20 December 2019


Why most New Year’s resolutions fail and what to do instead

Do you set New Year’s resolutions? More importantly, do you keep them?

I’m willing to bet a pretty penny that your answer – your honest answer – is No. Let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if you’d cracked it.

Research shows that about a third of New Year’s resolutions do not make it past the first month. Come the end of the year, only 8% of people will have actually achieved their resolutions, according to this study.

With such a small success rate, should we even bother setting New Year’s resolutions? People who set them are more likely to achieve their yearly goals, though the statistic varies greatly from study to study, so there are clearly many factors at play.

I’ve not bothered setting any New Year’s resolutions in the last couple of years. I now do something else that works much better for me (read on to find out what).

Why do we set New Year’s resolutions?

The tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions has been traced back some 4,000 years. It started with the ancient Babylonians, who in honour of their new year (in March, when the crops were planted) made promises to their gods to repay debts and return borrowed items. In return, they hoped the gods would bless them with an abundant harvest.

The reasons for making resolutions have changed a lot in 4,000 years. Today, there are a few key drivers that lead us to make resolutions:

  • desire for recognition or praise from our peers
  • sense of accomplishment from achieving goals
  • career advancement or financial gain
  • seeking fulfilment or happiness

Another big change is the types of promises we make. These days, the most common resolutions revolve around having a healthier diet/lifestyle, gaining control of finances, learning a new skill and spending more time on what makes us happy. 

Over the years, my own New Year’s resolutions have varied widely and most of them didn’t see the spring. The most recent resolutions I made were ‘Learn to play the piano’, ‘Declutter the house’ and ‘Start a blog’. 

I had piano lessons for a while but stopped when I was heavily pregnant. Though I intended on picking it back up again once Sophie was born, I’ve only sat at the piano a few times since and she’s now two-and-a-half. 

I’ve been trying to declutter the house for years but this is still very much a work in progress. 

As for starting a blog, well you’re reading it! One out of three ain’t bad, right?

Why do so many New Year’s resolutions fail and how can we be more successful?

The way I see it, there are three main reasons why the resolutions we set out to achieve often beat the dust long before the year is out. 

The good news is, setting goals that we can actually achieve isn’t that hard. It just takes a little bit of honesty with ourselves and a slightly more strategic approach.

1. Your resolution isn’t aligned with your big ‘why’

This is a fundamental mistake many of us make when setting goals. Unless you take the time to figure out your core values (your big ‘why’) and ensure that your goals are aligned, your motivation will diminish fast.

Take my resolution to learn the piano. My husband is a talented musician and I love the idea of Sophie growing up in a musical household. I want to be passionate about it but, if I’m really honest with myself, I’m just not. I love listening to music and there’ll always be a part of me that wants to be musical. However, if it was my true passion I wouldn’t have given up every instrument I’ve ever tried (and I’ve tried a few). For me it’s a nice-to-have but it’s not in line with my big ‘why’.

You need to know what you’re truly passionate about – what really drives you. Then make sure you set goals that allow you to follow your passions. If a goal doesn’t serve you in that way, ask yourself if your energy and time would be better spent on one that does.

2. You have no way of knowing when you’ve achieved your goal

One of the key elements of effective goal setting is making them measurable. One big problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they tend to be vague. ‘Eat healthier’, ‘save more money’, ‘enjoy more time together as a family’, etc. 

You need to be more specific. What exactly do you want to achieve? If you want to eat healthier, your goal might be to halve the amount of refined sugars in your diet.

You also need a benchmark (your starting point). In the healthy eating example, you could keep a food diary for a week and record how much refined sugar you consume (best not to do this over Christmas though). 

It’s important to celebrate your success. Not just at the end when you’ve achieved your goal but all the milestones along the way too. Without a benchmark and a specific target, it’s impossible to know when you should celebrate. This could derail your efforts entirely.

This is the main reason my goal of decluttering our house is still a ‘work in progress’ (read, ‘I’ve pretty much given up but don’t want to admit it to myself’). I didn’t set myself a measurable target. So, although I’ve removed quite a lot of unwanted possessions from our home, I have no real sense of accomplishment. I can only see what I haven’t achieved (all the clutter still in the house). This is going to change next year. Though it’s not a New Year’s resolution because they don’t work (keep reading for what does).

3. You’re thinking way too far ahead

You’re more likely to achieve your goals if you set shorter deadlines. It’s no wonder, therefore, that 92% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned.

This is the reason I stopped setting New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I’ve been setting 90 day goals (that are also in line with my core values and measurable). That’s how I actually achieved my resolution to start a blog. My final hurdle with this was overcoming the fear of putting myself ‘out there’. But that’s another blog post.

I recommend 90 days as it’s long enough to make real change but short enough to stay motivated. If you have a bigger goal in mind, break it down into smaller goals that you can achieve in 90 days. Set up to 3 goals at a time, maximum – that’s plenty to be getting on with for anyone.

My top 5 tips for setting and achieving your goals

1. Make sure you know your big ‘why’ before you set any goals

2. Set SMART goals – that’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (to your big ‘why’) and Time-based (90 days rather than a whole year)

3. Break each goal down into simple steps that you can take to help you get there – think about what you can do that will have a big initial impact, so you can see results fast

4. Take action while you’re fired up about the goal – depending on the goal, it can be important to plan or research but don’t get stuck in thinking mode

5. Celebrate your achievements – not just at the end but all the milestones along the way


If most New Year’s resolutions fail, let’s break with tradition and stop making them. There is a better way! 


If you dream of a simpler, slower, more sustainable life but need some help achieving your goals, I’m here to help. Visit the SfS hub to find the course or coaching package that suits you.


Photo by Yukie Emiko on Unsplash


change, ethical living, goals, green living, intentional living, lifestyle, mindset, motivation, new years resolutions, simple living, slow living, staying motivated, success, sustainable living

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