Why I Don’t Love New Years Resolutions

I know that title sounds exceedingly negative, but let me explain. It isn’t that I don’t support people making goals and then trying to achieve them. Quite the opposite, actually. I always have a list of things I’m working towards or ideas in my head of things I would like to accomplish. However, I believe that the ‘New Year’s Resolution’ is a bit contrived.

I’m a list maker. I have multiple notepads and notebooks filled with to-do items. I keep a wall calendar as well as a Google calendar in my phone and on my computer. Plus, I have a whiteboard that lists out my top priorities for that month. All this to say, this is not an article telling you to never strive for anything and just “go with the flow.” Goal setting is a valuable skill, and one I believe does not go hand in hand with many New Year’s Resolutions.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

January is the start of the new year (for a lot of us) and is a great time to “get back on track” or “finally do that thing.” It’s a time when many people make vows to stop drinking, build that business, join a new gym, finally start that hobby they’ve been putting off, etc. But does it actually work? Well, not really. Studies show that 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail¹. Why, you ask? Well, let me share some thoughts.

  1. The name ‘New Year’s Resolution’: telling yourself this is something special that you’re doing in the new year makes you think that you must start on January 1 or it’s not worth it. So, when you inevitably do not begin on the first of the year (no judgment!) your brain says, “well that’s it, I FAILED.” And then, you give it up. You resolve to do it next year. You go back to your old ways. Before you know it you’ve let another year pass and and you haven’t done what you set out to. Using the title ‘New Year’s Resolution’ gives yourself a built-in excuse to give up after 2 weeks and resume when January rolls around again (even though it’s 11 months away).
  2. You were too vague. Was your goal to “drink less”? Or maybe, “eat better?” It could have been to “go to a gym”? These are not goals. They’re more like non-descript suggestions. It’s very hard to do something when you give yourself no specific guidelines. Let’s go back to what they taught us in middle school — SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound. You need to give yourself something to work towards. So, instead of saying “drink less,” give yourself the goal of “drinking only 2 drinks per week every other weekend until March.” That way, you are giving yourself some specific measurements (2 drinks a week, 2 weekends per month). It is something you can actually achieve (yes, it’s hard, but you CAN stop after 2 glasses of wine). It’s relevant to your life (you want to drink less, right? As long as no one is forcing you, and you're doing it of your own free will, it’s relevant to you). And, it’s timebound (you’ll do this for 3 months, and then you can reevaluate!). Setting SMART goals is imperative in making sure you can hold yourself accountable.
  3. You made excuses. You thought of this goal in October but didn’t do it until January. Why? Well, it was near the end of the year and you thought that you’d just make it a ‘New Year’s Resolution’ (there's that name again!). So, you lost out on months where you could have been making progress! Now, I get that the food and beverage related goals are tough to begin in November and December. Maybe you do save those for January when the holiday season is over (what’s life without some boozy eggnog and holiday cookies, right?) But, if your goal is to write more (like mine) or to start a workout routine or practice that guitar that’s collecting dust in the corner of your room, don’t wait! Don’t use ‘timing’ as a reason to stall.
  4. You chose something that you didn’t even believe you could achieve in the first place. About 12 percent of people who make resolution’s believe from the start that they’re unattainable². How are you supposed to be successful when you don’t believe in yourself from the getgo? Back to the “A” in SMART — make sure this goal is something you actually think you can achieve! For example, I’m not going to set the goal “ run a 5 minute mile” when my mile time is realistically about 9 minutes and I don’t like running. I could, however, set the goal to run 1 mile every other day, time myself every time, and try to shave off :30 by April. A consistent schedule along with a time-limit and an achievable time decrease allows me to thrive.
  5. You’re not ready to change (and that’s okay!). Telling yourself you’re going to do something January 1 just because it’s what everyone else seems to be doing is a big sign that maybe you aren’t ready to alter your lifestyle. Does the idea of changing excite you? Are you motivated at the thought of creating a new habit or learning a new skill? If your answer is “no” and you find yourself thinking, “well, I SHOULD have a resolution” you aren’t setting yourself up for success. Make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Maybe you don’t have anything in particular that you want to start doing this January. If you happen to think of something in the spring — great! Begin your goal setting then. And make sure you’re doing this for yourself, not for someone else.
  6. You don’t set yourself up with a network of support. Let’s face it, goals can be hard to achieve. It’s no easy task to change the way you’re living your life. We are all creatures of habit and we are accustomed to a certain style of living (even if it isn’t making us happy). Make sure the people around you know what your goal is and how you’re going to achieve it. That way, they can help you along the way by holding you accountable. Maybe you need someone to attend a fitness class with or meal prep with. Maybe you just want someone to tell you how great you are when you hit a milestone along the way. Either way, make sure the important people in your life know what you’re up to so they can be there for you. If you don’t trust the people in your life to help you, search for some people who will. Find a group of like-minded folks who have set out to do something similar.
  7. You hit a roadblock. It’s okay to make mistakes — no one I know is immune. But don’t let one day out of the 365 there are in a year derail you. One day will not make or break you, I promise. It’s common to stop doing something one day and then never resume because you have this idea in your head that you’re failure. You have not failed, you’re just a regular human. You have plenty of time left to do what you set out to do. Even better, plan for that slipup. We can’t always control what happens to us, so please, don’t let that lead to you giving up on yourself. Make a plan for the next day or week of how you’re going to begin again.

Now, I am certainly not some kind of motivational speaker who is going to yell in your face that you need to ‘KEEP GOING’ or ‘WORK HARDER.’ No, I’m just a person who always has something she wants to accomplish and finally got tired of reserving my goals to a specific month of the year. There is nothing wrong with a January resolution, but make it SMART! Make sure you can attain it and it doesn’t get left behind as the year progresses. If you begin building new habits when that new idea pops into your mind, you’ll be less likely to crash and burn. Everybody is different in the way they stay motivated. If you’re a list maker, make a list. If you love alarms, set one on your phone to remind you to do what you need to do. If you’re motivated by rewards, set some up for yourself (just make sure they don’t conflict with your original goal). There is no wrong way to achieve something (use your common sense here).

Remember, resolutions are great — if you’re creating them for the right reasons. Start small, make it specific, gather some friends and have fun! Expect at least one setback and schedule a return to action. Make a plan, stick to it, and you’re sure to triumph.

Photo courtesy of Sara Warnock
  1. Morin, Amy. (31 Dec 2019). This Is Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Fail. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201912/is-why-most-new-years-resolutions-fail
  2. Choi, Catherine. (4 Dec 2020). New Year’s Resolution Statistics. https://www.finder.com/new-years-resolution-statistics

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Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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Sara Warnock

Sara Warnock

Software engineer (looking for work!), fitness enthusiast, volleyball coach, novice piano player.

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