Work + Growth

Set Up Your Year for Success and Happiness

  • Resolutions and promises made in January usually fall by the wayside and make us feel that we’ve failed
  • To set up your year for success and happiness, reflect on the past, make an overall plan, choose specific goals, and focus on positive changes rather than negative things
  • Reward yourself as you progress


Another year has come and gone, and you have big plans for 2019.

But think about it: When you’ve made lofty resolutions or vague promises in January of previous years, how has that worked for you? Did anything tangible come of your ideas, or did your good intentions dwindle and eventually get eaten up by your busy schedule and usual habits, leaving you feeling like you failed? That’s what typically happens to most of us, but it doesn’t have to. You can turn your good intentions into action and results.


First things first: You can’t move on to something new until you look back. Reflect on your accomplishments over the past year—go ahead and pat yourself on the back for your achievements. Now think about the things that didn’t go quite as well. Which things were out of your control, and which things could have been done differently for a better result? Assess where you are in both your professional and personal life, and how you got there. Consider how you feel about the previous year and what you learned.

Make an Overall Plan for the Year

Think about what’s truly important and necessary to you, with no judgements about your desires. Don’t worry about what others expect from you, what you “should” do, or what would please anyone who is not you. Remember: You want to bring success and happiness into your life, whatever that looks like for you.

Before getting down to the details, make a broad plan for how you would like your year to go, and what you would like to accomplish. What is your vision? Where do you see yourself next year on this same date?

Choose Specific Goals—But Not Too Many

Set specific, realistic goals. These goals should not be a long list of the usual, trite New Year’s resolutions. Simply stopping at “get healthier” or “socialize more” is too amorphous and the lack of structure will set you up for failure. If you break your goal down into steps, however, you will be more likely to succeed. For instance, if part of the broader plan is to focus on your health in 2019, break that down into concrete actions. You might start with carving out exercise time by getting off five subway stops early or parking several blocks away from work to add a 20-minute walk to the beginning and end of your day. Perhaps you can join a meal planning and delivery service to help you make healthy choices when cooking and eating at home. These are examples of two easy, simple changes that you can make if focusing on health is your goal.

Make these simple changes a part of your regular schedule so that they become a habit. This will help you avoid giving up by January 31 because you’ve put too much pressure on yourself and asked yourself to make too many drastic, uncomfortable changes. You’ll be setting yourself up for immediate success with each small change you make, and lowering the chances that you’ll feel like a failure.

Be flexible about your goals. If your circumstances change or you meet a milestone sooner than you thought you would, you can always adjust. You can add more steps, make your goal a bit more challenging, or start working on something new. You can also easily regroup if you stumble. Since you’re being flexible and making small changes, you can’t fail by simply not being perfect.

Addition and Positivity, not Subtraction and Negativity

Imagine starting your year by listing all the things you will not be allowed to have, all the things that you’ll have to stop doing, and all the things that are wrong with you and need to be fixed. That is exactly what most people are doing when they make resolutions and promises for the coming year. Doesn’t that sound terrible? Well, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Instead of coming from a place of negativity and focusing on taking things away, set goals in a spirit of positivity and focus on adding things and starting behaviors. What’s the first positive addition or behavior you can think of to add?

It’s very difficult for any person to look forward to not having something, and it’s much easier to add a new behavior than to stop one.

Setting goals for the coming year should not include criticisms or dwelling on everything you’ve done incorrectly. You should have already reflected on your past year and determined what you could have done differently. Now is the time to build on what you’ve learned from your recent decisions and plan a positive way to improve on them or continue on the same path. Is your goal to better connect with clients? If you weren’t very successful at this last year, find the one area of client relations that you feel confident about, no matter how small or seemingly trivial. Build on that confidence and create some steps to improve the areas that need work. Those steps may include help from other people or be as simple as bettering your level of preparedness.

Reward Yourself

Don’t forget to periodically reward yourself as you progress towards and reach your goals. Setting a goal and reaching it is great, but a treat—a fancy dinner out, a new outfit, or some other thing you love—is a tangible way to acknowledge your success.