A Military Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”
— T.S. Elliot

It’s the beginning of January so time to make New Year’s resolutions.

Get ready to write down all the ways in which you want to change the things you’re not so happy about.

Is this a good way to set you up for success?

A recent study found only 8% of people who make New Year’s resolutions are successful in achieving them.

Say what? There must be a better way.

Why resolutions don’t work

For several years in my 20s I struggled with my weight and resolved every January to lose weight…and never did.

I was only successful in maintaining a healthy weight after I ditched a lot of emotional baggage and was happy with myself no matter what the scale said. It had nothing to do with what I vowed to do around the first of January.

Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University, says that people make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves but aren’t ready to change their habits. And often people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

I think another reason why resolutions don’t often work is because we’re too focused on the areas of our life where we’re unhappy without seeing the bigger picture. For example, I was unhappy with my weight in my 20s. So I vowed to lose weight.

Vowing to lose weight fell short of answering fundamental questions: How will I lose weight? Why do I want to? What emotions am I holding onto? What is going well in my current diet and exercise regime?

So now what?

Do we ditch New Year’s resolutions altogether and just flip the page on the calendar?

That’s one answer, but there’s something special about the passage of one year to the next. It’s the perfect time to stop for a minute and reflect.

For the past few years I’ve been doing something that I learned from working with the military that has had a much greater effect than any resolutions I’ve ever made.

After 12 years working with the military, I’ve learned a thing or two about military structures and ways of thinking. Of course, it’s not always perfect, but there are some useful things one can learn from military methods.

One of those things is called an After Action Review, or AAR. They can also be referred to as a “hot wash” or “hot wash-up.”

After most military efforts, such as an exercise or operation, those who participated will spend some time considering what went well, what didn’t, and what can be done to make it better for next time.

There are many ways in which I’ve seen this done, but my favorite is when I’m asked to identify my “sustains” and “improves.”

This is where I identify what worked and should be kept around for next time and the areas that need improvement.

Doing a hot wash-up certainly does not mean military institutions do not repeat mistakes. But I’ve seen a lot of efforts get better and better with each year because of this process of reflection.

A new way of making resolutions

This year, try reflecting on 2015 by asking, “What do I want to sustain? And what do I want to improve?”

Exploring these questions will give you greater awareness about what has worked and what hasn’t worked. This awareness then sets you up to make gradual shifts throughout your day and week towards the goals you want to achieve.

These gradual shifts that become part of your routine is what leads to lasting change.

When I look back at 2015, I’d like to sustain my work-out regime of exercising about 5 times per week in the form of aerobic dance and yoga. I’d like to improve the amount of raw fruits and vegetables I eat.

For my career, I’d like to sustain this superly awesome monthly newsletter, and I’d like to improve on attending more live events where I can connect with people in person.

By doing an AAR, you give yourself credit for all the awesome stuff you have done, and it sets you up nicely to improve the areas of your life that you’d like to make better.

I challenge you to do a Hot Wash-Up of 2015. Identify what you’d sustain and what you’d improve in each of the major areas of your life.

Be gentle on yourself.


Give yourself credit for all that you achieved.

Think of small ways you can incorporate change into your daily routine.

Ask why you want to improve.

Prioritize what shows up most for you.

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers – only subtle shifts to making your life more joyful and ease-ful.

What are your thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions? Leave a comment on the blog and share it with your network.

I wish you all great things in the year!



[optinlock id=”1″][/optinlock]

3 replies
  1. Jenni
    Jenni says:

    I love the idea of an After Action Review. The simple questions get to the core things I always want to discuss in debrief meetings. I never know who all to invite to debriefs because often the meaningful conversations happen in smaller groups but the idea of talking about who needs to know and sharing relevant discoveries afterwards.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] a technique I learned while working with the military that I turned into an end of the year […]

Comments are closed.