Get Ahead

Tim Ferriss, Oprah Winfrey and other successful people don't make New Year's resolutions—here's what they do instead

Getty Images | Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal

If you hate making New Year's resolutions, you're not alone. Thought leaders Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates and Tim Ferriss avoid them, too.

Instead of traditional resolutions, these successful people use other strategies and approaches to stay focused, motivated and on track in the year ahead.

Tim Ferriss reviews the past year

Entrepreneur and bestselling author Tim Ferriss said in a blog last week that he no longer selects a New Year's resolution, finding "past year reviews" (PYRs) more valuable and actionable.

To conduct a PYR, divide a sheet of paper into two columns labeled "positive" and "negative." Then, fish through your calendar from the past year for activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Place each activity in its respective column.

Once you've gone through the entire year, look at your list and ask: "What 20 percent of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?"

Armed with this information, relabel the "negative" column so it reads "Not-to-do-list." Keep this list where you can see it to remind you of the people and things that make you miserable.

Next, review the items in the "positive" column and schedule more of those events in the new year. Get set booking events with friends and pre-paying for activities and commitments that you know will work.

"Get the positive things on the calendar ASAP," he wrote, lest they get crowded out by noise and distraction. "It's not real until it's in the calendar."

Oprah Winfrey embraces the moment

Instead of making resolutions, Oprah Winfrey told Rachael Ray in 2017 she commits to being present in the moment.

"I can literally start crying over a leaf," she said. A nightly gratitude journal helps her stay present and focused on what matters most. "I live in the moment. I try to find the good that's going on in any given situation."

Oprah Winfrey told Ray that she learned from experience to be careful what she wished for when it came to planning for the new year.

"For years I would do these kind of resolutions like, 'God, let me know love,'" she said. "And then what you get hit with is everything that isn't love to see if love will show up. So, I just said, 'I ain't asking God for nothing else.'"

"Don't ask for courage cause you'll get a whole lot of things that will cause you to have to have courage!" she added.

Melinda Gates chooses a word for the year

Instead of setting a resolution, Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, picks a single word to help her find guidance in the new year. Words such as "gentle" and "spacious" have helped her do everything from resist perfection to focus on what really matters in life.

In 2018, she picked "grace." In a LinkedIn post Saturday she explained how she called on the word "during difficult conversations, long days at the office, busy trips with our foundation—and especially during a jam-packed December as we worked to close out the year at home and at work."

"It even helped me find a beam of peace through the sadness of a friend's funeral," she added. "When I was upset or distressed, I whispered it to myself: 'Grace.'"

"That's the power of a well-chosen word of the year. It makes the year better—and it helps me be better, too," she said.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't Miss:

7 books that everyone should read in 2019, recommended by execs from Twitter, Square and more

Suzy Welch: If you make one New Year’s resolution about your career in 2019, make it this
Suzy Welch: If you make one New Year’s resolution about your career in 2019, make it this