New Year’s resolutions are a chance to fire up the willpower that waned in the previous year and resolve to make ourselves do better, live more fully and stop holding ourselves back.
That resolve can go a long way but only if it’s backed up by action items that are tailored to who we are and what motivates us to change. Using the Enneagram, we can craft New Year’s resolutions with an understanding of why we act (or don’t act) the way we do and what it will take for us to transform our habits. Sean Palmer, sought-after keynote speaker, Teaching Pastor at Ecclesia Houston, and author of Forty Days on Being a Three (Enneagram Daily Reflections), describes how using Enneagram knowledge can help people make resolutions that stick.
“We all know what to do, we just don’t want to,” Palmer says. “It’s an emotive, soul-level push that gets us to change.”
That push is different for each personality. Type Fives, for instance, have trained themselves to live with less, so they will have to experience high levels of frustration with themselves or a system before they decide a change is worth the effort. A Type Seven’s resolutions might come easily since they are much more in tune with what they want, but will be subject to change throughout the year as they grow bored with the process.
“The Enneagram reveals to us what our compulsions are, and that the best thing about us is also the worst thing about us,” he says. For Palmer, a Type Three, that means that his drive to achieve is useful in his career, but can also come at the expense of family time. “What makes you great and beautiful and useful and a gift to the world, is the same thing that robs the world of who you are.”
No two types approach a situation in the same way, and understanding how the Enneagram affects our perspective allows us to offer compassion to others. The trick is offering that same compassion to ourselves. Whether you work in a “no margin for error” profession like healthcare or spend your days leading a large organization, being compassionate and kind to yourself when you fail is actually the most efficient way to succeed.
“You’re free to succeed in more ways and in more areas once you get over your fear of failure,” Palmer says. “Until you fail, you don’t know that the people who love you and care for you will still be there. That’s why you have to fail.”
As we make plans and set our eyes toward the new year, Palmer emphasizes that this year comes with a dichotomy of difficulties and opportunities for each type. “There are ways we can do business, help people and influence others that we’ve never had before,” Palmer says. But since those opportunities are coming as a package deal with troubling and chaotic challenges, Palmer says comforting ourselves in whatever way our particular Enneagram type responds to best will be essential, even as we’re striving. “It’s a time to be creative, but also to be cautious,” he says. “Whatever it is we do for self-care, we need to double down on that to where it almost looks extreme because we are in such elevated levels of stress.”
The driving force behind successful New Year’s resolutions, the Enneagram reminds us, isn’t simply the constant push to the top, but also the willingness to be compassionate toward ourselves and accept that mistakes are part of the process.
“Embrace failure,” Palmer says. “Your dream wasn’t big enough if you haven’t failed.”
Read on to learn how you can set New Year’s resolutions that stick by matching your unique personality to goals that will keep you motivated. New to the Enneagram? Start with Part 1 in our series to discover your type.
Type One – The Perfectionist
Habit worth changing: Fixing things that aren’t yours to fix
A One’s life may not be alphabetized and labeled, but when disruption strikes, they are at the front of the line, ready to set things right again. Ones are deeply motivated by being ethical and correct, so this fixing is less about order and more about a desire to improve their world and rescue those they love from unmet potential. In conversation, this often comes across as criticism, when in reality they are simply trying to call others to a higher sense of purpose.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Forgive yourself and others when mistakes happen.
Type Two – The Helper
Habit worth changing: Playing the martyr
The world needs the nurturing and loving friendship of Twos more than ever right now, as stress levels and anxieties soar at the beginning of another incredibly uncertain year. Twos have a penchant for recognizing the needs of others and can soothe family units and workplace cultures, but this can also send them into an obsessive people-pleasing spiral. Because they want to be the helper everyone needs, Twos will sometimes refuse support from others who also want to serve, and then become frustrated or resentful when they crash out of fatigue. Twos may think helping makes them the hero, but never asking for or allowing the contributions of others can actually lead Twos to feel and act like the victim.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Ask for help with your most emotionally taxing chore, like the dishes at home or filing at work.
Type Three – The Achiever
Habit worth changing: Cutting corners to get there faster
Threes are masterful shape shifters, meaning they can adapt and become endearing to the personalities around them in order to fit in or make a sale. They are driven by success and often chase it at their own peril, sometimes abdicating their own true happiness to do so. Threes can find it difficult to settle into family game night or playful teambuilding exercises that don’t result in tangible triumphs, but their craving for achievement makes them natural born cheerleaders for others who are striving toward success.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Do at least one fun activity every week that doesn’t result in profit or Instagram likes.
Type Four – The Individualist
Habit worth changing: Playing hard-to-get
Fours remind us through their expressive and sentimental perspective that our feelings are valid and not data points to be dismissed. This emotional approach can send Fours into a darker side than most people can weather during times of crisis, so allowing room for self-care will be essential to avoid relational damage. If Fours feel like others are drawing too close, they will often withdraw simply to see if their loved one will chase after them. This game of cat and mouse is less about attention and more about testing their relationships for authenticity.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Develop a routine so that tasks or relationships are tended to even when you don’t “feel” like it.
Type Five – The Thinker
Habit worth changing: Paralysis by analysis
Fives are unlikely to make a resolution without researching it first. Intensely cerebral, Fives make sense of the world and current events through reading and study. There is always more investigation that can be done, however, so Fives often struggle putting their research to work through everyday decisions and problem solving. Fives make families and workplaces better for their wisdom, but if they’re going to make changes in the new year, they’ll need a willing accountability partner to make it happen.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Tell someone about your goals and give them permission to check up on you.
Type Six – The Guardian
Habit worth changing: Assuming the worst
Sixes are responsible and trustworthy troubleshooters who can spot a loophole or pitfall before anyone else. In spite of this, Sixes struggle to trust themselves and others, and seek reassurance from more dominant personalities or leaders. This tightrope of loyalty and suspicion can breed anxiety so it is important for Sixes to ground themselves in what is real and what is the fiction they’ve constructed out of self-preservation and distrust.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Make a list each week to clarify what you know is true versus what you imagine might be true.
Type Seven – The Enthusiast
Habit worth changing: Running from commitment
The fun loving and playful Seven might have a difficult time narrowing down their resolutions to just one. Their spontaneous nature makes Sevens the life of the party, but it can also prevent them from fully committing to relationships or careers out of a fear that they might want to change their mind later. If they want to save for a vacation, for instance, Sevens will need a deadline and someone who is willing to call them out when they order takeout for the fourth time in a week.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Recognize your coping mechanisms and use them as a signal to tune into your emotions.
Type Eight – The Boss
Habit worth changing: Talking over others
Eights are often thought of as powerful and heavy-handed, but this is more about their self-confidence and indifference toward criticism than an actual domineering attitude. Eights fear being controlled and will push back aggressively to maintain their personal sense of authority. This autonomy is an incredible resource when they resolve to challenge injustice, but as they run over people on their way to right wrongs, they can sometimes create new ones.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Invite others to share how they feel and listen.
Type Nine – The Peacemaker
Habit worth changing: Silencing your opinion
Easygoing Nines have a knack for listening without judgment but have a difficult time engaging when the tables are turned. Since they notoriously downplay their worth, pairing a Nine with an assertive go-getter at home or at work will allow them to shine as a leader who hears all sides and preserves peace. That peace-seeking conflict avoidance also makes them professional procrastinators and piddlers, so Nines should set bigger goals for the new year than they think practical.
New Year’s resolution to consider: Start each day by tackling the task your dread the most.
Most resolutions are focused on the finish line—like the desire to lose 10 pounds, reduce anxiety or read 30 books in a year—but Palmer encourages people to look at what motivates them, and make achievable goals that focus on action rather than results.
“You can’t control the results, but what you can control is your habits,” Palmer says. “I can control whether I exercise for 30 minutes a day, five times a week. I can take a day for Sabbath every week or sit down for 30 minutes and read. That’s how I approach goals and that’s how people change—little by little over time.”
Want to learn more about how the Enneagram affects you and your success? Read our full Enneagram series here:
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