Tips & Stories

Resolve to Stay on Track in the New Year

Resolve to Stay on Track in the New Year

Posted by Forrest Dylan Bryant on 26 Dec 2015

Posted by Forrest Dylan Bryant on 26 Dec 2015

A new year is upon us, which means it’s time to break out the champagne and survey the months ahead. It’s only natural to think in terms of fresh starts and new opportunities when the calendar changes, whether that means improving our health, acquiring a new skill, or picking up a neglected hobby. But as many of us know, resolving to change is one thing. Making those changes stick is another.

Research suggests that one-third of all new year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first month, and fewer than half survive to the six-month mark. It’s better to try and fail than never to try at all, but most of us want to do better than that.

How can we keep our resolutions going all year long? According to experts in psychology and productivity, the answer has three parts:

  • First, we need to be smarter about how we make resolutions, and choose the right goals for the right reasons.
  • Second, we need to implement new behaviors in the ways most likely to turn them into ingrained habits.
  • Finally, we need the willpower, planning, and support to stay motivated and on track, especially in the critical first month.

Step 1: Get SMART

Let’s start with the resolutions themselves.

It’s not enough to have a good idea. You have to distill that idea into a goal that’s actionable and attainable. Borrowing a concept from modern business, sociologist Christine Whelan has described a well-crafted resolution as “SMART” — it’s specific, measurable, and achievable, there’s a reward for sticking with it, and our progress is tracked throughout the year.

SMART resolutions

Just as importantly, you have to want it. As Linda Geddes recently summarized in an article for The Guardian, “The first question to ask yourself is: if there were no pressure from anyone else, what would you, personally, like to change?” Whether we’re trying to lose weight or write a novel, we’re more likely to stick with difficult projects when the motivation comes from within.

Step 2: Get in the habit

Another reason resolutions fall apart is that we try to take on too much at once. When you commit to changing a behavior, you’re essentially trying to rewire your own brain, and that takes a lot of work. Every time you need to stop and think, to exercise self-control, or remember to do X instead of Y, you’re burning mental energy. Going after too many difficult goals at the same time can leave you burned out, with none of your goals fulfilled.

To maximize your chances of success, choose just one resolution. If you have a list of ideas, consider starting with the easiest one. You wouldn’t try to run a marathon if you’ve never run a mile, or deadlift a huge weight without lifting smaller weights first. The same applies to willpower and self-control. Start small and work your way up.

Like a snowball rolling downhill, big changes can accumulate from tiny ones. Doing one hundred pushups is hard, doing five is easier. And nearly all of us can manage one. “Eating healthy” is big and vague, but adding a sprig of broccoli to your plate is tiny and simple. As Leo Babauta puts it, “make it so easy you can’t say no.”

Put another way, the idea is to focus on the habit, not the goal. If we’re in this for the long term, the important thing is simply to acquire the habit, not to make big gains fast. Losing 20 pounds doesn’t mean much if you’re only focused on the number and not internalizing healthy habits; it’s too easy to slip and gain it all back.

Try fitting your new habit into the daily routines you already have. Routines run on autopilot and resist big changes, but they’re easy to hack from within once you understand how they work.

Generally speaking, habitual behavior begins with a trigger or cue, and results in some sort of psychological reward:

  • At 3:00, I take a coffee break in the office. The coffee tastes good and makes me feel alert.

In this example, 3:00 is the cue, the coffee break is the behavior, and feeling alert is the reward. If you can insert a new behavior or task into this cycle, leaving the cue and the reward intact, your brain should adapt more easily, especially if you’ve kept the task small:

  • At 3:00, I walk to the fancy coffee bar on Broadway. The coffee tastes good and makes me more alert, I get a little exercise, and the fresh air clears my head.

You don’t need any particular motivation to make the change, because you’re already doing pretty much the same thing. And that makes it easy to gradually ramp up to your objective.

  • At 3:00, I go for a brisk power-walk. It gives me some exercise, clears my head, reduces stress, and makes me more alert.

The cue has not changed. The rewards are similar, but greater. But the behavior has completely changed.

Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. It may take a long time to get where you want to go, through a succession of tiny steps. But as long as each step is headed in the right direction, you’ll get there in the end.

Step 3: Stay motivated with Evernote

Okay. You’ve made a resolution. It’s specific, measurable, and achievable. You’ve fit it into your routine and made sure there will be a reward for sticking with it. Now you need to stay motivated to keep the cycle going. Consider creating a Personal Development notebook in Evernote where you can keep it all together.

Here’s some of what goes in your resolution notebook:

  • a calendar
  • an inspiration archive
  • checklists and reminders

Calendars are simple yet powerful motivational tools. When you successfully achieve your daily goal, mark your calendar. That’s it. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld famously used this method when building his career, making sure he wrote new material every day. Seeing a string of marked days on a calendar is a great way to build confidence and a sense of accomplishment. It also provides gentle pressure: you’ll go out of your way to make sure you “don’t break the chain.”

We have some great 2016 calendars you can save right into Evernote. Just click the links below and look for the “Save to Evernote” button. Once you’ve saved them, add your milestones or targets and start tracking your progress:


Checklists and reminders
Need a little push? Build checklists and reminders into your Evernote workflow so you never forget to keep working on your new habits. Good checklists might include your gym routines, that list of great books you plan to read or movies you’ve always wanted to watch, or themes to tackle in a 365-day photo project.

Inspiration archive
Found an article or image online that inspires you? Use Web Clipper to capture it in Evernote. Build a collection of examples you can turn to when you feel your motivation drooping. If you use IFTTT to connect Evernote with other apps, there are recipes available for capturing favorite tweets or other social media updates in notes, recording your locations and check-ins, and much more.

More ideas
For more ways to keep track of resolutions with Evernote, check out our 2015 list. We’d also love to hear your own stories in the comments. Happy new year, and good luck with your goals!


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30 Comments RSS

  • Nicholas

    Mahalo for the 2016 calendars created in Evernote. It helps me a lot!

  • Neo

    yeah,very useful

  • Vitaly Zdanevich

    Why you not add the normal calendar inside Evernote?

  • Mike

    Having fought with anything beyond basic formatting in Evernote, how in the world were these made??

    • Fernando

      Well, they do this yearly because no one can do it directly in Evernote, due to its horrible formatting tools. They probably do it in HTML and later convert to a note.

  • Kysha

    I love the strategy of keeping the cue and incrementally modifying the behavior. It’s definitely Powerhouse Practice.

  • Allan

    Not sure what I would want an evernote calendar. Then I would have to check two calendars !

  • Ludavia @ Nifty Betty

    I love the idea of using a cue. Especially if you’re doing something similar at the time. I wrote about keeping resolutions too. If you write your resolution in present tense using adjectives that describe how awesome it makes you feel, you’re more likely to keep going. So, instead of reading off your list “lose weight,” you’re reading off something similar to the cue you suggested.

  • Alex

    Excellent article. Keep ’em coming. Power user from Texas

  • Griff

    I like the idea of adding accomplishments to a calendar, but it would be great if a note could be tied into or synced with my Google calendar. That is my go-to calendar; having a second one in Evernote makes it a bit more cumbersome.

    Otherwise, thanks for the tips/tricks!!

  • Laurence zensinger

    I downloaded the Evernote Calendar, supposedly to my “first calendar” but cannot find it. i don’t think it downloaded. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Griphon

    Get back to making this software useful. We all have Calendars! So, put one but have it sync with the Calendars we are using now! Adding more Calendars is retarded! and not productive or GTD!!

    Export – Where is the proper Export Feature? No meta tags are exported. The Enex file is useless. PDFs in hundreds on projects is useless.

    Evernote Tags – NEEDS A REFRESH. The color and interface is NOT for the person with Speed as the prerequisite! Not for the power user! Horizontal Interface! – ever try that as a power user? So, why is your main interface Vertical then instead of Horizontal? Any Horizontal viewing is much more time consuming when compared to Vertical which is why most websites are now using a Vertical Scroll!!! It is mobile friendly and faster!! Ever thought of allowing the user to pick which scroll is best for the workflow?

    Selling your subscriptions is non-existent – who knows you have a yearly plan? There are more emails of pencils and notebooks stuff than your subscriptions that’s hardly mentioned.

    Oh! That CEO…yes! That one!! Remember Springpad!

    • DCM

      I would REALLY like if Evernote would sync with google calendar. One of the things I really missed from my paper planner days was the ability to see my calendar, tasks, and notes for a single day in one view. I don’t use paper now but nothing I have found comes close. Evernote, I know you have the ability to bring this together and take it even higher. Allow me to view my notes by date/time. Send me a notification on my phone showing the notes I wrote 5 years ago today and give me a planner view. I love all the features. Thanks so much.

      Oh, can you add find replace feature for body and titles. That would be great too. 🙂

  • Ron T

    “SMART goals,” “Choose just one resolution,” “Focus on the habit.” Great stuff! Evernote is a clearinghouse for all of this. Go deeper in this by reading Gary Keller and Jay Papasan’s book, “The 1 Thing”.

  • Mátó Attila

    Thanks, downloaded. This creates some redundancy, so I am going to use for planning only. What is the reason that syncing/integrating the EN reminders with Outlook etc is so challenging? Is there any plan to provide an EN calendar I can see in the calendar app in future? Thanks and Happy New Year!

  • JLM


  • Charlie

    Good article, but I really recommend checking out the Michael Hyatt article posted on Evernote last year, which gave a detailed plan of attack using Evernmote to achieving goals in the new year. I clipped it last year, and I’ve referenced it at least once a month throughout 2015.

  • Steven Tryon

    I would love to see Evernote sync with my Google calendar — or with Outlook for my Microsofty friends. Some things are best tracked directly in a calendar; other things are better tracked with Evernote. Being able to link the two would be great. CloudHQ might be an option. I use it to sync my Evernote to Dropbox.

  • JgPatoz

    I love you guys!!! Evernote be reading my mind! 😀
    Calendars is a great addition! Keep up the good work!
    I also really appreciate the article; great source of knowledge. Thank you for a good start into 2016! 😀

  • Ashurbanipal

    This was actually very useful and inspirational. Good post

  • Darla

    What an excellent idea! Cheers!

  • Gilbert

    it’s amazing to see all these people getting excited over a simple calendar, which i’m pretty sure any email calendar works ten times better.

  • Forrest Dylan Bryant

    Regarding the calendar discussion, the value depends largely on what you choose to do with it. A calendar doesn’t have to be a list of appointments, after all. When a calendar is inside a note, you can put whatever you want into a day’s cell: text, images, or files. I’ve seen calendars in Evernote used as photo-a-day diaries, to plan social media posts, or to record progress toward goals (words written, steps walked, etc.)

    You can also place anything you want above or below the calendar, making it one component of a much larger note. So if you have a note for planning a month-long project, for example, including the calendar for that month within the note can give you a visual overview, in context alongside your brainstorming, related documents, and checklists, all without switching apps.

  • Rob

    The Sunrise calendar integration was pretty good, as it put Evernote notes onto the calendar for you. It also let you see multiple calendars (e.g. Outlook, Google, etc.) at the same time. Unfortunately, when Sunrise was acquired by MS, they stopped development, and there are quite a few unfinished things in it (and Outlook never picked up the Evernote integration, or ability to see multiple calendars)

    Evernote, what’s stopping a decent Outlook integration? There’s already a toolbar widget that allows clipping to EN, but we really need to get EN notes showing up in Outlook (or Google, etc.).

  • Jeff

    Imagine if Evernote had a built in calendar that could sync to a variety of calendar services (iCloud, outlook, etc). Oh the things we could accomplish!

  • Jeff

    Also, calendar does sync with Evernote reminders. They showed up in your calendar! Genius! I say “showed up” because Sunrise sold to Microsoft which has vowed to “roll Sunrise into Outlook”. i.e. shut it down. C’mon Evernote, go pitch to Google and Apple to add this functionality!

  • Matt

    It would be great if Evernote would add Google integration.

  • Mic

    Or you could get the basics right first and just make printing work? Your own forums show problems printing since 2011. Italics do not print well and image management in notes is sub-standard.

    Core business should have been taking good, effectively communicating notes. Not moleskin notebooks, bags and socks or calendars.

    I was a premium customer for the last few years, but Evernote still can’t print a decent looking note for a meeting, and it doesn’t look like changing, so while it did take a day with the conversion tools, I’ve migrated all my content the main competitor. Pity.

  • Stephen the Retail Coach

    SMART goals work! One more addition I would make alongside the reward is the punishment. An equal incentive towards achieving a goal is running from a punishment. Make a list of what the punishment will be if you don’t achieve the goal. Tell someone what that is and then you will be accountable for it. The punishment should be something you really don’t want to do, it’s a real (dis)incentive. It’s worked for me several times.

  • Jim P

    gonna make some of these for 2017? They’re great!