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Why It’s OK Not to Make New Year’s Resolutions

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Do you stick to them? Many of us spend the last days of December thinking about what our resolutions should be in the coming year. This can lead to discussions with family and friends about what we should change and resolve to do differently. Then we make our resolutions and commit to them, or maybe not.

This has become rote behavior for many of us — a ritual we follow, year after year. We typically choose resolutions to change ourselves into who we want to or feel we should be, but are not. Sometimes we choose something really big to accomplish, which can become too overwhelming. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Most of us pick the same resolutions over and over again: to go on a diet and lose 50 pounds by the end of February, work out every day, quit smoking, read a book a week, go back to school. By the end of the first week we often are already woefully behind on our new commitments. Usually we will make another, often halfhearted attempt, but most of the time we just give up. By the beginning of February, most of us have forgotten our resolutions altogether, and we hope our family and friends have, too.

This year, instead of making grandiose promises to ourselves, let’s resolve to not make resolutions. Instead, what if we just decided to make some tweaks, small changes, rather than a big overhaul? Or, if we have one thing we really want to accomplish, we draw up a manageable, realistic plan for how to achieve it?

An important question to ask ourselves is what is our reason for wanting to make this change. Comparing ourselves to others leads to disappointment and is often what motivates New Year’s resolutions. First and foremost, we need to accept ourselves as we are and not chase after trying to be like someone else. Why resolve to run a marathon if we hate running? Why resolve to read the entire Game Of Thrones series if we don’t really enjoy reading?

Resolutions also tend to have an inflexibility to them, which by design makes them hard to follow. Things change as time goes on, and what seemed like a great idea in December for the coming year may seem kind of pointless by the end of February. It can be futile to commit ourselves to do something and then leave no room for us to adjust. A realistic plan allows for modifications to be made as needed.

January 1 is a bit of an arbitrary date that we force upon ourselves. We can make changes and set goals any time of the year, and we should. It doesn’t hurt to wait a bit to see what the new year brings, rather than to make a resolution during the holidays before we know what is coming.

These considerations about New Year’s resolutions do not mean we should not strive to set and pursue goals. It is healthy and good for us to stretch and improve ourselves, as long as we do it in a reasonable and manageable way.

For example, it is not uncommon to resolve to go back to school. It is also not uncommon in our enthusiasm to register for too many classes or start with one that is really challenging. And then by the third week we are burned out already.

It is okay to start with one class to see how we can handle it. This way we are working on our goal, but also have some flexibility and are not overdoing it. Baby steps keep things more manageable and help us to be successful.

We all have things we would like to do more of or want to change about ourselves. However, by not resolving on January 1 to reinvent ourselves in a few weeks, change a lifelong habit overnight, or graduate college in a few months, we can actually be more successful at making change and avoid the guilt that comes along with abandoned and failed resolutions.

Student photo available from Shutterstock

Why It’s OK Not to Make New Year’s Resolutions

Kurt Smith, Psy.D., LMFT, LPCC, AFC

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and writes a blog about the issues facing men (and the women who love them). As an expert in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today, he regularly appears on The Huffington Post, NerdWallet and PsychCentral. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their lives and relationships better. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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APA Reference
Smith, K. (2018). Why It’s OK Not to Make New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Jan 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.