About 40 percent of the adult U.S. population makes some kind of resolution at the start of a new year, with the most popular involving quitting smoking, exercising more and losing weight. And contrary to popular belief, many of people who make resolutions actually do end up improving their behavior. In fact, about 46 percent of resolution-makers are still having success six months out.

Still, a few smart individuals suggest a better way of approaching the new year. Instead of looking forward, look back.

Analyze last year's calendar

Tim Ferriss, who's become famous for studying the factors which lead to success, conducts "past year reviews," which he says take about 30 minutes to an hour. He suggests this process:

  • On paper, make two columns with one titled "positive" and the other "negative"
  • Review each week of your calendar from the previous year, writing down any individuals or activities which elicit positive or negative feelings and capture them in the appropriate column
  • Once complete, determine which 20 percent of the things you've written down were responsible for your highest peaks
  • Now, schedule time on the next year's calendar with the people and activities you've listed in the positive column (actually book it)
  • Finally, put the people and activities in your negative column on a "Not-to-do" list which you will look at every morning for the first few weeks of the new year as a reminder that they are not to be put on your calendar

"And just remember: it's not enough to remove the negative. That simply creates a void," he writes. "Get the positive things on the calendar ASAP, lest they get crowded out by the bullshit and noise that will otherwise fill your days."

Ask yourself tough questions

Following a similar thought process, Ivan Misner, Stewart Emery and Rick Sapio, authors of Who's in Your Room? The Secret to Creating Your Best Life, suggest asking these questions:

  • What am I doing when I feel most alive? Who am I with?
  • When am I enjoying myself so much that I lose track of time?
  • What do I look forward to doing the most?
  • What makes me feel fulfilled and satisfied?
  • When have I felt the proudest? Who was I with?

"The goal here is simple: identify the people, activities, and projects in your life that make you feel alive, satisfied, or fulfilled," they write. "Next, strive to say yes to more of the people and things that bring you fulfillment and a sense of aliveness, and strive to say no to the people and things that add stress and conflict within your [life]."

Going forward, start keeping track

If continuous self-improvement is something you're really serious about, you need to have a way of measuring your success which will necessitate you keeping track of your behavior. For me, this means putting Xs on a paper calendar on the days which I either do something which takes effort, or abstain from doing something which isn't good for me. Let's say you want to stop drinking soda or alcohol. Once you capture every day which you abstain you can get to the end of 2019 and calculate a percentage rate of your success. With this information, you'll be set to create concrete goals to get better numbers on subsequent years.