The new year is upon us and you know what that means: it’s that time of year when people resolve to be different, better, more spectacular versions of themselves—to change the course of their futures or their careers!
What is it about January 1st that makes us want to reinvent ourselves? Starting a new year feels kind of like opening a new, blank sketchbook filled with crisp, white pages that have yet to be marred by ugly mistakes or abandoned sketches. The possibilities are endless!
And of course, as artists, our art-specific resolutions are particularly important to us.
Health related-goals are common New Year’s resolutions and shouldn’t be overlooked by artists, but most of us put additional pressure on ourselves to tackle creative goals as well.
Should You Make New Year’s Resolutions?
There are people I know who make resolutions every year. But, because the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail, some people don’t believe in making them at all.
I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps.
I’m a big fan of setting goals, and while I don’t think there is any sense in waiting for January to make positive changes in your life, I also think that if the start of a new year is when you feel inspired to start making improvements, nobody should rain on your parade.
But there’s nothing worse than feeling like a failure. So how do you go about making resolutions you will actually keep?
1. Defining your Resolution: Be Specific
Many common New Year’s resolutions are vague. It’s no wonder that the person who decides they’re going to “get in shape” in January, realizes a year later that they didn’t achieve their goal, because what does “getting in shape” even mean?
When defining your goals, make sure they are specific enough that you will know exactly how to approach them.
It’s also helpful to make quantifiable resolutions so you’ll know if you’ve been successful.
Examples of Vague vs. Specific Resolutions:
Vague: Improve my drawing skills
Specific: Fill one 80-page sketchbook per month
Vague: Grow my art business
Specific: Build my email list by sending out a monthly newsletter
Vague: Draw more
Specific: Sketch for 30 minutes each night after kids are in bed
Vague: Get better at drawing people
Specific: Spend 15 minutes on gesture drawing after breakfast
Vague: Build a new portfolio
Specific: Finish one new portfolio piece per month
2. Make a Plan with Tactics
If we expect to keep our New Year’s resolutions, we have to stop treating them like wishes.
If you make a resolution and you have no plan in place for making it happen, it’s no different than making a wish and tossing it out into the universe.
It’s great to say, “I’m going to draw more in 2021,” but what tactics will you use to make sure you actually do it?
Examples of Tactics:Resolution: Draw Consistently
Resolution: Sketch Instead of Scrolling Social Media
· Keep my sketchbook and phone together — if I bring my phone with me somewhere, I must also bring my sketchbook.
· Make sketching as convenient as possible by carrying a mechanical pencil that doesn’t need to be sharpened.
· Set screen time limits to remind me when I’ve spent more than 15 minutes on social media. When I see the screen time reminder, it’s time to put the phone down and draw.
3. Set Short Term Goals to Pave the Way
Many New Year’s resolutions are actually long-term goals which can be overwhelming if you don’t break them down into smaller steps and tasks.
Let’s say you want to write and illustrate a picture book in 2021.
There are so many steps, where do you even begin? You can start by listing each step in the process.
Create short-term goals or with deadlines that will pave the way to your larger long-term goal.
Resolution: Write and Illustrate a Picture Book
Step 1: Brainstorm ideas (two weeks)
Step 2: Choose favorite idea and write a rough draft (three weeks)
4. Check in Regularly
A year is a long time and chances are you’re not going to keep up with your resolution if the end of the year is the only time you check in with yourself.
Determine an interval throughout the year when you can check in with your progress to see if you’re accomplishing what you set out to do.
If what you’re doing isn’t working then you can always course correct.
Regular check-ins, perhaps ever 6 or 12 weeks, will help you’d determine if you need new tactics to reach your goal.
And maybe weeks into the year, you even decide the goal you’ve chosen isn’t serving you anymore. They’re not set in stone. You can always change it!
5. Consider whether your Resolution is a Goal or a Habit?
A goal is something that has a finish line and once you get there, you’re done. Think carefully about why you are making a resolution.
Is it because you want to get something done or cross an item off your bucket list? Or are you secretly hoping to develop a habit?
Many people set goals hoping that once they achieve them, the good habits that carried them to the finish line will linger as an added bonus.
It’s kind of like signing up for a 150-mile bike race because you want to be a cyclist, but once the race is over you quit riding because you’ve accomplished your goal and haven’t put any effort into making riding a habit.
Why not resolve to work on developing a habit instead? Do you want to make an illustration or be an illustrator? Do you want to write a book, or be an author? Do you want to make a painting or be a painter?
Chances are, it’s the habit you’re really after. And in the long term, habits are more valuable and will help you accomplish more than any “one-and-done” goal.
Do you create New Year’s resolutions? How have you been successful in keeping past resolutions? What resolutions will you set this year? We would love to hear about it in the comments!