Skip to content

The 15 Hardest New Year's Resolutions to Keep

If your New Year's resolutions are just to lose weight and eat healthier, you're bound to fail.

New Year's resolutions are notoriously difficult to follow through on. An oft-cited 1989 study in the Journal of Substance Abuse found that less than 20 percent of subjects making resolutions had hit their goal two years out. It's not that resolutions are unachievable: It's that there are several common mistakes people make when setting their resolutions. So before making your own pledge this year, take a look at what not to do instead of repeating past mistakes. These are the 15 hardest New Year's resolutions to keep, and why they always fail.

Resolutions about weight loss

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

Unsurprisingly, this common resolution is almost always doomed to fail. However, the reason why may surprise you—it's the lack of specifics. Certified personal trainer and health coach Angela Kim notes the need for clear questions to determine your goals: "How many pounds do you want to lose? How much time do you want to give yourself to accomplish this resolution?" 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, create 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," Kim suggests.

Resolutions that promise healthy eating

close up of young asian woman's frown as she picks at a salad with her fork

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 ice cream with a bowl of strawberries. While it may not sound as exciting as an overall commitment to "healthy eating," it'll mean making a resolution you can actually keep.

Resolutions about going to the gym

close up of black man sweating while doing a stretch at the gym

"A resolution that often fails is to get to the gym regularly and get into shape," says personal trainer and wellness coach Robert Herbst. "People try to do too much too soon and get sore and frustrated." 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.

Resolutions without a plan

Woman making to-do list christmas depression

When it comes to the hardest New Year's resolutions, and why they fail, you're probably noticing a common thread: a lack of foresight and specifics.

"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 finding a goal that is 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.

Resolutions without clear outcomes

young indian man looking off in the distance

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 a 2014 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.

Resolutions that don't include social support

two middle aged black women power walking outside together

Yes, you read that right—it might be time for a gym buddy. According to the aforementioned study 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 for help, they were able to drastically increase their chances of achieving long-term changes. And isn't that what friends are for?

Resolutions resulting from social pressure

boost your brain power

Opting to go gluten-free because your bestie went gluten-free? It might not work. According to McGill University professor Richard Koestner, 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." Resolutions brought on by outside pressure, however, are likely to end in disappointment, both for the resolution-maker and for those hoping for a change.

Resolutions about being happier

Sad Woman Pretending to Smile {Body Language Cues}

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 a specific, attainable goal you've been striving toward. You can trust that happiness will follow.

Resolutions about being more organized

having too much stuff says a lot about a cluttered personality

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 started.

Resolutions where you have to quit cold turkey

close up of white woman's hands breaking a cigarette in half

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 life coach Sonya Zappone, 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.

Resolutions without some immediate rewards

orange Life Way Harder

Delayed rewards are great: Going for a 10-minute jog each day is bound to lower your blood pressure over time. But immediate rewards—like fitting into last year's jeans—help you keep your eye on the prize. According to a 2016 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 larger end result, but also on the series of smaller results that can be expected along the way.

Resolutions without a strong perceived benefit

older asian man running in the park

That is, make sure you've got a reward in mind! When making a resolution, it's important to identify the reason why your proposed change will be beneficial. According to a notable 1991 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, the more likely they were to continue along their progress.

Resolutions about making more money

close up of white man's hands opening wallet with nothing inside

People spend years trying to raise their salary, which means that 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 make more money over time.

Resolutions you don't think you can achieve

latino man biting his nails and looking nervous

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 significant 2005 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 achieve their resolution, the more likely they were to keep it. So have faith!

Resolutions about things you don't really want to change

Man drinking alone on Christmas

Unsurprisingly, one of the keys to making a lasting change is one's willingness to do so—a factor that can't be overcome by any level of external motivation. According to a pivotal 1989 study in Addictive Behavior, "readiness to change prospectively predicted successful outcome at both one week and one month." So if you don't really want to quit drinking or give up smoking or start going to the gym, it's not going to happen, no matter how committed you sound when you say it out loud on New Year's Eve. Change really does come from within.

Filed Under