New Year Resolutions: A Philosophical Guide To Keeping Them

Marcus Aurelius Statue
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It’s mid-January, which means cold weather for some, early Valentine’s decorations for love birds. Plus, let’s be honest, the New Year Resolutions-breaking time for all of us. Most of us enter the new year optimistic – which isn’t a bad thing! It’s important to have a growth mindset or the belief that self-improvement is possible.

The opposite mentality is called “a fixed mindset.” This mindset traps us into thinking that characteristics such as intelligence and talent “are what they are.” By establishing any New Year Resolutions, we automatically adopt a growth mindset. This is the first step in self-improvement and reaching our goals.

However, despite the positivity we often bring into the new year, it can be hard to stick to our resolutions. In fact, this difficulty can be enough for many to abandon their goals entirely. In order to keep the right mindset around resolutions, it can actually be helpful to look to philosophy.

The study of philosophy has been redefined in recent decades to focus on the optimization of humanity. As a result, philosophy can help us retain our growth mindsets and keep our New Year Resolutions all year long.

Interested in sticking to your goals this year? Here are some philosophical guides to help you keep to all of your New Year Resolutions in 2020.


“The Starting Point For Improvement Is To Recognize The Need.”- Masaaki Imai


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Originally utilized in business, Kaizen is a philosophy that promotes continual improvement. Kaizen came to America following World War II, and its use in the West is largely credited to Masaaki Imai’s book Kaizen: Japanese Spirit of Improvement. Kaizen focuses on taking many small steps toward a greater goal.

Eliminating all sugar from your diet or dedicating yourself to writing a short story every day may not be the best approach to sticking to your resolutions. Instead, eliminating one source of sugar each week may help you achieve a sugar-free lifestyle more successfully in the long run.

Likewise, spending 30 minutes writing every day will surely get you closer to publishing a short story collection. By focusing on small improvements in our lives, we can reduce the pressure to reach our New Year’s resolutions quickly, and instead just focus on reaching them.


“Do Not Dwell In The Past, Do Not Dream Of The Future, Concentrate The Mind On The Present Moment.” – The Buddha

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Regardless of your religious beliefs and preferences, it’s hard to deny the Buddha’s wisdom. One of the most applicable philosophical foundations of Buddhism to real life is the idea of intentions versus goals.

The Buddha says that instead of focusing on one “goal,” which can sometimes leave us feeling empty once it’s achieved.

We should focus on the journey and change we experience on a daily basis. Utilizing mindfulness to determine what we’re actually searching for in our New Year Resolutions can be much more rewarding and effective than simple goal-setting.


“Imagination Is Everything, It Is The Preview Of Life’s Coming Attractions.” – Albert Einstein

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The Law of Attraction is the belief that our thoughts will ultimately lead us in the right direction – or the wrong one. New Philosophy says that if we picture ourselves achieving our goals, we have a better chance of actually doing so.

For example, say your goal is to lose ten pounds. If every time you look in the mirror you think, “I will never lose ten pounds,” you’re only setting yourself up for failure.

It’s true! Science shows that this philosophy is based on reality. The psychological self-fulfilling prophecy is undeniably similar to the Law of Attraction, asserting that if you expect something to happen, your actions will make sure it does. Put simply, a positive mindset works wonders.


“The Capacity To Learn Is A Gift; The Ability To Learn Is A Skill; The Willingness To Learn Is A Choice.”- Roger Connors

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In their book The OZ Principle, businessmen Roger Connors, Craig Hickman, and Tom Smith discuss how accountability plays a role in having success and achieving goals.

The theory is simple enough: Much like the characters in The Wizard of Oz, you don’t need a “wizard” to help you get what you need. In reality, the key to sticking to your resolution is holding yourself accountable for your actions and not playing that victim card we often reach for.

When we hold ourselves accountable, we oftentimes will be better for it. Sitting around acting powerless when we’re not is crazy when it’s clear we have control. Just as Dorothy had the power to go home all along via her red slippers, we have the power to do most of the things we hold as a New Year Resolution.

Everything you need to write that novel, start that business, and lose weight is inside of you, which makes excuses irrelevant.


“Think For Yourself To Decide 1) What You Want 2) What Is True And 3) What You Should Do To Achieve #1 In Light Of #2.” – Ray Dalio

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In his book Principles, philanthropist Ray Dalio provides insight into how he reached success. Part of his philosophy is that we often live as passive participants in whatever the world throws at us. Instead, we should be making the world into what we want!

He writes that change involves pain as well as the process of considering what is really true, instead of what we want to be true. We often want things to be easy, but in reality, we have to go through hardships to achieve our goals.

Similarly, sticking to any New Year Resolution won’t be easy, but if it were, what would be the point? The fact that we made it a resolution means it holds a set of importance to us. It’s a resolution due to being hard, so why pretend that you can skate by and pretend it’ll be easy to achieve?


“You Have Power Over Your Mind – Not Outside Events. Realize This, And You Will Find Strength.”
? Marcus Aurelius

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Stoicism is a philosophy that focuses on overcoming hardships by remaining strong, in control, and practical. As many of us know, lack of self-control is often a contributing factor to abandoning most New Year Resolutions. However, another problem that can be particularly hard to recognize is setting goals that are far too ambitious.

For example, a resolution like “This year I will find love” is problematic because it depends upon something that is out of one’s control. A resolution like this can cause a lot of self-judgment and discouragement, leaving you wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”

In reality, finding love isn’t something that we can make happen. Instead, we should focus on what we can control, such as joining dating apps or engaging in more social activities. If that means revamping your resolution, so be it!


“You’ve Got Brains In Your Head. You’ve Got Feet In Your Shoes. You Can Steer Yourself Any Direction You Choose.” – Dr. Seuss

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Social scientists have argued for Dr. Seuss’s place among modern philosophers for years. The truth is, they’re right! Dr. Seuss’ books can be broken down into legitimate philosophical ideals.

The above quote is particularly applicable to sticking to a New Year Resolution. We are equipped with all the necessary machinery and brainpower to accomplish our goals. The only requirement is that we put in the work to do so.

The issue is that many of us do not. We pretend as if others are going to handle things for us. In fact, we might be in the same position each year making the same resolutions we make each year. We say “this is the year” we’ll stick to that resolution, but it likely won’t be unless we think with our brains and make the right decisions along the way.


“You Must Be Ready To Burn Yourself In Your Own Flame; How Could You Rise Anew If You Have Not First Become Ashes?” – Zarathustra (Nietzsche)



Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the most widely recognized philosophers of all time, is also one of the most controversial. That being said, the above statement by Zarathustra, a fictional character of Nietzsche’s, is very applicable to sticking to resolutions.

It’s no secret that as human beings we change from year to year. Sometimes this change is skin-deep; we dye our hair or lose weight.

Other times, the change is internal; we become more forgiving or work on how we respond to anger. According to Nietzsche, in order to actually change, we must be willing to let go of our past selves. This could be very simple! In order to read more in 2020, maybe one must first let go of their Netflix binging habits.

Our character and integrity don’t necessarily have to change to promote self-improvement. Instead, the “burning” of your past self can be as deep or as “shallow” as you need.


“Do Not Spoil What You Have By Desiring What You Have Not; Remember That What You Now Have Was Once Among The Things You Only Hoped For.”

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Like Nietzsche, we often associate New Year Resolutions by looking ahead to new beginnings. Epicurus’ philosophy reminds us to check on our current desires and remember those we’ve had in the past.

It can be extremely frustrating to eat right and exercise, only to feel like your body hasn’t changed. However, if you think about where you were three years ago, those results can be motivating, pushing you to stick to your resolution.

Additionally, appreciating where you are in the process right now puts you in the right mindset to proceed with optimism and humility. In many portions of philosophy, we find that there is always a point where writers harp on what they have. The reason for this is that a wise man knows what he has and knows his wants are not always as important as what he holds currently.

Perhaps you have a New Year Resolution that isn’t exactly useful to you. It may be that you should alter it to fit what you would like to see while also being sure to realize what you have still holds value too.


“We Are What We Repeatedly Do. Excellence, Then, Is Not An Act, But A Habit.” – Will Durant

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This quote by philosopher Will Durant is often attributed to Aristotle, but it’s actually just a summary of a claim in his Nicomachean Ethics. Oftentimes, we have New Year Resolutions that can seem like a chore (or sometimes they even are chores!).

Take something as simple as making your bed. If you’re not a morning person, making your bed every day can feel like a huge project. This in spite of the fact that it only takes a couple of seconds. However, even the most undesirable tasks can become habits if you dedicate yourself to doing them every day.

Science shows it takes about 66 days to form a habit – that’s only 66 days of struggling to make your bed! Once you’ve completed the first 66 days, the next 300 or so will be a breeze.


“For A Man To Conquer Himself Is The First And Noblest Of All Victories.” – Plato

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It’s obvious that sticking to New Year’s resolutions comes hand in hand with overcoming obstacles. However, we rarely recognize that one of the greatest obstacles in the way of our growth is ourselves.

This is especially true for resolutions that involve breaking a bad habit, like giving up cigarettes or alcohol. Even when it comes to forming new, good habits, we often have to break down the barriers we’ve created for ourselves.

For example, going to the gym can be accompanied by a feeling of shame, embarrassment, and anxiety about how we look, or even something as simple as bad form. In order to improve our lives, we must break down the physical and mental barriers that have kept us from doing so in the past.


“Our Greatest Glory Is Not In Never Falling, But In Rising Every Time We Fall.” – Confucius

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The reality is, most New Year Resolutions are going to be broken. Completely re-training yourself to start or stop doing something out of the ordinary is bound to come with some slip-ups once in a while.

Plus, small indulgences like a scoop of ice cream or night without exercise won’t make or break your success. That being said, these slip-ups or indulgences can sometimes come with a total abandonment of the goal. Once you make a mistake, it’s easy to think it’s too hard or too far out of your comfort zone to continue.

However, Confucius’ words remind us that there’s something to say about messing up and recovering. It makes the journey that much more impressive! Don’t see these mistakes as the end of your journey, but just as something to make it a little more interesting.


“Divide Each Difficulty Into As Many Parts As Is Feasible And Necessary To Resolve It.” – René Descartes

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We’ve established that we need to overcome difficulties, but exactly how is that done? In this quote, Descartes provides a way to break down every excuse you may find to abandon your New Year Resolution.

Can’t make it to the gym because your car broke down? Use Uber! Running low on cash? Ask a friend for a ride instead. Taking the time to consider solutions to your problems works if you put time and energy into it.

Instead of grabbing fast food for breakfast because you’re in a rush for work, ask if someone will pick up some fruit or granola for you. Most of the time, people are much more willing to help than we think. Remember: there’s always a solution hidden beneath an obstacle.


“I Only Hope That We Never Lose Sight Of One Thing — That It Was All Started By A Mouse.” – Walt Disney

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Walt Disney may not necessarily come to mind as a philosopher, but his philosophy on life and dreaming is certainly worth striving for. Disney’s claim that “it all started with a mouse” is a lot bigger than it may seem.

If we dig a little deeper into the scope of Disney’s success, which started with a 2D sketch of a mouse, it’s pretty incredible. As for our New Year Resolutions, they can make a much larger impact than initially intended. Losing ten pounds could unleash a passion for healthy eating and exercise. Maybe it will even lead to a fitness Instagram that attracts millions of followers and even more money.

However, the effect doesn’t have to be that large to be great. All in all, the small changes we continually make in our lives ultimately come together to shape the person we most want to be. Sticking to your resolution is destined to create one of those changes.


“We Must Meditate On What Brings Happiness, Since When It Has, It Has Everything, And When He Misses, We Do Everything To Have It.” – Epicurus

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Epicurus’ philosophies of happiness involve rejecting pain and embracing pleasure. While this isn’t always possible, his ideas of meditating on what truly makes us happy can be extremely informative in determining whether our particular New Year Resolution is helping or hurting us.

Sometimes, we set ourselves up with tasks that are impossible or that don’t spark joy – even in the future! Some may feel losing ten pounds is great even if it won’t improve their health and even will involve depriving themselves of their favorite foods. If this occurs, can we say that seeing ourselves in the mirror to feel good once the weight is gone will actually do as intended?

Of course, that’s up to you to decide.

Regardless of your resolution, be sure it will actually make you happy before holding yourself accountable for it. If you decide it won’t improve your overall joy, don’t be afraid to scrap it and make a new one. Epicurus agrees: happiness is everything.


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