Home » Library » Rethink Those Failed New Year’s Resolutions

Rethink Those Failed New Year’s Resolutions

Rethink Those Failed New Year's ResolutionsIt’s not even the middle of January and those New Year’s resolutions are already history. You’ve fallen off the diet, started smoking again or given up on the exercise routine. You feel bad about yourself for not being able to put your good intentions into action for even two weeks.

Two weeks! You scold yourself for having no willpower or for failing yet once again. You sigh and give up, perhaps rationalizing away the project. You can always claim no time, too much stress, or peer pressure, right? Wrong. You know you’re rationalizing but oh well.

You can take some comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Almost 90 percent of New Year’s resolutions dissolve within a month. The enthusiasm about a new year and a new beginning quickly fades. Life takes over. All the reasons you developed whatever bad habit you wanted to fix are still there.

But all is not lost. You can still make that important change, whatever it was. You may just have to rethink how to go about it.

5 Reasons We Fail

  1. Overambition. One of the most common reasons for not following through is overambition. In your excitement about starting a new project, you may have set a goal to lose 50 pounds, to stop smoking cold turkey or to hit the gym for an hour a day. Your intentions were good. Your enthusiasm was admirable. But really you set yourself up for failure. After a good night’s sleep, the day after New Year’s dawned and it just seemed like too much to even think about, much less do.The cure? Set small, doable goals. It’s reasonable to aim for a five-pound loss this month or to get to the gym two to three times a week if it’s not been part of your routine in awhile (or ever). If you set goals that are more reachable and immediate, meeting them will inspire you to keep on keepin’ on.
  2. Winging it. Taking on a big project means taking the time to make a plan. That means making some clear decisions about lifestyle changes and doing what you need to do to make them possible. Keep it real. Consider what changes you may have to make in your environment, your schedule or your support system. Then write it down. If you have a written plan, you’ll have something to refer to in those inevitable moments of wanting to ditch the whole thing.
  3. Not going public. Keeping our good intentions to ourselves is another way we can set ourselves up to backslide. If no one knows the plan, then no one knows if we slip. We can quietly go back to bad habits and no one is the wiser except us. We may feel depressed about it, but at least no one is giving us a hard time about it. Not good.If you’re serious about wanting to change, it’s important to have at least one supportive person. It’s very human: We may not be able to be accountable to ourselves but the thought of letting someone else down is motivating. So get a buddy to run with; join a support group; let your spouse know and ask for gentle help when things aren’t going well. Do note that I said “gentle.” Harassment or put-downs aren’t helpful. If you are tackling a long-standing problem, you don’t need tough love. You need kind and loving reminders.
  4. Resistance to keeping track. Some vague notion that we’re improving usually won’t get us to our goals. We need to do something to keep track. For many people, keeping a daily or weekly progress diary is helpful. Studies have shown that people improve by around 20 percent just when they are asked to write about their experience.If you don’t like to write, there are other ways to do it. One guy I know put a dollar in a jar every time he lost a pound. In 6 months, he lost 50 pounds and had $50 to use to celebrate. Another friend made a graph of how many cigarettes she smoked each day. When she thought about having another cigarette, she’d think about how it would feel to see the downward slope of the line go up a tick. That would help her decide it wasn’t worth it. Think about a tracking system that will work for you.
  5. Lack of a positive reward system. It’s said that progress should be its own reward. It’s not. Or at least it’s not necessarily so. Most of us need something tangible to keep going. Yes, living a healthier lifestyle will ultimately help you feel healthier. That means a great deal. But that’s a long-term result that may be a long way away. Chances are you’ll need some intermediate rewards along the way.Little rewards give us something to aim for. They give us a lift and recharge our commitment. Most important, they can also help retrain our thinking. If, for example, you’ve fallen into the habit of rewarding yourself with chocolate, you need to retrain your brain to stay on a weight-loss program. That means either making peace with only having a piece of quality chocolate instead of a pound of the cheap stuff or switching out the chocolate for something else you like (new earrings? a new CD?) that doesn’t compete with the project. Give yourself a little reward for meeting each of your short-term goals and let yourself savor and enjoy them.

It’s never too late to start over. New Year’s Day is only a date. You can start again tomorrow morning or next Monday instead of next year. But this time, set yourself up for success:

  • Set small, doable, intermediate goals.
  • Make a plan.
  • Go public.
  • Keep track.
  • Set up a compatible reward system.

Go for it! You can do it!

Rethink Those Failed New Year’s Resolutions

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. 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.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Rethink Those Failed New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.