Tired of Futile New Year’s Resolutions? Try This Method Instead

If you use New Year’s resolutions right, it is one of the most powerful tools in the world.

But the truth is, most people don’t know how to use it.

You set a goal to lose weight or stop smoking, and several weeks later, you already start struggling with your new habit.

This article offers a new year’s resolution method that does work.

But maybe not how you’d expect it to.

An Introduction to the Past Year Review Method

A post that has changed my life is Tim Ferris’ New Year’s Resolutions article.

After one of Tim’s friends lost his daughter, he realized that all those personal goals weren’t that important after all.

Instead of focusing on personal achievements, he changed his strategy.

I’ve used this method for four years and removed everything that didn’t work.

The result is a simple, effective method for new years resolutions.

The Method | A Step-by-Step Guide

The idea behind the method is to reflect on the last year’s people and activities.

You will divide these encounters into two columns depending on whether they triggered positive or negative emotions.

You’ll then turn these takeaways into lessons, such as spending more or less time on something to improve your life.

In the rest of this post, I’ll guide you through the method step-by-step.

Step 1: Block 1-2 Hours & Get a Piece of Paper

The first step is simple.

Block 1-2 hours in your calendar right now.

Once you have time to sit down, get a piece of paper.

On the piece of paper, write down POSITIVE on the left and NEGATIVE on the right.

Draw a line to separate the two sides and move to the second step.

Step 2: Go Through Your Calendar, Photos & Diary

Now it’s time to think about last year’s activities and people.

The easiest way to do this is to go through the following:

Your (Google) Photos
Your Calendar, and
Your Diary (if you have one)

For every person or activity you remember, decide whether it sparked a positive or negative emotion and add them to the corresponding column.

Your list should look something like this.


I went to the movies with TimI had to work overtime too much
I had a fancy dinner with my brotherHad neck pain
I drove a mountain bike, just for the fun of itI didn’t see my grandma much
Going to the gymI didn’t enjoy doing a math course
I discovered a new coffee placeI had very few adventures


One of the columns will probably be much longer than the other. That’s fine.

Just write down everything that comes to mind without judgment.

If all goes well, you can move to step 4 to make sense of this exercise.

If you struggle to create an exhaustive list, go to step 3.

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Step 3: Am I Missing Something?

3.1 Are You Missing Activities?

If you feel a little overwhelmed after the first two steps, skip step 3.

Keep reading if the opposite is true and you’ve not written down much.

In terms of activities, it can help to go through to-do lists, personal goals, or social media posts.

These apps will hopefully help you remember more activities to write down.


3.2 Are You Missing People?

I often feel I’m missing people after these first steps. Especially the ones you didn’t spend much time with.

If you feel the same, scroll through your social media contacts on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn and your Whatsapp messages.

Add them to the list and include what you did with that person.

If they go into the negative column, write down what was negative about it.

So instead of just adding John to the negative column, add something like “Every time I hang out with John, he says hurtful things.

Step 4: Turn The List Into Lessons

The original method suggests selecting the top 20% most positive people and activities and scheduling them for next year.

I don’t like having a full agenda at the beginning of the year, so I turned everything I wrote down into lessons.

I use these lessons as input for my goals for the following year.

Positive lessons can be “continue to play basketball weekly” or “revisit this music festival.”

Negative lessons are a bit trickier.

Instead of avoiding these negative experiences, see what you can learn from them.

I wouldn’t say I like going to the doctor, but I don’t think it makes sense to avoid seeing one.

Instead of saying, “I hate going to the doctor for my neck pain” becomes “Next year, I will focus more on finding out what’s causing neck pain and preventing it.”

Another example is “I didn’t enjoy hanging out with Laura because she’s so hyperactive,” which becomes “Hang out with Laura when I’m in an active mood, but not when I need to rest.”

Now add all these lessons to a single Word file.

Step 5: Use The Lessons

I typically run through all the lessons again and highlight the ones that resonate

Now, there are three ways to go about using these lessons. 

The first is to look at the lessons once in a while (every three months, for example) to stay aware of how you want to live your life.

The second is to incorporate some of them into your goals for next year. See my article about goal setting for instructions.

The third one is to look at your friend circles and decide with whom you want to spend more or less time.

This last one sounds harsh. But is it so wrong to spend more time with the people you love most?

The best way to do this is to consider that you have three friend circles: the inner, middle, and the outer. The inner circle are the friends you spend the most time with, the middle who you see occasionally, and the outer are weak ties (like friends of friends). If one of your not-so-close friends really inspires you, consider moving them to the middle circle and vice-versa.

To Summarize

  1. Block 1-2 hours to sit down quietly
  2. Get a piece of paper and divide it into a positive and negative column 
  3. Go through your calendar, photos, diary, and social media 
  4. Add people and activities to the negative or positive column
  5. Turn both the positive & negative into lessons
  6. Review every quarter or use as input for goal setting

More Like This?

If you did this exercise and are ready to set personal goals, check out my post: Create Your Dream Life. How To Set Goals in 2023.

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