The Secret of the Clean Slate


Happy New Year!

If you’re like me, your email inbox the last week or so has been drowning in “Year in Review” and “Goals” emails and blog posts and “Make the New Year Your Best Year” goal-setting ebooks and podcasts and courses.

Now I get the idea of using the turning of the year as a symbol for rebooting your life, for taking time to reflect on what went well and what didn’t in the past year, and to figure out what you want to do with the next year. (I’ve done my own annual review for 2015, and am in the midst of my 2016 planning.)

I believe in the value of taking time out to spend on those important but not urgent activities, and have experienced that value for myself when I’ve created compelling goals, acted on them, tracked them, and reviewed them regularly.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming…) that’s a lot of pressure to place on ourselves at this one time of year. I bet that’s one of the reasons why so many of us (55%) don’t bother to even make resolutions, or, of those of us who do make resolutions, the 25% who abandon them by the end of the first week.

So, if New Year’s resolutions work for you, then by all means keep at it. There are tons of resources out there for you to get specific about your goals for the year, which dramatically increases our chances of achieving them. My current favorite tool is Live Your Legend’s Goal Setting and Action Workbook. The 2016 version is out, and it’s free. Check it out!

However, if the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions stresses you out or makes you feel destined for failure, I have a thought that might help you.

Gretchen Rubin, in her book on habits Better Than Before, talks about the Strategy of the Clean Slate. She says,

Any beginning is a time for special power for habit creation, and at certain times we experience a clean slate, in which circumstances change in a way that makes a fresh start possible…

And while people do choose significant times like the New Year or a birthday as a clean slate, we know that sometimes that choice can create significant pressure to achieve—and at the first sign of trouble, or the first slip into old habits, we just quit.

But the secret of the clean slate is this: any moment can be one.

If you start your new habit, say, of writing 500 words a day, and do it well for seven days, but on the eighth day, you miss your writing practice, start back on the ninth day. Clean slate. Call “Do over!” and begin again.

If you stick to your diet diligently for 30 days, but then can’t resist that doughnut someone brought to the office this morning, don’t say “Well, the whole day is blown, so I might as well have fried chicken (or a burger, or pizza) for lunch…” Instead, accept what you did, declare your do over after the doughnut, and make the rest of the day a good one by recommitting to your goal.

Rubin suggests “Fail small, not big.” One strategy she recommends: divide each day into four quarters: morning, midday, afternoon, and evening. This way, your stumbles stay small, and don’t become significant falls away from your goals.

Or, put another way, you can choose to create additional opportunities for clean slate moments, so you can benefit from those beginnings, because even those smallest of beginnings have power. And, they just might be easier to manage than those “big” beginnings on January 1.


What sort of clean slate moments do you create to help you start and keep habits? Please share yours with us in the comments.


And if you’d like some additional resources and encouragement to help you create and maintain the habits that will help you become the hero you were meant to be, be sure to subscribe by entering your email in the box in the sidebar to your right. You’ll get your own copy of the Be Your Own Hero manifesto, regular updates from the blog, and other subscriber-only tools and goodies.

[Photo courtesy of bambe1964 (cc)]

4 thoughts on “The Secret of the Clean Slate

  1. James Michael Taylor

    Great post sir, like a breath of fresh air with all the pressure right now to get goals and resolutions set. If it were a goal, I couldn’t even meet the challenge of reading all the emails about goal setting I’ve gotten in the past two weeks!

    1. Steve Post author

      To true, James – so many pressures to start something significant at this time of the year. I agree we should start something new, and now is a good time – but it’s not the only time!

  2. ellen

    Breathe…. ahhhh. I’ve felt the same pressure and I’ve actually caught myself shutting down from all the ‘shoulds’ and comparing. I don’t like to use the first of the year as an excuse to set goals, as I believe we can make them anytime. The 52 was starting in Oct, for example. Yet, in the cycle of life, it’s normal to reflect and move forward at this marker. Thank you for giving the reflection of ‘clean slate’ and reminding us that fresh beginnings can happen all the time…and not just Jan 1st.

    1. Steve Post author

      Totally agree, Ellen. Your 52 in 52 was one of the things I was thinking about with this – we can start any time. Sometimes I think it’s even preferable to start something at other times of the year – gives us an “anniversary” on which to celebrate our accomplishments!

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