A New Year, A New Start, A Clean Slate

Happy New Year! 

Clean Slate

Time for a Clean Slate. Photo by Beth Rufener on Unsplash

The celebration of a New Year marks a natural transition in everyone’s life — we leave one year behind to start another.  

So that’s kind of fun, right? I mean it gives you an opportunity to begin again. There do not seem to be many times in our lives when there is a natural transition period. But there is with the turning of the new year.

So take advantage of this opportunity to change a part of your life that needs changing. Use the strategy of the clean slate (Rubin, 2014) to set your mindset toward change and then the strategy of goal setting to get your dreams moving in the right direction. 

The Promise of a Clean Slate

A “clean slate” is a nautical reference. It refers to a slate on which the watch keeper recorded the course coordinates, speeds, and distances for shipping routes. When the next watch started the slate was wiped clean for the next keeper of the watch.

I found a few other stories of how the phrase “a clean slate” was generated.  One source related that the term came about because in Victorian times customers who bought goods on credit had the amount they owed the grocer recorded on a slate. When they paid their debt, the slate was wiped clean with no trace of their earlier debt — thus, a clean slate. 

The concept is also found in the Bible and in other religious traditions. 

One of my favorite writers and podcasters, Gretchen Rubin, writes about the strategy of the clean slate to form new habits (2014). I wrote about this strategy in multiple posts, including one on productivity. A clean slate can be triggered by life events or natural seasons. Rubin urges us to “mak[e] ourselves conscious of times of beginning” because these are perfect times to form a new habit.

clean slate

Fill up your clean slate with new plans! Photo by Shutterstock.com

The Free Dictionary defines clean slate as a chance or opportunity “to start over without prejudice.” A chance to start afresh without the shadow of prior mistakes or bad choices. A chance to do something you know you should be doing. A “time of beginning” is a time of possibility

I like that idea — a time of beginning or possibility — because that concept signifies hope and promise. Be optimistic and proactive when thinking about forming new habits or what you want to do better or how you want to change. The first step is making the decision or resolving to change or improve. 

Resolutions: The Tool for a Fresh Start

What do you want to change? What do you want to do better or more efficiently or more creatively? What habit do you want to cultivate? What’s your new beginning or possibility?

So how do you start? Start with making a resolution. 

We make resolutions because it’s the thing to do when January 1st comes around. It’s a tradition – people have been making resolutions for thousands of years (Pruitt, 2015)! The new year is a natural time to be retrospective and think about the year just past. It just makes sense that one might look back over the last year and say to themselves, “I would like to learn Z” or “I need to do more of X and less of Y.” Resolution means to resolve or commit to an action or as “a firm decision to do something.”

One of the problems that may move people toward failing to meet their resolutions is the fact that we tend to make too many resolutions at once. Formulating too many resolutions may be unmanageable and therefore, you may be unconsciously setting yourself up for failure. 

Be Smart and Start Small: First, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many resolutions at once. Choose a few goals and work on those first. Many experts advise that if you are planning to change a behavior – that you only change one behavior at a time. When you make progress embedding a new habit or moving towards your goals, you can add a new resolution. You can make resolutions any time of year, of course!

Be Clear About What You Want to Change: Advice from leadership guru Tony Robbins identified the first step for resolution success is to clarify what you want to change (Clifford, 2018). Miller (n.d.) calls this, picking the right resolution. 

Tony Robbins emphasized that resolution success starts with being clear about your WHY – what are your reasons for changing? Be specific. Why is this resolution important? Again, be specific (Miller, n.d.). 

Use the SMART Framework to Clarify Your Resolutions: You’ve heard of SMART goals, I’m sure. This framework, from the business world, is helpful to guide you to be really clear about the purpose of your resolutions – and how you’ll know if you’ve met your goals! 

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound (Miller, n.d.).

Specific means being really clear and specific about what you want to accomplish. Resolutions that are too vague will not help you to create a successful plan. Measurable asks, How will you know that you’ve accomplished your goal? (e.g., number of pounds lost, assignment turned in before the deadline, record of your daily intake, etc.). Achievable means realistic and feasible for you to accomplish. “Stretch goals” are good too – but don’t make every resolution a stretch goal! Relevant refers to choosing goals that are important to you and not because someone else thinks the goal is for you. Time-Bound refers to identifying a deadline for your success. 

Now write down your resolutions and put them somewhere that you will be able to review them easily – and every day (Clifford, 2018; Miller, n.d.). 

Create a Plan for Success: After you’ve identified your SMART resolutions, make a plan to accomplish your goals (Clifford, 2018; Miller, n.d.). Think about the steps to take to get you to your goal – and also the potential barriers to achieving those goals (Miller, n.d.). Miller suggested setting a backup plan in case you get derailed. And if you do – it’s okay. There’s always tomorrow!


Clifford, C. (2018, January 2). Tony Robbins: This is the difference between people who stick to their New Year’s resolutions and those who don’t. Retrieved from  https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/02/tony-robbins-how-to-stick-to-your-new-years-resolutions.html

Collins English Dictionary: Complete and unabridged (12th ed.). (2014). 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2014. HarperCollins Publishers.

Miller, J. A. (n.d.). How to make (and keep) a New Year’s resolution [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/resolution-ideas

Pruitt, S. (2015, December 30). The history of New Year’s resolutions. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/the-history-of-new-years-resolutions

Rubin, G. (2014, April 28). Has a “clean slate” ever led to a major habit change for you? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://gretchenrubin.com/2014/04/has-a-clean-slate-ever-led-to-a-major-habit-change-for-you

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