Have More “Right Side Days” in the New Year

If you aren’t yet overwhelmed with end of year review articles and new year prediction posts, here’s one practical exercise that I hope helps you live each day with a deeper sense of purpose and clarity. And pssssst, here’s a secret: you can start doing this any day of the year!

What do you want more of in your life?
What do you want more of in your life?

Whether we spend 5 minutes thinking about it or 5 days, each of us can list aspects of our life we’d like to experience more, and those we’d like less. This time of year is filled with ambitious intentions and aspirational resolutions that typically vanish in a few weeks. Chip Heath’s books (such as Decisive) are full of methodologies and examples to counteract this phenomenon: anyone visiting a gym or yoga studio in January vs March has seen it come to life.

So here’s a technique that will get much more longevity and traction towards making a positive change in your life than a few champagne splattered resolutions. By first reflecting to create the list, and then reviewing it often to hold ourselves accountable, and lastly using a brief “mantra” or trigger phrase to make the desirable aspects more memorable, this technique will help us follow through with good intentions. And let’s be honest: actually doing something feels way better than resolving to do it and forgetting!

Step 1: List the things you want more of, and want less of, in your life

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. Or grab a notebook and open it to two clean facing pages. On the top of the left side, write “LESS OF”, and on the top of the right side, write “MORE OF.” Now as quickly or as slowly as you wish, fill each column with “stuff” (you decide which column these examples belong in!):

  • things: donuts, kale, headaches, puppies, money, coffee
  • activities: date nights, yoga classes, sleeping, reading books made of paper, looking at screens, dancing
  • ideas to uphold: self-respect, patience, treating kids like grown ups, aligning income with purpose, judgmental language

What worked for me was to keep a small notebook with me while I was on vacation, and jot a few ideas in it whenever I noticed myself doing something I wanted more of (or remembering that I wanted less of) in my post-vacation life. But whatever method that gets the ideas from your brain to the two columns is the right method for you. Last tip for step 1: one side’s list doesn’t have to contain all the opposite items on the other side, because you’re smart like that.

Step 2: Keep the list visible, and do one thing from the right side every day

The wall next to your bed. The bathroom mirror. Your desk. The kitchen cabinet door. Any place that you see at least once per day — bonus points if you see it at a time when you can actually follow through by doing one of the things from the right side column. The death of good intentions occurs directly after the phrase “Oh! I’ll do that right after I…” So even better than a reminder of what’s on your right side list, is DOING something on the right side list. Equally valuable is immediately NOT DOING something on the left side list. Congratulations! You’ve just experienced a Right Side Day.

Build your life one action at a time, and be happy if each act you perform contributes to a fulfilling and complete life. No one can prevent you from doing this.

Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook

Step 3: Remind yourself of your intentions with a trigger phrase

Be prepared to mutter a few of these embarrassingly until you find the one that feels right. Something like “right side, right now” or “left side, left behind” or “today’s a right side day” will help you remember the list you created when it’s not visible, and reinforce the positive choices you make to follow through on those intentions. No one but you ever has to hear this phrase in order for it to work, and, if you choose, you can share your list and your trigger phrase with a loved one to support you in reinforcing the new set of behaviors that you’ve selected.

All of us have ideas about making changes to our lives to be happier — whatever those changes and that definition of happiness might be. Whether or not today is the first day of a new year, it can be the first day that you start living by those ideas. My hope is that these three steps will help you have more Right Side Days that bring you happiness.

Has this technique worked for you? Do you have an even better method for living by your intentions? Leave a comment and let us know!

image credit: leadertainment.com

The most overlooked resolution: do more of what you do best

Maybe you are part of the 55% of Americans who don’t make New Year’s resolutions, or maybe you are instead part of the 8% who self-report as being successful in achieving them. Losing weight, saving money, spending more time with family are all popular resolutions. Reading these statistics about New Year’s resolutions prompted me to observe that because most resolutions involve change, we are overlooking a powerful way to improve our lives: resolving to do more of what we do best.


We all have a number of strengths, and focusing our resolutions (New Year related or otherwise) solely on the aspects of ourselves we wish to change risks spending precious time and energy on efforts that may not make much of a difference in our lives overall. Think of it as re-balancing your portfolio of personal attributes: you might achieve a higher overall return by investing more in your stars and not waste more time and fees fiddling with the dogs.

Cover of "Strengths-Based Leadership"
Some personal development pundits have suggested this approach as well, most notably Tom Rath’s book Strengths Based Leadership. I’m not suggesting you put on rose-colored glasses and ignore the aspects of your life you’d like to change. Often the act of writing it down and creating some accountability by telling others your resolution can help spark the change. But don’t overlook the aspects of your personal or professional life that you can resolve to do even more of, and have an even happier New Year (just don’t greet anyone with that phrase in March!).