​Though every day is a chance to do something different, the beginning of a new year can give us the necessary momentum to make major changes.

But if you want to succeed, it’s not enough to pick an arbitrary goal, however well-intentioned it may be. And with all the other stresses of the holidays – conflict with family members, overspending on gifts, working during the holidays or simply being far from home – you may not even be in the right mindset to take on the additional work of creating new routines.

“With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, many of us can feel overwhelmed and stretched to the limit,” says marriage and family therapist Terry Barnett-Martin.

Barnett-Martin, whose recent book “Tending Fences” tackles the importance of boundaries to healthy relationships, says the idea of having an entire year to make a change can be a tempting reason to set a goal. But by picking one that is unachievable, or not relevant to what really needs to change in your life, you could be sabotaging your self-esteem and your chance to make a meaningful difference in your wellbeing.


“Reaching for your purpose is a bit more of an ambiguous road, but so worth the effort,” she says.

To make a purposeful resolution, Barnett-Martin offers these four questions to help you to assess what you’ve learned about yourself in the past year, and visualize where you want to be at the end of the coming one.

1. What was my proudest accomplishment last year?

This doesn’t have to be an accomplishment at work or a new personal best on the track – think about a relationship you strengthened or a challenge that you overcame, even something new you tried and learned something from. Whatever the answer, it should serve as an insight into what matters most to you.

2. What worked well that I'd like to build on?

Or, conversely, what didn’t work and how would you change it? “Life is really a long series of experiments in which what works and what doesn’t work is all good information,” says Barnett-Martin. If you tried something new – a diet, a skill, a job, a relationship – and it didn’t work, don’t think of it as a failure, but as an experiment.

3. Where, when and doing what did I feel the best?

“There is nothing more gratifying than feeling like you are in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing,” Barnett-Martin notes. “Conversely, when the same gifts are utilized in a situation where they are not valued, they can fall flat.” If your efforts have not been appreciated, don’t think of your skills as inadequate or unnecessary – context has everything to do with letting your skills shine. Maybe you need to find another way to contribute, or a new place where your efforts are noticed.

4. What do I most want to contribute to in the coming year?

Look at each area of your life – job, home, social circles, volunteer work, etc. – and see yourself as the person you want to be in each of them. Answering this question for each of them “will give you your own personal roadmap for the New Year,” says Barnett-Martin. Maybe you want to be less angry, launch a new project or unclutter your life (physically or mentally) – the way to start is by having a clear first step and end result.