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The 2 Biggest New Year’s Resolution Mistakes–And 2 Simple Strategies For Making Resolutions That WORK

The 2 Biggest New Year’s Resolution Mistakes–And 2 Simple Strategies For Making Resolutions That WORK

When we feel a stirring within ourselves towards our better self, that is a good thing! And when we articulate that desire as a resolution, that’s good, too! 

But do resolutions “work”?

Yes and no.

Pointing yourself in a direction is always more effective than being aimless, so yeah–a New Year’s resolution is definitely a step in the right direction. And studies show that there is indeed magic to the New Year; New Year’s resolutions are much more likely to be followed through on compared to goals set at other times.

Unfortunately, despite best intentions, by February most New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned. And as a result, instead of being filled with pride and satisfaction, many of us experience discouragement and self-loathing.

Why? Because the way that most people make resolutions is deeply flawed. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way!

These Two Mistakes DOOM Resolutions

Researchers and psychologists point to two major errors in setting resolutions.

Resolution Mistake #1: Making a vague resolution. 

“I will lose weight” or “I will be happier” or “I will save more money” or even “I will drink more water” or “I will learn guitar” are all too general. The science is clear, resolutions like this set you up for failure, because they are too vague.

Resolution Mistake #2: Making an unsupported outcome resolution

Outcome goals like “I will lose 30 pounds” or “I will write 5 songs” or “I will write a book” and all-or-nothing resolutions like “I will not eat any added sugar in 2021” or “That’s it–no more Facebook forever” are not totally vague goals–but they also typically fail.

One problem with big outcome goals is that they take focus away from where success actually happens–usually a bunch of smaller steps. The other issue is that the perfect can become the enemy of the good–like the person who messes up their eating plan at lunch and then says “well, screw it–I guess I’ll eat a half gallon of ice cream every meal for the rest of the year.”

So–don’t make a vague resolution. And don’t make an outcome oriented resolution without including a process for getting there. 

Now that you know what not to do, here are two powerful strategies for effective resolutions that DO work.

Resolution Success Strategy #1: The Power of a Single Decision

One of the best ways to support a goal is to look for something that you can do once to help reach it.

Want to save more money? Instead of trying to be disciplined every single day, consider setting up an automatic deduction to your savings account every payday–or select a slightly less expensive apartment next time you move, sign up for a savings plan with a company match, or close a credit card. 

Want to learn a new instrument or improve your playing? Sign up for an organized class on a regular schedule with an established curriculum. (NYC Guitar School has 30 to choose from.) Or commit to playing at a wedding or event. (When I wanted to learn to play drums, I scheduled a show in a club for one year out with me as a drummer and invited all my friends.)

Commitment contracts.  A few years ago I learned about using commitment contracts to agree to a certain behavior. Now, I have a deal with my daughters that if I eat after 9:30pm I have to pay them $26 each. It turns out that saying “no” to giving up 50 bucks is way easier for me than saying “no” to late night snacks–I only had to pay up twice in the past year. My single decision to make this contract several years ago has saved me countless nights of food related willpower.

Sometimes it takes some brainstorming and strategizing to come up with one of these pivot points–but it is worth it, because your one move will dramatically increase your odds of success.

Does the strategy of doing something once feel like cheating, because it reduces your dependence on willpower? 

That’s not a bug–that’s a feature! 

Resolution Success Strategy #2: Focus On The Process

Another way to get big results is to pay attention to the process of getting to your goal. 

This approach really works–compound interest is real and small actions repeated over time have big results. Also, the process can bend without breaking–if you miss a single action, you can just get back on track the next day or week. 

Want to play more guitar? Go to class once a week. Or put your guitar next to your desk and play for only five minutes before beginning work. 

Want to eat healthier? When you go grocery shopping, don’t buy junk food. If it isn’t in the house, you won’t need to  Or instead of thinking about what you won’t eat, decide to eat the proverbial apple a day.

Want to write more? Make a regular writing time. Or commit to creating one new piece of content a week. (I am responsible to the NYC Guitar School team for creating one new piece of content a week–even though I missed multiple deadlines in 2020, I still created over 40 blogs and videos.)

Again, to use this strategy effectively it is absolutely key to invest some time brainstorming. Come up with four or five potential strategies–and then start with only one! 

You Can Do It!

If you have a change you want to make in your life that is AWESOME.

Millions of others have also wanted to make a change, quite possibly the very same one that you are contemplating. And guess what? 

They succeeded–and so can you!

Start small and work your process. Or think of a single move to leverage your desire and set yourself up for success. Or both!

You can do it!

Good luck and on to greatness,

Dan Emery / Founder, NYC Guitar School


  1. Don’t Worry About Starting On January 1st! Take your time. A well thought out resolution that starts when you are ready is better than a poor one that starts exactly on January 1st. Treat the New Year as an opportunity to evaluate and channel your desires, not as a rigid starting line.
  2. Don’t Have Too Many Goals! The research is clear–focus improves success. So start by just making one or two resolutions. (You can always add another one in a month or two.)
  3. Make Sure You Remember What You Want Over many years of working with people on their goals, I’ve been astonished to realize how often people forget the goal they thought was so important. And if you forget what your resolution is, you definitely will not reach it! So take your time to make a meaningful resolution with a good strategy–and then remind yourself of it constantly!
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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