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Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Image courtesy of Jamie Taylor

I’ve had reservations about making New Year’s resolutions for as long as I can remember. Every year at Christmas, I get together with my family and at some point the question will be raised: What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Some popular resolutions that people often make at New Year are things like losing weight, stopping smoking, drinking less, watching less TV, reading more, getting out of debt … the list goes on.

Most of the time a New Year’s resolution involves changing a certain aspect of a person’s life that they’re not happy about, with the aim of improving their quality of life. New Year is seen as a time for new beginnings, so it seems to make sense that your quest for self-improvement should coincide with the start of a new year. Sounds like a good idea on the surface.

The problem for me is that the whole concept of New Year’s resolutions is flawed. If there is something about yourself that you really want to improve, why wait until January 1st to do something about it? The fact that these resolutions are saved for a specific time of year suggests that the actions involved are undesirable and you need some sort of ritual group pledge to give you the necessary temporary motivation to start making a change.

Doomed to Failure

You only need to look at the evidence to see that making New Year’s resolutions is not an effective form of self-improvement. According to a 2009 study by Richard Wiseman, around 78% of people who make New Year’s resolutions will fail.

Of course, as that article states, there are certain strategies and techniques you can employ to increase your chances of sticking to a resolution, but they still only give you at best a 50% chance of success.

I think the main problem is that New Year’s resolutions are often seen as an unwelcome challenge, where you have to rely on your willpower to keep up the undesirable action required to make a change.

If you resolve to lose weight, perhaps you will wake up on 1st January (or maybe the 2nd, depending on how bad your hangover is), and go for a run. You might do this every day for a week, even though it’s freezing cold outside and running bores you to tears. Your willpower will overcome these obstacles at first.

But after a while, the monotony and the cold will get to you, and you might start to skip a day here and there. After a few weeks you’re down to running just once a week, and eventually you decide it’s not worth it and give up completely.

Don’t Rely on Willpower

I think a lot of New Year’s resolutions are broken because people don’t have the willpower to keep up these undesirable activities for long enough to form (or break) a habit.

So a better way to create a positive change in your life would be to remove the reliance on willpower.

If you can find a way to make the desired changes in your life without having to do things you don’t want to do, then your quest for self-improvement will be so much easier.

So if you really don’t like running, don’t try to force yourself to do it, think about what else you could do for exercise that you might actually find enjoyable. Go swimming, ride a bike, try MovNat.

You may not know what kind of exercise you enjoy, which may be why you have a weight problem, so try something new. Go to a Zumba class, try breakdancing, join a tennis club. Try everything until you find an activity that you will be motivated to do purely for enjoyment rather than because you are forcing yourself to do it to lose weight.

Breaking a Habit

Removing the reliance on willpower may not be so easy if you are trying to break a habit like smoking.

A certain degree of willpower will probably have to be employed to stop you from reaching for that cigarette on your lunch break, but again, if you focus on the benefits of not smoking, and find enjoyment in the fact that you are no longer a smoker, then that will make it easier.

Think about how much better you smell when you don’t smoke, think about the activities you’ll be able to do without being short of breath, and focus on the health benefits for you and your family. Do whatever you can to make it so that you don’t want a cigarette, rather than relying on willpower to overcome that voice in your head that tells you you do want one.

Annual Reflection

Having said all this, I believe one aspect of the New Year’s resolution tradition can be very beneficial, and that is annual reflection on self-improvement.

I suppose that is really what New Year’s resolutions are all about, I just think that people go about it in the wrong way most of the time.

An annual review is something that can be very useful for evaluating what you have accomplished over the previous year, what went well, what went wrong, and what you intend to do differently from now on.

I will be writing a mini annual review which I will send out before the end of the year as an email newsletter. If you are interested in reading the review, you can sign up for the newsletter.

Increase Your Chances of Success

If you really want to make New Year’s resolutions, then go for it. Some people find it helpful, and some people actually stick to them and make them work.

But at least try to think about why you’re making a resolution. Look at Alejandro’s tips for simplifying your resolutions on Enso Journey, and use some of those strategies to increase your chances of success.

And if you want to make a change in your life, if you really want it, don’t wait until January 1st (even if it is only a few days away), do it today.

Are you making New Year’s resolutions this year, or do you believe they are doomed to failure? Tell us about it in the comments below.

8 Comments on Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Huge thanks for the mention Dan.
    I fully agree with you, the resolutions system is totally flawed, even the very words that we use to refer to it seems to be the wrong ones. I think you are doing the right thing to skip resolutions. It’s better to focus in what you can change right now, not in some random arbitrary day.
    I know the next year is bringing a lot of wonderful things for you, I’ll keep watching you!

  2. Lisa Wilder says:

    No New Year’s resolutions for me, Dan. More people wind up mentally berating themselves for not having kept their resolutions, than celebrate having kept them. Nothing like starting the new year feeling like a loser to motivate you to initiate positive change. ; )

    I much prefer to spend time at the new year acknowledging all that I’m grateful for and all that I’ve accomplished, allowing myself to dream and play with possibilities for the new year, looking at what did and didn’t serve me well, with an eye toward how to apply what worked to what didn’t, and pondering what I need and am ready to let go of in order to make room for whatever the new year might hold.

    Happy New Year, Dan. May the coming year bring you all you dream of and more!

    • Dan Johnson says:

      That sounds like a great approach, Lisa. New Year can be a great time to reflect on your situation, but most people definitely go about resolutions in a destructive way. My sister is an exception to this, having only made resolutions that she is excited about and that will enrich her life. That removes the reliance on willpower, which is where so many people fall down.

      Best wishes for the year ahead!

  3. Harrison says:

    I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, I do “Goal Planning”. And it would be my top 3 for the year … and then I would outline steps/game plan of how I will tackle those goals.

    Off-topic, I forgot what website I randomly happened across, but I remember seeing your post on “how to include WP thumbnail image caption” … which solved my problem of getting those pesky image captions to show. Brilliant and thanks to you!

    Happy New Years!

    • Dan Johnson says:

      Good point, Harrison. If you’re going to have goals, you need to have an idea of how you will achieve them. A lot of people resolve to (for example) save x amount of money in the next 6 months, but they don’t change their spending habits and then wonder why they can’t save the money.

      Happy New Year!

  4. Emma says:

    I do agree that we don’t need to wait till January 1st, to make goals to improve our lives, and that the best time to begin is today. I too am setting myself some goals for the year ahead, but they are made with the aim of moving my life further into the direction I desire, rather than with the aim of pure self improvement. My goals aren’t things like losing weight or doing more exercise for its own sake, but because they are linked to my value system, and hopefully will help me to bring my whole life more into line with those values. Happy New Year, and thanks for the inspiration!

    • Dan Johnson says:

      As long as your goals are things that motivate you and you can get excited about, then you will be fine. Good luck and happy New Year!

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