Why New Year’s Resolutions Almost Always Fail and How Can Yours Succeed

Lori Skurbe, RDN, CDCES, MPH

When we start a new year, we start with high hopes, new goals and dreams. Many of us start a new year with a resolution or a promise that we will change things for the better. Our resolutions could be about many things such as saving money, getting in shape, setting aside more family time, drinking less or losing weight. However, research suggests that most resolutions do not make it too far and fail.  Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is the case.

You Are Thinking Too Big

When we make a resolution like I want to lose weight or I want to get in shape – these statements are too big. They aren’t defined and are vague.  When making a change we need to keep it small and simple. For example, if your resolution is to get in better shape – think about how exactly you want to accomplish this goal and then break it down into smaller, attainable goals. Instead of thinking,” I am going to get more exercise” or “I am going to get in shape”, choose “I am going to add 500 steps to my day” or “I am going to take the stairs to my office instead of the elevator” or “I will walk 20 minutes 3 times per week”.

These statements are “smaller” more achievable goals. They are also measurable (you’ll know if you’ve met them or not) and can help one stay accountable.  When we think small, we are more likely to be successful, because we have a defined plan.  The smaller goals, over time can be modified as you move towards your larger goal. For example, if you’ve successfully been walking 20 minutes 3 times per week, you can change that goal to 30 minutes 4 times per week or add in weights 2 times per week for 30 minutes. Smaller steps moving towards the larger goal. 

You Are Making Your Goals Too Hard In the Beginning 

Make your goals easier in the beginning so you develop the habit more readily. Research suggests that practicing a new habit must be repeated about 3-7 times for it to start to “stick.” If you want to take the stairs at work, wear your sneakers, instead of dress shoes or heels to make it easier to walk.  Pack your gym bag the night before, and leave it by your work clothes so you take with you in the morning – making it easier to stop at the gym on the way home from work. Put reminders on your phone to add 500 steps to yesterday’s total.  Chop up the vegetables and fruits the night before so you can just throw them into your healthy breakfast smoothie in the morning. Set yourself up for success by making it easier to get started.

You are starting a new habit without a foundation

Piggyback a new habit with an existing habit. Starting a new habit out of the blue is hard, that is why it is more advantageous to build off of a habit you’ve already established. Think about the healthy habits you already have and enhance them. For example, if you already walk 20 minutes 3 times per week, add on an additional 10 minutes to each of those days to up your weekly exercise goal.  If you already pack your lunch each day, add in fresh fruit as a snack, instead of going to the vending machine. 

New Year’s Resolutions can be successful, if we take the time to set smaller, more attainable goals, make goals easier to attain in the beginning and enhance existing goals.  Think in smaller more defined steps and you will be more successful in achieving your goals in the new year or any time of year!

Source: The Science of Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t’ Work, Psychology Today, accessed 12/2023