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  • Writer's pictureCynthia Sharp

A Guide to Making and Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

By Rebecca Howlett and Cynthia Sharp

A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action makes your dreams come true.―Greg Reid

As we take stock of 2021, it’s the perfect time to reflect on what we have done and where we want to be going forward. Ushering in a new calendar year has become synonymous with setting New Year’s resolutions, which commonly include an extensive laundry list of high-achieving fitness and financial goals (e.g., “run a marathon” or “save for retirement”). If you’ve ever set such resolutions, did you ultimately achieve your goals? If the answer is no, you’re not alone.

During the course of our research for this article, we Googled “other words for New Year’s resolution” and were stunned to find these synonyms: abstinence, surrender, sacrifice, and self-denial. Because resolution-making and keeping are apparently approached with such a bleak mindset, it’s no wonder that 80 percent of resolutions are cast aside by the month of February.

Our Readers Chime In

We asked our readers to share suggestions for setting and keeping resolutions and were inundated with responses. A common theme quickly emerged among the advice—start small.

Solo attorney Heather George Myers shared, “Don’t take too much on at one time. If you have several resolutions, start with one, and once you have it down as a habit, then add another.” Family law attorney Patty McKinnon added that because the “secret to happiness” may be found in accomplishing small goals, she is focusing on achieving small goals, as opposed to setting large goals that fail.

Due to the large volume of answers, we were unable to share all of them in this article. If you are interested in learning the additional perspectives of your colleagues, please check out the full compilation of reader responses here.

Traditional Resolutions Don’t Deliver

Despite our best intentions, traditional New Year’s resolutions can actually hold us back. Resolutions often require major lifestyle changes that are difficult to integrate into our everyday lives, especially all at once. We typically identify our desired outcome but don’t put in the necessary effort to develop a strategic plan to actually make it happen.

If we are not fully meeting our often-vague goals early on, this can create a negative feedback loop that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and likely to cast aside our self-improvement efforts. When we fail to achieve in one area, we may feel defeated, and this crisis in self-confidence can lead us to give up on other aspirations. And this vicious cycle is likely to repeat itself year after year.

Indeed, a common mistake when setting resolutions is that we may be too focused on our desired results, not even considering two critical questions: Why and How?

If you are interested in improving your outcomes but historically allow your big ideas to float away, consider shifting your point of view and adopting new strategies. Keep in mind these words often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

When it comes to goal setting, actively reframing our mindset can make or break our short- and long-term success. As a starting point, recognize that being the best version of yourself is a continual, lifelong endeavor.

Shift your focus beyond the endgame and take the time to create a specific, written strategic plan to make your dreams into a reality. As the sage advice goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

New Year’s Resolutions: Shifting Our Perspective

At the core of New Year’s resolutions is an intention to effect sustainable change in our lives. As illustrated by our reader responses, there are a variety of productive ways to support lasting changes in our behavior.

For now, we will share a simple, tried-and-true approach that has served Cindy well for the past 15 years: “The Transformation Gameplan.” At the link, we provide a blank chart for you to fill in your own Transformation Gameplan, as well as examples showing how attorneys can best utilize this tool. To get started, set aside at least an hour where you can work without distraction and focus on Steps 1 and 2.

  1. Spend time reflecting on what you want your personal and professional life to look like by the end of 2022. Areas to think about include: professional development, financial well-being, physical health, emotional health, relationships, community, and spirituality.

  2. Make a list of the specific, crucial results that you need to attain to support this new paradigm. Write them down in the far-left column.

  3. Consider why each result is crucial and record it in column 2. Without emotional buy-in, the likelihood of sticking with the plan is diminished.

  4. Next, record in column 3 what actions you must take during the first quarter of the year in order to make necessary progress toward your crucial result.

  5. A quick review of the Transformation Gameplan on a daily basis will act as a reminder of your next clear steps in each area and hopefully spur you into action.

  6. At the end of the quarter, record your actual results and make a list of the actions that you must take during the next quarter in order to stay on track. This is the time to consider whether the goal, as articulated, remains relevant or otherwise should be eliminated.

If you stick to this process for a year, you will see how the Gameplan serves as an objective measurement of progress, helping you continue the trajectory of your growth.

Moving Forward

The New Year is a time of both looking back and looking ahead. Let’s strive to live mindfully in the present moment and fuel ourselves with conscious action in the here and now. By the time you read this article, you will still have at least 300 days to create and implement your Transformation Gameplan for 2022. Are you ready to get started?

Join us next month as we explore the relationship between self-esteem, mental health, and confidence. We will offer suggestions designed to help attorneys boost self-esteem.

Rebecca Howlett, Esq., and Cynthia Sharp, Esq., are co-founders of The Legal Burnout Solution (, a community dedicated to the well-being of lawyers.

Originally published in ABA GPSolo eReport, Jan. 2022 Issue (Vol. 11, No. 6) by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

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