Updated: Feb 15
It is almost that time of year when we scramble to think of what our New Year’s resolutions will be this time around. While New Year’s resolutions are a tradition that we often feel compelled to participate in, they often do not end how we hoped they would.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Do Not Work
If you have ever created a list of New Year’s resolutions, but none of them worked out, you are not alone. Studies have shown that only eight percent of people who make a New Year’s resolution will follow through all year, and 80 percent quit by February (Hochli et al., 2020). Why is this?
1. The goals people choose are often unrealistic
New Year’s resolutions most of the time are unrealistic. Oftentimes, people aim to break their habits that have developed over many years, expecting to accomplish these changes overnight.
2. Resolutions and how they will be achieved are usually not well-planned
New Year’s resolutions are often hastily thought of. Additionally, people tend to set their goals to the extremes, i.e., all-or-nothing behavior, (e.g., not drinking or eating sweets at all). People also tend to set goals that are not specific, not attainable, not measurable, have no time frame, and have little or no accountability. However, “SMART” goals, i.e, those concrete planned goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound tend to have better outcomes.
3. It is easy to become quickly discouraged
This goes along with the fact that New Year’s resolutions are often unrealistic. Because they are unrealistic, they are hard to follow through with. As a result, it is easy to fail, and therefore easy to get discouraged. A lot of the time, when this happens, people just give up instead of adjusting their goals.
4. There is a lot of pressure, which sets us up for failure
There is a lot of social and societal pressure telling people to keep going with their resolution or they will have failed for the entire year. Thus, when experiencing failures with their New Year’s resolutions, a lot of people feel like they’re done for the year and they’ll have to wait until next year to try again.
5. The new year is not motivating
To bring about change and/or accomplish a goal, you need the motivation to do so. However, there is nothing intrinsically motivating about a changing calendar date. That is, the start of a new year does not give us the motivation to go out and accomplish our goals.
The Potential Adverse Consequences of New Year’s Resolutions
While starting the new year with a list of goals you want to achieve sounds beneficial for your health and overall well-being, it may be more harmful.
1. Increases self-criticism
New Year’s resolutions are great motivators, and as mentioned, they can promote positive change. That said, when resolutions aren’t achieved, we often punish ourselves. When we set our standards and expectations too high, it often backfires and promotes self-criticism.
2. Increases stress
Our competitive culture has instilled in us this idea of punishing ourselves if we don’t succeed at something. This pressure to perform well and achieve our mostly unreasonable goals causes us stress and leads us to failure.
3. Worsens pre-existing habits
Instead of adjusting one’s resolutions, people often get discouraged and give up trying to achieve their goals. As a result, the habits that they sought to change either return to what they were or potentially worsen.
Conclusion: What to do Instead
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, focus on what is going right in your life and what you are grateful for. Focus on how far you have come over the past few months. If there are goals you want to set for yourself, make sure that they are well-planned, motivating, realistic, and attainable. Most importantly, remember this New Year’s to give yourself grace, remembering that mistakes and slip-ups are all part of progress.
The Alternative Daily (09 December 2022). The Alternative Daily.
Hochli, B., Brugger, A., & Messner, C. (2020). Making New Years Resolutions that Stick:
Exploring how Superiorordinate and Subordinate Goals Motivate Goal Pursuit.
Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 12(1), 30-52. Doi:10.1111/aphw.12172
Norcross, J., & Vangarelli, D. (1989). The Resolution Solution: Longitudinal Examination of New Year’s Change Attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1, 127-134.
By: Brianna Greenberg
Mental Health Counseling Intern