Why You Should Create Year-END Resolutions

This article was written by Contributing Writer Erik van Mechelen. 

Why You Should Create Year-END Resolutions

Have you started thinking about your New Years’ Resolutions yet?

If you haven’t, you’re likely to be tempted by the torrent of articles written this time of year on the subject.

But you know better.

New Years’ Resolutions don’t really work.

I’ve been talking with Yu-kai, and he prefers something different: Year-END Resolutions.

In this post, I’ll:

  1. Take a moment to summarize why New Years’ Resolutions don’t work.
  2. Explain what Yu-kai means by Year-END Resolutions
  3. Show you how to get started (and finished) with those actions before Jan 1, 2017.

Let’s go.

Why New Year’s resolutions don’t work (from the Octalysis perspective)

New Years’ Resolutions are reactionary.

How many times have you been prompted to create New Years’ Resolutions? (A possible answer is: every year in the last week of December.)

You’ve noticed people talking about them in social. You think: Maybe I should create some, too. Everyone else is doing it. This is a bit of Core Drive 5: Social Influence & Relatedness combined with Core Drive 8: Loss & Avoidance at work in your head. I’m going after self-improvement, what is there to lose?

Instead of reacting, be proactive.

Even if you are making New Years’ Resolutions with dedicated intentions, these goals can fall prey to several pitfalls:

The Planning Fallacy (things take longer than you think)
Failure (some people aren’t good at overcoming obstacles, especially if you haven’t planned for them…wait, aren’t New Years’ Resolutions supposed to make us feel good?)
The O.K. Plateau (getting to a place of mild success and not improving from there)
Lack of Accountability (will you even actually DO your New Years’ Resolution?
Broken designs (you may not have had an understanding of the Octalysis Core Drives in the past)

Self-improvement, lifestyle changes, or skill-acquisition require process and routine and the appropriate motivation. You can’t just decide to do big things that take a lot of hard work. You’ll likely need some milestones and step-by-step routines and tasks to get you there.

You know the story. February arrives and poof, you’ve forgotten about those resolutions you set only a month before.

There are 18 days left in December

Let’s think about why Year-End Resolutions might actually be better than New Years’ Resolutions.

First, the obvious:

  1. If we start now, we don’t procrastinate any longer
  2. We build momentum into the New Year
  3. We will see what is working about our motivational design and can tweak it

You can only do things in the present, so taking a short-term approach (in the context of long-term aims) can really help move you toward desired actions.

The ideas Yu-kai shares through Octalysis and Octalysis Prime align with creating motivational designs to move ourselves (or other people) toward positive actions.

There are only 18 days left in 2016. Not long, but plenty of time to build momentum going into 2017. (You see, I’ve applied a gentle amount of scarcity and urgency here, normally considered Black Hat design.)

How to define you year-end list (make a big list, pick a few)

You’re ready to do something before 2016 ends.

But how to decide? As always, your time and attention are incredibly limited and valuable resources.

If you take 10 seconds to sit and think, you probably have some ideas already.

If that doesn’t work, there’s probably something you’ve been procrastinating on. (I just looked up how to change the strings on my ukelele…it wasn’t as hard as I thought!)

You might even be a collector of projects and self-improvement, in which case you might already have a list of things you need to or would like to do across many spheres of your life.

We’re going to look at these and then pick something small to take action on. Since we only have 18 days, consider applying the Pareto Principle, which is the idea that for 20% of the effort you can get 80% of the impact. In some cases, this ratio bends in your favor to 5% effort for 95% of the outcome. Think small but important tasks.

Thinking bigger

If you want to think at the category level, consider spheres of life. Life spheres as defined by Yu-kai in Octalysis Prime are Life Fields. He built these based on the Octalysis Explorer community’s feedback.

Octalysis Prime includes as Life Fields (make a big list)

  • Productivity
  • Career
  • Relationships
  • Wellness
  • Education
  • Happiness
  • Purpose

You might also want to build skills in one of the following categories:

  • Persuasive technology
  • Applied psychology
  • Behavioral economics
  • Gameful design
  • Entrepreneurship & business

So, how to choose?

You need to reflect on what you’ve been working on and what you’ve been building toward already.

After you’ve done this, choose just one category or area you will start with before the end of the year.

If you’re stuck, choose a short-term action that contributes to the long-term goal.

Here’s an example I did recently:

In November (as I started thinking about this post), I was trying to figure out a short-term action for a long-term goal. I came up with submitting some short stories that I’d been procrastinating on. The likelihood is they will be rejected, but rejection is part of the process of building toward publication as a fiction writer. More rejections, more chance of success.


As I shared in this post about fitness apps, understanding how you are motivated in the context of what you’re trying to change, remove, or add to your lifestyle is crucial. If you’re going for a wellness goal, you may need to build an accountability buddy into the equation, for example.

For short sprints, less is more

With only 18 days until Jan 1, 2017, consider using Core Drive 2: Development & Accomplishment to drive you, with small bursts of Core Drive 6: Scarcity & Impatience to keep you on task (simply set a daily reminder to do the activity or task you’ve assigned yourself).

Evaluating mid-stream

A week from now, will the doing have the desired effect? (Are you even still doing what you set out to do? Maybe you’ve encountered the planning fallacy, failure, or a broken design…yes, you should have set a daily reminder!)

You have a chance to reset and re-evaluate.

The bad news? You found out this mini-routine won’t work for you.

The good news? You can adjust.

Designing for change

There are a lot of ways to get started. Apps like Speakeasy let you reconnect with loved ones on your commute. Setting aside creative time in your calendar can give you the freedom to play and explore and brainstorm solutions to some of your biggest problems. Have you smoothed over a difficult relationship? How does it feel? Maybe you’ve gone really small and tactical, like reaching out to contacts in your network to keep your relationships warm.

If you’re ready for the next step, like Yu-kai was, you can begin to see life as an RPG, or join the Octalysis Explorers Facebook group, where the community is helping each other grow.

But if you haven’t thought about gamifying your life before, I encourage you to take the smallest possible action first. Even if it only means responding in the comments. Do it.

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