As January rolls around and the lighthearted celebrations of the holidays have ended, it is common to reflect on life and think of the new year ahead. Come January 1st, setting New Year’s resolutions is like clockwork for many. Whether it is halting a certain habit, like smoking, excess snacking, drinking alcohol; or adding a new behavior such as more exercise, a new hobby or getting organized, many resolve to make big changes in the New Year. But can New Year’s resolutions really work?  The answer is, depends. The way resolutions are approached, or what alternative methods for making yearly life improvements are used, can make all the difference in your success.  Let’s take a look at common shortcomings of New Year’s resolutions and ways to fix them or replace them altogether. 

Why Are New Year’s Resolutions Often Doomed to Fail? 

When the clock strikes midnight, the cheers and excitement are often paired with hope and good intentions.  While the positivity and motivation behind New Year’s resolution is a wonderful thing, quite a bit of research over the years has shown there is a fail rate as high as 80 percent. This statistic may sound surprising but there are quite a few reasons that resolutions are doomed to fail if not created in more than just an overly optimistic fashion. 

These include: 

  • Thinking too big or being too general 


When wrapping up the year, it can be tempting to have big plans and dreams for the next year. The problem is,  if you make your resolution too difficult or vague then it makes it very challenging to fulfill.  New year’s resolutions tend to center around sweeping changes like going on a strict diet, joining a gym and starting to exercise every day, or getting more sleep each night. While these are great intentions, it is tough to go from 0 to 100 when adjusting your lifestyle, and this can lead to becoming overwhelmed and abandoning the resolution  sooner than later. Setting smaller, specific and more attainable goals can be a great way to ease into change and challenge yourself in a more realistic way.  For example, instead of saying you will cut all carbs from your diet, try cutting portions in half and replacing excess with a non-starchy veggie. If exercise is a goal, maybe it is about walking at lunch M-F or going to the gym three times per week.  

  • Creating hastily or for the wrong reasons 


As January 1st hits, we all can feel the pressure to make the most of the year ahead, which of course often involves creating a resolution.  The focus is often on what we “should do” vs. what we want to do. Guilting yourself into change or trying to do something because it is what others are doing or what they want you to do, does not result in lasting meaningful change. Deciding to create a resolution too quickly without thinking about it first can become problematic as well. Making decisions after some thought and planning and understanding the reasons you want to make a New Year’s resolution is a lot more meaningful and realistic. Saying you will suddenly eat healthier or start exercising is not going to work if you do not have a plan to attain that and if you are not motivated to do so. 

  • Starting when not ready, and with lack of support 


Maybe you have been thinking about a certain resolution or goal and are tempted to take the plunge in the New Year. To create lasting change, readiness is key.    

Frequent barriers to changing our behavior include: 

  • Not being ready 
  • Not viewing the needed changes as important enough 
  • Not believing in yourself and doubting that change can happen 
  • Not having a good support system 
  • Not having an adequate plan, enough knowledge or the right tools to help make change happen 


In one of our previous posts we discussed the stages of change in detail, which include:   

  1. Pre-contemplation: you are not ready to make a change anytime soon.
  2. 2. Contemplation: you are thinking about and possibly getting ready to make a change.
  3. 3.  Preparation: you are now ready to make the change and  beginning to take steps to change.
  4. Action: you are actively making specific changes in behavior through taking action.
  5. Maintenance: you have made changes and have been able to sustain them for over 6 months.

Identifying where you are in the stages of change can help you realize what your current situation is when it comes to making a change in your habits. Take the time to investigate what it may take to help you move forward. Becoming self-aware, having confidence in yourself, acquiring the knowledge and skills to set goals, and reaching out for support from a friend, family member and/or healthcare provider when needed, are all important things to consider when going through the stages of change.  


What Are Some Alternatives to “Resolutions”? 

  1. Break it Down to Smart Goals 


In contrast to sweeping resolutions, setting the right kind of goals can help you measure progress and can  be incredibly empowering and motivational when they are set and tracked correctly. However, the wrong kind of goal setting can have the opposite effect. Goals that are unrealistic, too vague, or don’t hold you to any timeline for completion may work against you. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it may be helpful to initially set your sights low. If you aim for the stars relative to your starting point, you may become easily discouraged if you don’t hit that big goal as quickly as you feel you should.  

In the long run, the most effective goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals.  

What is a S.M.A.R.T. goal? 

  • Specific- Don’t be vague or general. Saying “I will eat healthier” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. But saying “I will add one more serving of  

a low-carb veggie to my meals each day for a week” is a concrete objective goal you can   achieve. 

  • Measurable- Make sure your goals can be measured against something.  

Whether it’s testing your blood sugar three more times a week or exercising twenty additional minutes a day, putting a number against your goal helps to  ensure you’re making progress.  

  • Action oriented- It may go without saying, but your goal should require you to do something to achieve it. Goals aren’t wishes; they are something to work toward by taking tangible steps.  
  • Realistic- Don’t set goals that you know, deep down, you don’t stand a chance of achieving. Do not set goals you are simply not capable of making or goals that require too much drastic change at once. A realistic goal is something you are certain you can achieve in the short term.  
  • Timely- Set a time limit for your goal. Starting with a short time period can be a good motivator for sticking to your goal. As you experience success meeting it, you can always extend the time frame longer.  


  1. Instead of a yearlong resolution, try monthly or even weekly challenges 


A more reasonable option then burdening yourself with a yearlong timetable style resolution, is to take it month by month and challenge yourself that way instead. Start with one goal for the month, or even the week, and see how that goes. For example, if you want to add more exercise, a SMART goal could be, walk 3 times a week for 30 minutes in the morning before work. Then at the end of the month,- evaluate how you did andlook at the progress you’ve made with the original goal/challenge. How well did you do in achieving it? Are you satisfied with the results? Are there any changes you could make to do better the next time around in terms of being specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and timely? If you are successful that month, then you can continue that goal, expand upon it or even add a new one.  If you had trouble, you evaluate barriers, problem solve and try again.  

  1. Practice Gratitude and Journaling 


If improving self-care and stress management is something that you want to work on in the New Year, an alternative to a resolution is practicing gratitude.  Practicing gratitude is more than just saying thank you, it is specifically taking time out to focus on the positive parts of your life. The time that is dedicated can be as little as 15 minutes a day but should be consistent and focused in order to get the most benefit. There are a variety of ways to express gratitude which include: 

  • Keeping a gratitude journal –  jot down thoughts collectively in a daily diary, such as what good things happened that day, describing the events and noting why you are grateful they occurred  
  • Write gratitude letters-  thank a person who is in your life, expressing what they mean to you and showing appreciation for various things they have done for you. The letter can be sent, or you can read it aloud to the person you wrote it to  
  • Shift perspectives- think (and write) about things in your life that are good/helpful on a regular basis and how your situation would be if they were missing   
  • Appreciate the less than perfect- think (and write) about a situation that has not happened the way you wanted, or a mistake that you have made and focus on what things you learned from this experience and ways it made you stronger. Focus on what positive aspects you can take from it. 
  • Practice a gratitude attitude- from the moment you wake up take note throughout your day of all the things that you are grateful for. 
  • Pause and be mindful with praise- when saying thank you, think about and express exactly what you are thankful for, be specific and detailed to make it more meaningful. 


If a resolution is a must, the odds of success increase if you are thoughtful, intentional, and prepared when creating them.  Check out this previous post about crafting attainable resolutions!