Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Today is the first day of a new year and perhaps you may be thinking about setting some new year’s resolutions. Most people’s experience with new year resolutions simply amount to how much time will pass before the resolution eventually gets broken. So this post is to encourage you, not only to forget about resolutions for now, but to drop the whole idea for good.

There are two important reasons why resolutions often fail. Firstly, they are often expressed negatively; to give-up something for example. Secondly, they are often attempts at dealing with the visible symptoms rather than underlying causes.

Here is a list of 10 common New Year Resolutions:

1. Spend more time with family and friends
2. Get fit
3. Lose weight
4. Quit smoking
5. Enjoy life more
6. Stop drinking
7. Get out of debt
8. Learn a new skill
9. Help other people
10. Get better organised

There’s nothing wrong with that list of course. Such things as health, wealth and happiness, it seems, are ubiquitous concerns of the human condition. However, when we express something negatively, such as ‘lose weight’, or ‘stop drinking’, for example, we are almost certainly setting ourselves up for a fall. What we need to do instead is express those same worthwhile concerns as goals.

Remember that the essence of successful goal-setting is to express things positively rather than negatively. So instead of resolving to ‘lose weight’ for example, you should specify your target weight and the timeframe within which you will reach the goal; in other words, take the time to make your goals SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timetabled). If you simply do this, and focus on the positive goal rather than the negative, you will significantly increase your chances of success.

That said, we now need to recognise that many of the concerns that are uppermost in our mind, and represented on that list, are really just symptoms of a larger problem. Again if we consider the example of ‘weight loss’, perhaps we should spend a little time thinking about why we engage in overeating. It may be a kind of escape mechanism: perhaps we resort to eating because we feel in need of comfort.

If we are bold enough to address the underlying problems that are drivers for negative behaviour, many of the items on the average resolutions list would be naturally taken care of. Of course, it takes discipline, self knowledge and a good deal of personal reflection too, but if you can identify those deeper issues and deal with them, you might find that the weight problem, staying with our example, would just go away of its own accord.

Here’s wishing you a wonderfully happy and prosperous new year.

2 thoughts on “Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

  1. Will

    Hi Jackie

    Thanks for popping over and for your comment too. Stick with the goal-setting. You may need to think about those resolutions for a while before you can begin to a) address underlying causes and b) express them positively, but I have personally found the reflection to be a worthwhile exercise in itself.


  2. Jackie

    Hi Will,
    Interesting post. It’s taken quite a while for me to realise that I am a ‘moving towards’ person, not a ‘moving away’ person which is the reason why most of my New Year resolutions have failed in the past – my resolutions lacked a clear target to aim for. I’m now trying to reframe them in terms of something to achieve, which is slightly harder than I expected!


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