12/27/2011 03:57 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2012

Stuck on New Year's Resolutions? Try This, Instead

I've always loved the idea of New Year's resolutions -- the clean slate, the fresh start, the opti­mistic resolve -- but for all my ever-so-good intentions, I never quite seem to keep them.

So this year, I'm try­ing some­thing new. Instead of establishing a list of goals and strug­gling (and fail­ing) to reach them, I've decided to think in terms of possibilities.

Inspired by an essay in Wise Bread, I took 20 min­utes out of Christ­mas morn­ing to scrib­ble down 100 things that I want to do -- things that, at some level, seem to be call­ing to me. Noth­ing was too big. Noth­ing was too small. As more thoughts came to mind later in the day, I added them to the list.

By the time I was fin­ished, I had some 85 items rang­ing from going to Thai­land to tak­ing a photog­ra­phy class to buy­ing a KitchenAid mixer. To some­one else, this com­pi­la­tion might appear a weirdly ran­dom assort­ment. To me, it makes total sense. Read­ing it makes me happy.

Let me be clear, this is not a to-do list -- it would take me years, if not decades, to accom­plish every­thing I wrote down, and besides, that isn't the point. What I was after was some­thing more intan­gi­ble, a frame­work for think­ing about what mat­ters to me and how I spend my time.

Look­ing over my list, I was instantly struck by how the things that call me come in clus­ters. Travel is a big one -- no surprise -- but so is orga­ni­za­tion, or rather the idea of cre­at­ing a more ordered home and with it a more ordered life. Cre­ative work, time in nature and cook­ing with friends are other recur­rent themes.

I was heart­ened to see that my big changes of recent years -- most notably my move to wes­ern Mass­a­chu­setts from the Boston area -- have made it far eas­ier for me to spend time in ways that feel mean­ing­ful. It was good to feel that I've been head­ing in the right direction.

And as inter­est­ing as what I wrote down was what I left out. Many (though not all) of the things on my list are inex­pen­sive or free. Big-city glamor is in notably short sup­ply. Mak­ing waf­fles, play­ing mini-golf, cross-country ski­ing. String­ing white lights around my liv­ing room win­dows. Re-learning how to knit. Cor­ralling kids to make a gin­ger­bread house and hol­i­day cook­ies next year.

Think­ing in terms of pos­si­bil­i­ties seems espe­cially appro­pri­ate for the post-Recession world (aka Plan B Nation), where we need to be open-minded and strate­gic if we're to move forward.

Rather than choos­ing a sin­gle con­crete goal -- say, get­ting a job at X organization -- we're well-advised to think more broadly. What is the essence of what we want? (Mean­ing­ful work, an income ade­quate to sup­port us in other life goals, inter­est­ing col­leagues.) What are some alternate paths to these same ends?

I imag­ine con­sult­ing this list many times in the year ahead, espe­cially when­ever I'm feel­ing at a loss or stuck. Twelve months from now, I'll def­i­nitely be curi­ous to see how many of the items from the list made it into my life. But again, that isn't really the point. These aren't goals so much as poten­tial paths: They are step­ping stones, not the destination.