‘Tis the season to make New Year’s resolutions (and be jolly!). In the spirit of the new year, here is a guide on how to effectively choose new year resolutions and stick to them, along with a list of ideas for inspiration!

What you need to know first

Making new resolutions is a lot about either quitting or forming new habits which can be very tricky to achieve on our own. If you want to see results, it’s important to take a validated approach to ensure its success. Project management approaches exist to tackle the very issues that we face as individuals when attempting to achieve personal or professional objectives.

Don’t set hard goals, set S.M.A.R.T.(E.R) ones

As anyone who’s ever worked on a project will know, SMART goal setting can help set the right kinds of goals. For anyone less familiar with the SMART goal setting approach, it consists of setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable/achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. To demonstrate how this works, I will use a personal example for each aspect of the SMART approach. Note that if your goal fails the SMART test, you may need to break it down into smaller SMART sub-goals to make it attainable.


When setting your new resolution, try to define the “what” part of your goal and identify the “how” subtasks as either recurring tasks or project milestones and deliverables.


  • Bad: Study Chinese (Too vague, break it down in smaller milestones and deliverables),
  • Good: Get a passing score on the HSK4 exam (What)


  • Sign up to take lessons twice a week or more at ProLanguage training center in Downtown ChiangMai,
    • use DuoLingo every day at lunchtime to reach my daily streak until completing the whole program
    • practice using Chinese on Tandem via text and voice from 8pm-10pm on Friday and Sunday
    • register for the HK4 exam on August 1st
    • Take the mock-up test on August 10th


Make your goals measurable by ensuring their completion brings quantifiable results. Instead of losing weight, indicate how many pounds (or kg/stones)


  • Bad: Study hard
  • Good: Get a passing score on the mockup HSK4 and pass the HSK4 test


What’s the point of making promises you can’t keep? Ensure that your goals are indeed achievable within a reasonable time frame. You can’t expect to shed 20% of your body weight in 3 weeks but you can reasonably lose 20% of your weight by losing 3 pounds per month.


  • Bad: Learn to speak Chinese fluently (not attainable within a year)
  • Good: Pass the HSK4 test (realistic if you have already passed the HSK3)


Your goal should help you solve a problem you’re having and have a positive effect on your life or career.


  • Bad: Learn to play the guitar (not relevant to my current personal needs)
  • Good: Pass the HSK4 exam (relevant to my life since I am planning to work at a global company in a Chinese speaking region after graduating


If you don’t set deadlines for your goals, you might never get started. Combined with all the previous attributes mentioned, your main goal should be broken down into smaller achievable subtasks, each with their own deadlines.


  • Bad: Before next year
  • Good: Signing up for classes next Friday in the morning. Downloading the DuoLingo and Tandem apps tonight. Registering for the test on August 1, 2019. Taking a mockup test on August 10, 2019. Taking the actual test on October 16, 2019.

Plan Plan Plan

If you want to be successful, spending time planning will help you get a clear idea of the work ahead, break down that work into achievable steps, and allocate the required time for achieving it. As you knock down your deliverables and milestones, this will give you a sense of progress and achievement as you get closer and closer to your goals.

Get started

It is important that you start getting it down no matter what struggles you might be facing. Research shows that the hardest step is always the first one, so make that first step the easiest most attainable one, and you will soon see actual meaningful progress follow.

Deal with problems proactively

Not everything is going to be smooth along the way. When hitting snags, it is crucial that you face the problems head-on and set out to solve them immediately or risk losing momentum. Start by acknowledging the problem and use a problem-solving approach to set new sub-goals that will address it and help you achieve your new year resolution.

Use space to your advantage

Behavioral psychology suggests that being in a new space is conducive to forming new habits in that particular space – for better or for worse. These new habits could be a new gaming addiction when sitting in your living room, a new urge to smoke when standing on your balcony, or feeling like studying when hanging out at your local co-working space. Use behavioral psychology to your advantage by conditioning yourself to feeling like doing something productive when in a new space, and get distractions physically out of the way to reduce any temptation to slack off.

Take frequent breaks

Being productive requires a well-rested mind and body. Make sure to get enough rest and avoid burn out. Many productive people embrace time management technique such as the Pomodoro Technique which suggests taking 5 minutes breaks in between 25-minute-long focused work sessions helps increase your productivity.

Use the help of technology

Apps can be a great way to help us form new healthier habits. Here are just a few of the top habit tracker apps that you might want to check out:

  • HabitBull: Keeps you motivated via social accountability
  • Stickk: use scientifically grounded strategies to get you to break ad habits and form healthier ones
  • Thefabulous: same as the one above
  • Habitica: Keeps you going via gamification and RPG elements


Need suggestions? Here is a top list of desirable resolutions for digital nomads:

  • Improve your quality of life: Go out more, socialize, workout, become familiar with local culture, partake in local festivals
  • Improve yourself: start writing a blog, keep in touch with family and friends, cook at home, learn a new language, learn a new skill
  • Improve your career: update your portfolio, apply for new jobs, sign up for a training course
  • Tidy up your digital space: organize your files, photos, and moments, and develop an effective policy for file collection once and for all. Take back control of your email inbox for good.

Pick only one!

I know the temptation to try and tackle all your problems once and for all but we both know it’s likely going to result in complete failure. Choose only one and plan out exactly just how you are going to achieve it in small incremental steps.

Tout your success stories with your digital entourage

But only when you’re done achieving your goal – NOT before! And that’s because merely sharing your plans with your friends is likely to result in getting the same sense of achievement as completing your goal in the first place. So save the bragging until you’re all done or you may never achieve your goals at all.

I hope this guide is going to be helpful and look forward to following up on my own goals next year!

Further reading