. Decide where the habit would go in your day and “stack” it on an existing habit.

You’ve decided to play guitar in the morning, right after you make your coffee

  1. Make it easy by setting up your environment in a helpful way.

You’ve set up your guitar stand in the kitchen right next to the coffee machine and your guitar notebook is on the table

  1. Eradicate existing unwanted or unhelpful habits currently occupying the new habit’s  “niche” of time, place and trigger.

Since you know that “the Instagram” is a competing morning habit, you plug your phone into the bathroom outlet each night, resulting in better sleep and an ability to focus on guitar–and you’re not going to unplug it until after your guitar practice is done.

  1. Set up a commitment structure to reduce your dependence on choice. Or figure out a way to make meeting your goal automatic.

You have a weekly lesson with a teacher, a regular Sunday afternoon practice session with a friend, and as mentioned you’ve committed to playing a song at your brother’s wedding reception. Oh–and you also took advantage of NYC Guitar School’s one-year membership discount to pay for an entire year of lessons in advance. (Now that’s commitment!)

  1. Get social support by getting around other people pursuing your goal.

Your classmates and your practice session with a friend motivate you to keep up with other guitar loving humans.

  1. Track your habit to ensure that you’re successful.

Every day you practice you put a cool guitar sticker on your wall calendar every day you practice…and you also have a binder full of the songs you can play and you write the number of songs on the front of the folder.

  1. Prepare for setbacks by considering all the ways the habit could get derailed and planning for them.

Sometimes you’ve run late in the morning– so you decide that if you don’t have time to play your 25 minute practice session, you’ll at least play your 5 minute warmup to maintain momentum. And breaking a string would put a crimp in your practice, so you order an extra set of strings just in case. 

  1. Use a ritual to get extra activation power and meaning.

You have an energizing routine to start your morning practice sessions…place your fresh cup of coffee on the table, open your guitar notebook, pick up your guitar, take a single delicious sip of coffee, and then scream “Hello, Cleveland!” as you imagine beginning your warmup in front of your screaming fans.

  1. Revisit your goal and habit to nourish your desire & faith–and to refine your goal and habit to improve its efficacy. 

Once a week you open your guitar notebook and brainstorm ways to make your rituals, practice habits, songs, etc. even more effective, and to remind yourself of how much you want to play guitar.

Now, Apply These Concepts To Your Own Goal Using This Excellent Worksheet (or download/print it HERE.)


Build An Ironclad Plan To Reach Your Goal! (*Not Just For Guitar*)

If you want something so bad that you’re considering making a resolution to make it happen, then you need to spend 15 minutes getting real and concrete about how you’re going to do it. Here’s a series of science-backed questions to help you bulletproof your goal. After you complete this worksheet, you can incorporate your most valuable ideas into your plan.

  1. What is your goal–something you really want to do, be, attain or accomplish?
  • Reality check: are you SURE that this is something you actually want? What makes you sure? How does this line up with your life goals?
  • Get specific: what might be a specific marker of progress or success in this goal?
  1. What is an activity that you feel confident would ensure you accomplish this goal?
  • Reality check: are you SURE that if you consistently maintained this activity or habit over time that you would reach your goal? If you don’t feel confident, go back and refine your activity.
  • Get specific about your activity. What are you doing? Where? For how long? Following what plan?
  1. Where will the habit or activity go in your day? Can you “stack” it before or after something you already do on a regular basis.
  1. How can you make your activity easier by setting up your environment in a helpful way.
  1. Are there any unwanted or unhelpful habits currently occupying the new habit’s  “niche” of time and place? What are they? How can you curtail them?
  1. What are some of the ways your habit could get derailed? How can you prepare for and overcome these setbacks?
  1. What structures for accountability or commitment can you use to reduce your dependence on willpower? How can you make meeting your goals automatic?
  1. How might you get social support from other people pursuing similar goals?
  1. How can you track your habit?
  1. Is there a short “ritual” you can use to get extra activation power and meaning each time you begin your activity?
  1. When and how will you review and refine your goal and habit?
  1. Now review the above and select the most useful parts to make a plan. You don’t need a complicated plan with all the bells and whistles. You just need a plan that will work. So…what is your plan? 
  1. What is your next step to put this plan into action, and when and how will you do it? 

“Well begun is half done.”



NOTE: You have to want it. 

To do all this stuff, you gotta want it. So go back to the beginning and remind yourself of your intention. Cherish that flame. Shelter it. Feed it. It’s the most precious thing. 

“Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

NOTE: Consistency will yield incredible observable results. But the unseen results may be even bigger.

What will happen if you maintain your activities towards your goals?

  1. Objective reality will change. You’ll have a bigger bank account, or a different skill, or a different body, or different skills. 
  2. Your internal world will change–because you’ll know that you will do what you decide to do, and you’ll have the track record to prove it to yourself.

“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

WARNING: Start small.

If you try to establish too many new goals or habits at once, it is easy to get overwhelmed and stop everything. Of course this approach will certainly work in multiple domains…but take your time. Establish one activity or habit at a time, before moving on to the next.

WARNING: It’s not about the streak.

Don’t confuse your goal with your habit. If your goal is “learning to play guitar” and your activity to reach that goal is “practicing guitar every day”, don’t get upset or give up if you miss a day. 

WARNING: One day you will wake up and not feel motivated by your goal.

It’s totally normal to wake up one day and think “Being the person I want to be? Meh. I could take it or leave it.” 

That is so normal. It would be crazy to think that a feeling you have some or most of the time (like “I want to play guitar” or “I want to save more” or “I want to eat better” etc.) would also be a feeling that you have all of the time. Who feels the same all the time? Nobody!

Cars run low on gas. Bodies run low on fuel. And dreams run low on motivation.

That’s why you need to fill up your car with gas, eat healthy food to fuel your body, and continually re-visit your desires and motivation to fuel your dream.

Plan ahead for a moment of low motivation, and understand that it is probably just a moment, nothing more. What will you do in that moment? And in the meantime, keep refueling your motivation tank with good information, positive fantasies, social support and anything else that helps!


These are five of my favorite books about consistency. The first three are directly about reaching goals through thoughtful habits. The fourth is about an incredible (and incredibly consistent) coach, and the fifth is about a felon who discovered the power of goals and consistent habits in turning his life around.

The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success by Darren Hardy. 

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

With Winning In Mind by Lanny Bassham

You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices by Swen Nater & Ronald Gallimore

The Upside Of Fear by Weldon Long

Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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