20 New Year’s Resolutions That Always Fail

Here's why you're still eating potato chips eleven months after "giving them up."

20 New Year’s Resolutions That Always Fail

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to achieve. In one study involving 200 subjects, a University of Scranton professor found that fewer than 20 percent of resolutioners had achieved their goal two years out.

To us, even that seems optimistic.

Yet most failures can be attributed to one of several common mistakes people make when setting their resolutions, says Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz, a social psychologist co-founder of Buddy & Soul. So before making your own pledge this year, take a look at what a successful resolution looks like. And if you’re still eating potato chips and waking up at 11 a.m. once March rolls around, remember that there’s always next year. For year-end resolutions that are easy to stick to, check out these 10 Fun New Year’s Resolutions You’ll Want to Keep.

a person stepping on an electronic scale - terrible weight loss tips

To Lose Weight

Unsurprisingly, this common resolution fails the most. However, the reason why may surprise you: it’s lack of specifics. “How many pounds do you want to lose? How much time do you want to give yourself to accomplish this resolution?” says Angela Kim, a certified personal trainer and health coach. If you don’t know what you want, you’re not going to get it.

Instead of making a resolution that is a vague statement of intention, make yourself a game plan. For example, “I will work out at least 20 minutes, three times a week for four weeks to lose eight pounds by the end of January,” she says. For the exercise plan that’ll get you there, check out the 30 Workouts That Burn More Than 500 Calories An Hour.

Healthy Foods , Best Foods for Maximizing Your Energy Levels

To Eat Healthier

Once again, this resolution is way too vague. “What does ‘healthy’ mean?” asks Kim. “If you have a sweet tooth, don’t try to eliminate sugar altogether,” she explains. Instead, commit to making one switch at a time, such as replacing your midnight popsicle with a bowl of strawberries. While it may not sound as sexy as promising to eat healthfully in one fell swoop, it’ll mean making a resolution you can actually keep. And for ways to stay trim without changing your diet, check out the 30 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism After 30.

People running on the treadmill at the gym.

To Hit The Gym

“A resolution that often fails is to get to the gym regularly and get into shape,” says Robert Herbst, a personal trainer and wellness coach. “People try to do too much too soon and get sore and frustrated,” he explains. After that, they give up—and their New Year’s resolution goes out the window.

Instead, he recommends making a resolution that simply “makes exercise a priority.” Doing so will allow you to begin getting active at your own pace, avoiding unnecessary frustrations and premature quitting. And if you’d rather stay home but still want to exercise, check out these 27 Affordable Ways to Turn Your Home into a Luxury Gym.

Sad Woman Pretending to Smile {Body Language Cues}

To Be Happier

While everyone wants to achieve happiness, trying to change your mindset overnight is doomed to fail. “The truth is, we don’t control our feelings in this strict of a sense, “says Steve Phillips-Waller, founder and editor of A Conscious Rethink. Instead, try making a resolution to do more things you love, or to achieve that goal you’ve been striving toward. You can trust that increased happiness will follow. For help achieving this elusive goal, learn the 20 Top Tricks from Therapists on Finding Happiness.

having too much stuff says a lot about a cluttered personality

To Be More Organized

Before you drive over to Hobby Lobby for a ton of organizational bins, remember that this New Year’s resolution is extremely difficult to fulfill.

The problem is a misunderstanding of what it means to get organized, says professional organizer Ben Soreff. True organization requires a full-scale review of your living space and a decision as to how you want to maximize that space. However, “most people skip the review and go straight to shoving and hiding,” he says. And when those shoved objects inevitably begin falling out of their cramped lodgings, you end up right back where you began. To get the process started, check out these 40 Genius Ways to Be More Organized After 40. 

Smoking ban, no smoking sign, scandalous

To Quit Cold Turkey

Whether you’re trying to quit smoking or give up soda, making a resolution that provides you with no wiggle room is unlikely to succeed, says Sonya Zappone, a life coach and author of The Soul Doesn’t Need a Million Dollars. “You are human and restriction creates resistance and deprivation,” she explains. That resistance can result in being drawn to even worse behaviors. Instead, “create healthy substitutes for bad habits” rather than leaving a void in your life by trying to go cold turkey.

divorce over 40

To Make More Money

People spend years trying to increase their salary, which means attempting to bring in more cash in a month or less is unlikely to be successful. Instead, “the focus should be less on making more money, and more on saving it,” says Kim. “While it might make you uncomfortable, take a close look at your statements for the year,” she advises. Decide what’s essential and what can be cut out to swell your bank account. For more on that, learn Exactly How Much Money You Need to Make to Be Happy.

Woman making to-do list christmas depression

Ones Without A Plan

“Any New Year’s resolution is likely to fail if we don’t know how to set goals for ourselves,” says Susan Petang, a lifestyle and stress management coach at The Quiet Zone. Petang recommends using the SMART method, meaning a goal needs to be: Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Reasonable, and Time-sensitive.

You should also take a few moments each week to physically record your progress. “The physical act of writing things down reinforces ideas,” she explains.

reasons you're tired

Ones That Don’t Identify Their Obstacles

One reason many people’s resolutions fail is that “they don’t work out the resistance around the resolution,” says Miron-Shatz. “For example, there’s no point in deciding to eat less if you feel that food is a major source of comfort,” she explains.

Before making a resolution, try to pinpoint what keeps you engaging in the behavior you’re looking to eliminate. If the source can’t be eliminated—or is even beneficial—you might want to rethink your resolution.

Man Flying in Dreams

Ones That Are Too Ambitious

“A recent scientific inquiry has shown that our willpower is a resource that can be depleted just like our physical energy,” says Miron-Shatz. One common mistake when making a resolution is trying to do too many things at once—depleting this willpower to levels at which it is ineffective. “If your resolution is overly ambitious, it is likely to end in failure,” she explains. Instead, focus on one thing—or many small things—at once. You might also want to try one of these 12 Creative New Year’s Resolution Ideas. 

a discouraged man sitting on the stairs

Ones You Don’t Think You Can Achieve

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” And it turns out, that’s totally true. According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, subjects were more likely to succeed at keeping their resolutions when they had high levels of self-efficacy. That’s described by the APA as their “belief in [their] capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments.” In other words, the higher the confidence an individual had in their ability to their resolution, the more likely they were to keep them. So have faith.

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Ones That Don’t Include Social Support

Yep, you read that right—it might be time for a gym buddy. According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse, a person’s success at keeping their New Year’s resolutions for longer than six months was predicted by the level of social support included in their strategy. By recruiting others in their social circle as help, they were able to drastically increase their chances of achieving long-term changes. And isn’t that what friends are for?

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Ones Resulting From Social Pressures

Opting to go gluten-free because your bestie went gluten-free? It might not work. According to professor Richard Koestner at McGill University, self-motivated resolutions are much more likely to stick than ones inspired by outside forces. A self-motivated change “allows individuals to exert more effort, experience less conflict, and feel a greater sense of readiness to change,” he explains. The opposite, however, is likely to end in disappointment both for the resolution-maker and those hoping for them to change. Because as long as you think you’re perfect, who really cares? And if you are ready to change, check out these 50 Life Changes to Make After 50.

orange Life Way Harder

Ones Without Some Immediate Rewards

While delayed reward are great and all (going for a ten-minute jog each day is bound to lower your blood pressure in the long term), immediate ones (say, fitting into last year’s jeans) keep your eye on the prize. According to a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, “immediate rewards are strongly associated with actual persistence in a long-term goal.” When making a resolution, then, don’t just focus on the end result, but also the series of beneficial results can be expected along the way.

man eating apple , Worst Men's Health Myths

Ones Without A Strong Perceived Benefit

When making a resolution, it’s important to identify the reason why your proposed change will be beneficial. According to a study in Social Science & Medicine that looked at long-term health changes, “the strongest single predictors [of success] were perceived benefits.” The more able a participant was to recognize the positive effects of their changes, that is, the more likely they were to continue along their progress.

signs you're not ready to have kids

Ones About A Behavior You Don’t Fully Understand

Before making a resolution, it’s crucial to look at, and fully understand, the behavior you are trying to alter. According to a study in Behavior Therapy that examined students’ abilities to change their study patterns, “self-observation may be successfully used as an agent for behavior change” The students who kept track of how much they studied prior to the change saw far better results in keeping on top of their new regimen than those who didn’t. So if you’re looking to cut out carbs, for example, it will be important to note how many carbs you’re currently eating.

confused man Things Said in Court

Ones Without Clear Outcomes

In addition to having a detailed plan, it’s important to have an idea of what each step in that plan will look like. According to an article in the American Journal of Men’s Health, making a successful resolution “requires a clear plan of action with definitive expected outcomes.” When it comes to making changes, suddenly modifying the plan will do nothing but slow your progress.

Man playing video games on the sofa after calling in sick to work

Ones You Haven’t Already Started

The key to making a successful change is starting. According to research published by the Brown University School of Medicine that investigated the ability of subjects to begin exercise programs, those who were already effective at exercise were more likely to ramp up their level of activity than those who were not. By increasing their feelings of efficacy at the specific task, participants found it easier to make changes, putting into action a positive feedback loop. Every journey, lest you need be reminded, begins with a single step.

Man drinking alone on Christmas

Ones About Things You Don’t Really Want To Change

Unsurprisingly, one of the keys to making a change is one’s willingness to do so—a factor that can’t be overcome by any level of external motivation. According to a study in Addictive Behavior, “readiness to change prospectively predicted successful outcome at both one week and one month.” Change really does come from within.

The Ones Whose Result You Can’t Fathom

When making a resolution, it’s important to have an idea of the “ideal self” that will result from the changes you make. According to research in the Journal of Management Development, having an ideal self in mind “creates a comprehensive context within which a person can formulate why they want to adapt.” This helps counteract the typical barriers to change, they explain, such as “lack of sufficient drive and the proper intrinsic motivation.”

So next time you look in the mirror, try to picture your ideal self. If that person looks much different than you do now, it’s time to make a successful resolution. For help making that happen, check out these 20 Science-Backed Ways to Motivate Yourself to Lose Weight.

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