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6 Mistakes that Will Sink Your New Year’s Resolutions

It’s that time of year again: The beginning of a new year. All around you, people are talking about resolutions they will make to be healthier and happier. Sadly, most of those promises for self-improvement will quickly be a memory. Research shows that 80% of New Year’s resolutions are broken by the second week of February.

“But this year will be different”, you say to yourself. “This year, I really want to lose weight, stop smoking, take a class, jog every morning, whatever… This year I just know I’m committed to it.”

Feeling committed isn’t enough. If you want a resolution to stick, you need to avoid these common pitfalls. You can do it. Recognizing the obstacles is half the battle. With a little pre-planning and organization you can set yourself up to be one of the 20% who succeed.

6 Common Mistakes People Make

Avoid these mistakes and you may be so successful at making an important change that you won’t have to make the same resolution next year.

1. Resolutions that are too big.

Often resolutions are about a huge challenge. You promise yourself, “I will lose 100 lbs” or “I will get ready for a marathon” (when you haven’t run for years). Or “I will write that novel I’ve been thinking about for 10 years.”

All are worthy goals, but there is a reason you haven’t accomplished whatever it is up to now. The goal is too overwhelming to manage.

You are more likely to succeed if you break a goal down into achievable steps. It’s fine to want to lose 100 lbs, but you are more likely to be successful if you aim for a 5-10 lb loss each month. It’s fine to want to run a marathon eventually, but you are more likely to actually do it if you build up to it with shorter runs.

2. Resolutions that are too vague or too general.

Resolutions like, “I’ll get healthy” or “I’ll get more exercise” or “I’ll be more generous” don’t provide much guidance for change. They are certainly well-intended statements about what you want to fix but they are so vague that it is too easy to forget them in the busyness of everyday life.

It’s much more helpful if you make your resolution as specific as you can. It needs to be doable given your other responsibilities and manageable given the realities of your income, your time, and your supports.

Spell out a daily diet program or exercise program that fits in with your life. Write it down. Write it down in detail so it provides some guidance for how you plan your days.

3. Resolutions that are unrealistic.

“I’ll lose 100 lbs by summer so I’ll look great in a bathing suit” may be unrealistic or even unhealthy. Radical diets usually fail. The same is true if you’ve been a couch potato for years and you decide to start exercising. Committing to spending 3 hours at the gym every day may be too big a lifestyle change to pull off.

Being realistic requires being incredibly honest with yourself. You’ve probably made – and failed – the same resolution before. Take a clear look at why you weren’t able to manage it. Rein in your ambition and make a smaller and more achievable resolution. Then identify your triggers for failure and come up with a realistic approach to prevent them.

4. Using January 1 as the motivator.

There’s something about the first of the year that compels us to at least think about how to improve our lives. But for most people, it isn’t a sufficient motivator to actually do it. The goal, not the date, needs to be intrinsically motivating to be attainable.

If the cultural push to make a resolution is the only thing prompting you to change, you probably won’t hold it for long regardless of how beneficial it might be. Take the time to reflect on the goal and the positives you believe will come from reaching it. Be as honest with yourself as you know how to be.

5. Telling everyone.

Many articles suggest that telling other people our resolutions helps keep us on track. But the opposite may be true. Telling others can put the locus of control on other people, instead of within yourself. Further, there are people whose approach to the inevitable slips will be shaming or blaming. Even if they don’t give you a hard time, your own embarrassment at “failing” in their eyes may cause you to quit your project.

Be selective about who to tell. Yes, it helps to enlist someone else’s support when we want to change. But it’s important to think about whether a person’s idea of support will be supportive. You need a cheerleader, not a critic. Choose people who will be encouraging and helpful.

6. All or nothing thinking.

It’s a common tendency to believe that one slip means that you don’t have what it takes to accomplish a goal. The first day you fall off the diet or don’t run or don’t sit at the computer to write, you feel like a failure. In your shame, you give up.

Slips are inevitable. Slips are human nature. There is no need to give up in despair. There is always the next day, or even the next hour, to get back on track. Make slips a learning opportunity, not a certification of failure. Take the time to reflect on why you slipped and what you need to do differently so it is less likely to happen. Then get back to working on your goal.

6 Mistakes that Will Sink Your New Year’s Resolutions

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart. Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

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APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). 6 Mistakes that Will Sink Your New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 29 Dec 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.