New Year's Resolutions: 10 Reasons We Fail, and How You Can Succeed
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
Did you set your New Year’s resolutions yet?
Though this is such popular concept, there are many who consider New Year’s resolutions to be meaningless, depressing and silly.
Most likely, this is the opinion of those who fail to stick to the resolutions, or the people who avoid setting goals for the future because they prefer to live life day by day.
In reality, the psychological significance of setting resolutions, goals to accomplish at the beginning of a new era, is high and the benefits are many.
The beginning of the New Year seems like an excellent opportunity to decide on reinventing Yourself. The symbolic meaning of new beginnings signifies a time of improvement, determination, renewal, hope and optimism.
Goals give us structure, and that’s exactly what the concept of Time does, too. While living in the Present is of uttermost importance and the secret of enjoying life to the fullest, without goals of progress and growth, we are bound to remain static, forever going with the flow without a perspective to attain to.
If you haven’t set your goals for the New Year yet, let’s prepare the ground to help you become more resilient and likely to crush them and not belong to the statistics that say most resolutions are doomed to fail!
Some Fun Research Facts about New Year's Resolutions
The psychology of New Year’s resolutions has been extensively studied by researchers interested in what motivates people to modify their behaviour and establish the positive change in the long-term.
At least 40% of the adult population makes New Year’s resolutions
46% of people who make a resolution are still successful half a year later, compared to just 4% of non-resolvers
Less than 10% are still successful one year later
The success rate of resolvers is approximately TEN TIMES higher than the success rate of adults desiring to change a behaviour but not making a resolution
Self-efficacy, skills to change and readiness to change have been shown to predict positive outcomes for resolvers
What are New Year’s Resolutions?
New Year’s resolutions are goals we set to achieve at the beginning of the New Year.
They often have to do with health and lifestyle changes (55% of resolutions are health-related) , such as stop smoking, exercise, lose weight.
Resolutions can be work-related (e.g. change job, get a promotion), broader behavioural changes (e.g. get more organized), relational/ emotional changes (e.g. have less conflict in your interpersonal relationships, find love or regulate your emotions more effectively), social changes (e.g. maintain more frequent contact with friends or go to more social activities), learning new skills or hobbies, changing life circumstances (better job/ new house).
The content of a resolution doesn't have to do with our chances of success!
10 Reasons Why We Fail to Accomplish and Maintain New Year’s Resolutions- and How You Can Succeed!
Let’s provide a Solution to each of these problems!
1. We are not ready and willing to change
One of the reasons why people fail to keep up with their New Year’s Resolutions, is because people make resolutions as a way to motivate themselves towards change, and not because they are actually ready to change.
Change is a process, not a single event.
It comprises of various stages, as underlined in the transtheoretical model of behavior change (image below).
Often setting a resolution is a means to get you motivated and start contemplating actual change.
You must have observed that often radical events lead to change, for instance a disease or medical emergency may lead you to finally stop smoking or employ some other healthy life-altering change.
In order to keep motivated to achieve positive change in the absence of a tragedy or emergency, you need to be able to set solid, realistic and attainable goals and be prepared to enter the Action stage of the Process of Change (that can definitely take a good while, but that’s just how the process works!)
Research confirms that readiness to change is one of the predictors of success in fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions.
2. We set too many resolutions
In terms of goal-setting, less is more.
You are setting yourself up for failure if you set too many resolutions- it is self-sabotaging.
Better keep it short, and commit to set a new goal/resolution every time you cross one off your list.
That will keep your motivation flowing and your sense of accomplishment intact.
3. Our resolutions are too vague
This is probably the most significant factor that makes New Year’s Resolutions unattainable: they are not specific enough.
Usually people set resolutions such as “Stop smoking”, “Eat healthy”, “Hit the gym more”, “Have a tidier home”, “Lose Weight”, “Find Love”.
Do you see what’s the problem with the above statements?
They are too generic and broad. It is actually unclear what they even mean!
Instead, if you want to succeed, you need to keep your goals SMART:
Specific: Be as specific as possible!
Measurable: You need to be able to measure your success- numbers count!
Attainable: Be kind to yourself- don't set goals you cannot reach!
Realistic: Can you really make it happen within the time you have set? How?
Time-bound: Time provides structure towards completion of your goal.
The more concrete and understandable your goals are, the more likely you are to be able to take all necessary steps towards achieving them- simply because you have a clearer vision of where you want to get to.
Now consider how you could reframe the above vague resolutions into goals that are in fact realistic and achievable:
Stop Smoking= Gradually decrease smoking until you do not need it as a coping to stress.
Eat Healthy= Always have fruits and vegetables in place of candies at home, in order to munch on those when you have cravings.
Hit the gym more= Commit to go to the gym at least twice a week.
Have a tidy home= Commit specific timeframes of beginning of the year to declutter and organize a specific area of your home e.g. your cupboard till the end of January, the bookcase till the end of February etc.
Lose Weight= Drop a size by March or lose 3 kilos in 3 months.
Find Love= Make an action plan in order to meet more potential romantic partners e.g. go to at least one social event per week, start using a dating app etc.
4. We only look ahead and not back
Many people are quite impatient to finalize the year that just passed and set new goals for the future, without ever looking back.
But that’s actually a contributing factor to failed resolutions!
The beginning of a New Year is a time of introspection, evaluation and reflection- but all of these words imply taking the Past into consideration, in order to assess it, and then plan the next required steps for the Future.
Only when we carefully assess the Past (=the year behind us in this case), can we make more conscious realizations about our Present and all we want to yet accomplish in the Future.
If you want to improve your odds towards your New Year’s Resolutions, first evaluate the year that passed:
What did you accomplish in this year?
What did you gain?
What did you lose?
How are you different right now, compared to exactly one year ago?
You have definitely changed and grown- the only constant is change!
By becoming more mindful of how you and your life circumstances have changed within the year, you can gain more clarity about the areas that have room for improvement.
Not only that, but reviewing the past year may provide you with a sense of hope and optimism about the year ahead of you, as well as boost your self-confidence, when you come to realize that you have come a long way.
Even if you gain insights about your shortcomings or realize that things did not go as well as you’d hope last year, don’t let this affect you negatively. Use the insight as a motivator toward progress and change from now on.
5. We keep our resolutions to ourselves
You may find this trivial, but it’s actually very noteworthy:
if you keep a decision or goal to yourself,
your commitment towards its fulfillment is less strong.
In contrast, when you share your goals with others, you automatically increase your commitment because you become more accountable towards them, thus augmenting your motivation to keep your promise.
Especially if you make your resolutions known to significant others who inspire you and promote your self-growth, they can also support you in a time of weakness or when you have lost your motivation, cheering you on and boosting your self-esteem that you can do it- even when you feel you can’t.
So, if you made resolutions for 2019 and you intend to see them through, don’t keep them a secret!
6. We give up after the first lapse
Like indicated above, on the Cycle of Change picture, change is a process that is circular, rather than linear.
Therefore if you want to succeed at accomplishing your goals, perseverance, determination and resilience are key-
even if you fall short of your expectations, just keep going and don’t give up!
It is essential to accept lapses as part of the process and avoid self-criticism and dichotomous black-and-white thinking, that often pledges us at the first sign of failure: “I ate one cookie- then I can destroy the whole diet and start again next week” or “I gave in and smoked one cigarette- this means my efforts are doomed, and it’s fine to resume smoking as normal”.
Interestingly, a major difference between winners and losers with regards to New Year’s Resolutions, is that they relapse with the same percentage- but the winners keep trying and don’t get defeated by the relapse.
Another fun fact is that many failed resolvers repeat the same resolution year after year, until they have worked through the cycle of change enough times to feel completely prepared for action.
Remember this golden quote:
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." ~ Samuel Beckett
7. We don’t ask for support when we struggle
Relevant to sharing your resolution with others, the ability to request support in times of weakness is another important factor towards success.
There’s really no shame in asking for help- it is actually the exact opposite: it’s very brave to admit weakness and ask for support, and it indicates determination towards your end goal.
8. We don't enjoy the process or reward ourselves
Another great research finding is that enjoyment of a resolution is the single most important predictor of success- regardless of the importance we place on the goal.
In other words, we are more driven towards pleasure (short-term reward) than what we should be doing (long-term reward).
If you want to succeed in any goal, make sure you enjoy the ride!
Consider the immediate rewards you will reap out of this goal- for instance the vitality and high energy you feel after going to the gym.
If you don’t perceive any immediate enjoyment from your resolution, you can create rewards yourself.
Every little win counts, take care of your brain’s reward system by congratulating yourself for every step toward success!
9. We don’t have a Plan B to face adversity
A reason people fail at New Year’s Resolutions is false hope syndrome: the unrealistic expectations they hold about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of self-change attempts.
Because of high hopes, we often forget to make a detailed action plan for all the steps, as well as the moments of hardship towards achieving our goal. By not having such a plan, we sabotage ourselves.
Every bad habit we have has been there for a while, and serves a purpose- usually coping with negative emotions. Therefore it’s important to have carefully considered what we will do now instead of having the bad habit in place; what will our healthy alternative be?
That’s why going cold turkey usually doesn’t work. It’s essential that we have a good habit to replace our bad habit we are giving up.
10. We don’t really believe we can make them true
Last but definitely not least, I would like to underline the importance of self-efficacy as a predictor of success towards achieving our goal.
It has been proven that people who crush their goals, believe they can do it.
It might be cliché, but it’s undeniably true:
without faith and confidence in your ability to change,
you simply can’t and won’t change.
You are what you believe about yourself.
Fuel your determination towards your New Year’s Resolutions by visualizing your success, winking to your mirror and using positive affirmations to remind yourself just how awesome you are.
You can do it! You can slay your goals! You deserve it!
Happy New Year, Happy New You!
1. Norcross, John & S Mrykalo, Marci & D Blagys, Matthew. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year's Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58: 397-405.
2. Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (2002). If at first you don't succeed: False hopes of self-change. American Psychologist, 57(9), 677-689.
3. Prochaska, J.O., DiClemente, C.C., & Norcross, J.C. (1992). In search of how people change: Applications to addictive behaviors. American Psychologist, 47(1), 1102-1114.
4. Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2016). Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long-Term Goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 1–12.