Monday Musings: New Year’s Resolutions

Monday Musings: New Year's Resolutions | Do More Of What Makes You Happy, watercolor by Willow Arlen, via

It seems that at the beginning of every new year, whether I intend to or not, my brain shuts down for a while and everything I had planned gets put on hold. It’s as though I’m racing through life with my foot on the gas, and then January comes and all of a sudden the accelerator doesn’t work, and instead of freaking out or panicking, I just sit back in the drivers seat, loosen my grip on the steering wheel, and coast. For a good week or two, my body and mind pull back their energies to recharge and prepare for the rest of the year. If I let myself think about all of the things I “should” be doing, I might start to panic, but I just… don’t. It’s kind of nice, actually.

During this mental down-time, I try to let myself play. I give myself permission to get lost in a book, or spend hours making art and being creative in ways I don’t normally let myself (like my attempt at watercolor and hand lettering above). I also spend this time thinking about some of the bigger things that are always in the back of my head, but which I normally push aside because I have a million other things to do. I reflect on who I am, and where I want to go, and jot down a very rough map of how to get there. I’m sure many of you are doing the same in the New Year, making resolutions and reflecting on the past, so I thought I’d share some of my own goals and aspirations, and also my thoughts on goal setting in general. Maybe you can relate.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams." Henry David Thoreau

I approach New Year’s Resolutions a little differently than most. I don’t like the idea of resolving to do something, or forcing myself to take on a goal that is unrealistic, or which will leave me feeling disappointed in myself if I don’t succeed. I think resolutions in that traditional sense are destined to fail, because the moment I slip up (and I will slip up), it’s over. Instead, I try to think in more general terms about where I am going in life, or what type of person I want to be — something I am always working towards, of course, but which is easy to lose sight of in the day-to-day grind, when I’m constantly looking at the ground right in front of me. So instead I look up, step back, and try to evaluate the path ahead. Am I on the right track? What can I improve? What should I be doing more of, or less of, to get where I want to go?

(Just to clarify, this does NOT mean I know where I want to be ten years from now, or that I don’t do anything but work towards one ultimate end goal…. or that there even is an ultimate end goal. Just that I try to think about what makes me happiest in life, and aim myself in that general direction.)

Once I have some general goals in mind, I break them into smaller, more actionable pieces. Setting big goals with high standards and high stakes is a recipe for failure, at least for me, so instead I try to give myself manageable baby steps. Baby steps are easier to take, but they also mean if I fall down it won’t hurt so much, and I can brush myself off and keep going. If I tell myself my goal is to exercise every day, and I miss a day… I have failed. It’s over. But if I tell myself the goal is to be healthier, and then make a list of little things I can do to get there over time… then if I miss a day of exercise I won’t punish myself, I’ll just pick up again the next day.

That’s my philosophy on resolutions, in a nutshell, but I would love to know:

How do you handle goal setting? Do you set big goals and hold yourself to them, or are you a baby-steps kind of person like me? I’d also love to know what your resolutions are for the year, if you have any, and maybe we can cheer each other on.

Here are some of mine:

Host more dinner parties.

It should come as no surprise that I love to cook for my friends and family, but to be honest, it hasn’t been happening as much as I’d like it to. I’ve been wanting to host more dinner parties for a while now, but kept coming up with excuses not to, like the house not being nice enough, not having enough chairs, not having fancy cloth napkins (yes, that was seriously one of my excuses). Well, I’ve done some thinking, and realized that’s dumb. Yesterday, I set the table with mis-matched dinnerware, paper napkins, and a couple of folding chairs, and had the most amazing meal with incredible company. Lesson: don’t let the little things hold you back from what matters most. Good food, and great friends.

Photo by: Willow Arlen,

Mis-matched dinnerware, paper napkins… perfect.


Practice gratitude.

In 2015, I started a gratitude journal. I’ve tried keeping journals in the past, to no avail, but this gratitude journal was — and is — very different. Instead of writing about my day in the usual way, which tends to develop into rants, and anger, and frustrations, I wrote about how much joy there is in my life, and how thankful I am for the people and things that make my existence as wonderful and comfortable as it is. If you had asked me before if I was a grateful person, I would have said yes, but since starting this journal I’ve realized I took a lot of things for granted. I appreciated them when I thought about them, but I rarely did. Making it an (almost daily) practice has helped me look for the good in every day, seek out the positive side of negative situations, and say thank you more often and more sincerely to those around me. Plus, every page is like a physical, tangible reminder of how much happiness and love I have in my life, and whenever I’m feeling fear or sadness I can look back at those entries and be uplifted. It might sound kind of dumb, but starting that journal is the single best thing I did in 2015, and my goal is to keep it up in the new year.

Ben Stein quote (photo by

Matcha and journaling.


Make time for reading and meditation.

I love to read, but I tend to get so caught up in doing doing doing, that I don’t give myself permission to sit still. Reading and meditating are both things I want more of in my life, and they come down to setting aside time that is devoted to not doing anything, and not feeling like I need to justify spending a little time for myself. In my couple of weeks of mental restoration, I’ve already started diving into many of the books on my reading list. I’m considering sharing them with you as I go, or maybe doing a kind of virtual book club for anyone interested in reading along. Right now I’m in the middle of several, including: “The Art of Eating” by MFK Fisher, “Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal” by Mary Roach (an equal-parts fascinating and hilarious account of everything you ever wanted to know about digestion, and then some), and am about to dive into “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert (which ties right into my next resolution). If you want to hear more about what’s on my reading list, or talk books with me, let me know in the comments and maybe we can make it a thing!

The Art of Eating. Image via

The Art of Eating. Clearly I need some help in this area.


Be authentic. 

This is last, but by no means least. In many ways I am an introvert, and yet I insist on putting myself out into the world via the internet, which even to a skilled extrovert can be daunting. Being authentic is scary, and while it’s something I always try to do, I don’t always succeed. When you’re constantly scrolling through the most amazing instagram feeds and facebook pages, it’s hard not to compare yourself to their greatness… and there is a fine line, I find, between being inspired by, and comparing yourself, to others. Comparison is a slippery slope that can lead to feeling inadequate, and like you need to follow in other people’s footsteps in order to get where you want to go, rather than carving your own path or going wherever feels natural. This is really just a personal reminder to myself, but I’m sure many of you can relate, and maybe even made a similar resolution to yourself. As you are no doubt aware, David Bowie passed away this week, and in listening to interviews and reading articles I came across an amazing quote which I absolutely love:

In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that — but everyone else wanted to be like him, too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make you cool. — Caitlin Moran

So those are some of my personal goals for 2016 — what are yours? I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Before I take off, I’ll leave you with one last quote I always remind myself of at the start of every new year:

Neil Gaiman, New Year's Wish Quote

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22 Responses to Monday Musings: New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Allyson January 18, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

    I like your idea of slowing down and recharging at the beginning of the year. I feel like most of us are so ready to “turn around” our lives as soon as January hits that we don’t take the time to reflect on the changes we’d actually like to make real. This post is lovely, thanks for opening up to share, it’s inspiring , especially since I would like to improve in all the areas you mentioned :)

    • Willow Arlen January 18, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

      Good observation, Allyson! I think a lot of people enter the New Year raring to go — I know that’s how I usually plan it, because I have so many exciting things I want to do, but then January 1st comes and my brain is like “nope.”

      I’m glad you found my ramblings inspiring, hearing that makes my day!

  2. movita beaucoup January 19, 2016 at 7:33 am #

    January is most definitely for recharging and finding inspiration! I’m currently brainstorming and also accomplishing nothing simultaneously. Amazing how someone can be so motivated and lazy at the same time… Still, JANUARY. I hear you on the comparison thing. Man, it’s a slippery slope. Especially when blogging. I’ve decided to think of my blog in terms of what I’m leaving behind. As in, if I were gone tomorrow, would the work I’ve done there be a good representation of me? Of the happiness I’d like to share? If a post doesn’t contribute to that portfolio, I ain’t doing it. Nope. No way.

    • Willow Arlen January 19, 2016 at 11:12 am #

      “Amazing how someone can be so motivated and lazy at the same time” exactly! I’m glad I’m not the only one. And that is a seriously hardcore approach to blogging, and I totally admire that! Your site is so unlike any other, and I mean that as a complete and total compliment, because it is brilliant. I consider you one of the most authentic people on the interweb, and one of the most fun to read, so keep it up!

  3. Christine | Vermilion Roots January 20, 2016 at 2:02 am #

    I love that quote by Neil Gaiman. And I can’t wait to talk books with you. I started 2016 with DIY renovations on our new place and we are still at it. It’s getting really close to done, and every time I pause to look at what we repaired and what we built, I get a sense of renewal and hope. So this year, I’d like to focus on letting go of past negatives and creating new positives. I’m really excited to start stocking the new kitchen!

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 9:43 am #

      I can’t wait to talk books, either — I am so excited to dive into Big Magic! And that must be a wonderful feeling to see your renovations coming along and getting close to being finished. Here’s to creating new positives! (I love that choice of words!)

  4. Tashena Shaw January 20, 2016 at 8:59 am #

    Oh, this hit home for me… Thank you for sharing. <3

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 9:30 am #

      Thank you, Tashena, I’m so glad to hear it resonated with you!

  5. John January 20, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    I loved your section on reading. A lot of my work actually happens to be focused on reading and you can sometimes get caught up in it, that you forget to enjoy what you are reading.

    I think I need to slow down a little bit and give myself set times during the day to just sit down and enjoy what I am reading.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      It is so important to give yourself time to enjoy whatever you find yourself doing! I know I do that with blogging sometimes — I love it, but I let myself get caught up so much it starts to feel like a chore at times. Sometimes you just need to take a moment and change your perspective a little!

  6. Alex January 20, 2016 at 9:12 am #

    Love these goals! I used the Lara Casey Powersheets this year and they are already helping tremendously! Good luck this year!!

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 9:32 am #

      Thanks, Alex! I’ve never heard of powersheets before, I’ll have to check those out!

  7. Jacqueline January 20, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Found you through Rising Tide Society! Loved this post and in reading it I see that we have many of the same goals this year :) Thank you for being authentic!

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks for stopping by, Jacqueline! It’s nice to hear that other people have set similar goals — we’ve got this!

  8. Selena Mills January 20, 2016 at 11:13 am #

    MMmmm…I’ve found a new food blog to love! Need that book, love your writing/your voice and your recipes? LOOK DELICIOUS. Great photography and styling too. You go woman!

    • Willow Arlen January 20, 2016 at 11:34 am #

      Thank you so much, Selena! This comment made my day!

  9. Ellen January 21, 2016 at 10:06 am #

    Thank you Willow, this is all so inspiring:))) Good to know we are all so alike. My ideas as the New Year rolls around (every year – surprisingly!) never seem to pan out as they are overwhelming and you would have thought I’d learned that after all my (senior) years – ha ha!
    I LOVE your gratitude journal and realize this is just what I love to do and reaps enormous rewards.
    Now, off to make some delish Curried Kabocha Squash Soup and continue my usual life in an extraordinary way …….
    Thank you for your awesome musings,
    Love, love

    • Willow Arlen January 21, 2016 at 11:33 pm #

      Thank you, Ellen! I hope you try the soup — you’ll have to let me know what you think!

  10. Kathryn @ Family Food on the Table January 21, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

    Willow, this was so beautiful! I’m just like you – don’t believe in resolutions or huge goals. I just try to find a general path of happiness and stick somewhat close to it… wandering a bit out and back, adjusting as I go.
    I love that you purposefully recharge every January and that you are continually seeking to be more grateful and more authentic – those are tops on my list, too! (Also an introvert and I know what you mean about the dangers of the comparison game. I try to refocus inwardly whenever I catch myself sizing myself up to anything that’s not my own standard.)
    Cheers to you and to a happy, healthy 2016! XO
    P.S. I LOVE Mary Roach and am halfway through that book myself. (And have been for several months… eek. Add “read more” to my list for this year, too!)

    • Willow Arlen January 21, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

      Thanks, Kathryn! I’m not so sure I would say “purposefully” recharge — at the end of December I usually have big plans for the new year, but then January 1st rolls around and my brain kicks into mandatory shut-down mode, haha! I do think it’s for the better that I take some time to slow down and give myself a mental break, though. And how cool that we’re both reading Gulp. I love Mary Roach’s writing (I actually started with one of her other books, Stiff, which got me hooked), and am looking forward to checking out some of her others after this one.
      Here’s to a wonderful 2016!

  11. Ariana January 21, 2016 at 11:26 pm #

    Love this post. I always enjoy reading your musings…you have a beautiful way with words, and thoughts. I am also finding myself reading more books that I have wanted to expand my horizons with. And, rather than feeling ‘committed’ to meditating more frequently…looking forward to spending the time with my inner self. The Neil Gaiman quote is one I had not read before, and resonates perfectly with me (as you well know). May this be a year of peace and happiness and explorations and fun for us all. I love you!

    • Willow Arlen January 21, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

      Thank you, Mom! This comment makes me smile. I totally agree with not “committing” to do something, and rather just doing it because it’s something we enjoy — that’s why I prefer setting looser, more manageable goals, as opposed to traditional resolutions that seem very strict. Here’s to more “me” time for both of us, and here’s to making mistakes! *hugs*

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