Why Your Big New Year's Resolutions Are Pointless


New Year's Resolutions — they're dumb. Yeah, I said it. What, you don't think so? You're wrong.

Sometimes I think that the idea of a "New Year's Resolution" was invented by the media to have something fluffy to write about during the dead week between December 25 and January 1. It certainly gives authors, radio hosts, and bloggers plenty of fuel for pointless articles about how to make, and keep, a resolution. And yes, while New Year's Resolutions are the fodder for this blog post, I'll have you know that I'm calling for an end to these stupid promises that we make to ourselves on the brink of a new year. May this be the last blog post that anyone ever writes about New Year's Resolutions! (See also: Trade in New Year's Resolutions for Achieving Life Goals)

Why? Because great big New Year's Resolutions are a stupid concept. Choosing a single day to start a major life change isn't logical. That's why New Year's Resolutions don't work, and when you fail to keep them, you feel like a loser. This isn't to say that no one has ever succeeded in keeping a very drastic New Year's resolution, but the vast majority of New Year's Resolutions go unfulfilled. Think about it — if every person succeeded in losing weight as a part of a New Year's Resolution, we'd be a much thinner society.

And of course, there are easier resolutions you can make that will help your life feel a bit more organized — for a list of useful, doable New Year's Resolutions, see 25 Small New Year’s Resolutions You Can Start Today.

But back to BIG resolutions — why don't they work? Why do so many of us make, and break, our yearly resolutions to work harder, to quit smoking, to eat healthier, and to save more money?

1. January 1st Is a Terrible Start Date

If we were to pick a day to start making a difference in our lives, January 1st would be among the worst. It's the day we wake up, hung over and or/still sleepy, and have to drag ourselves to the coffee machine or Bloody Mary IV drip. Freshly hydrated, we blink into the cold, uncaring eye of a January morning and try to convince ourselves that today is the day to stop smoking.

Just the thought is causing me to crave a cigarette, and I'm not even a smoker.

Yes, I understand why January 1st seems like a good day to start anew. After all, it's marks the first day after the end of all holiday partying. No more large meals, no more holiday cookies, no more glasses of champagne...or eggnog, or mulled wine, or Spanish coffee, or wassail, or spiked cider. January 1st may feel like a good time for austerity following a major spending blitz — it's the purge after the binge.

Here's the thing about making a significant lifestyle change — either you are ready to do it right now, or you aren't. January 1st isn't going to roll around and make it any easier to start going for a daily run. If you can't make smart choices before January 1st, then the chances of beginning a sustainable change on January 1st is slim. What makes it harder is that...

2. Traces of Holiday Cheer Remain

It's not like all the physical remains of the holidays magically disappear at midnight on January 1st.

Let's say that you've decided to lose weight in the New Year — that's what the majority of people choose for their New Year's Resolution. The problem with that particular resolution is that, if you just spent the holidays in a gluttonous glory, your body is now accustomed sweets and sloth. There are still candy canes and boxes of Almond Roca lying around. Fruitcake can keep for decades*. The temptation is still there, and what's worse, your body is now accustomed to enjoying a box of Ferrero Rocher for lunch. And you're going to start denying yourself after all of that? I'm sure your metabolism won't rebel at all.

Or what if your New Year's Resolution is to save more money by cutting back on shopping — but your family gave you a couple dozen gift cards for Hanukkah, and you have trouble leaving Target without dropping a couple hundred dollars? January 1st's arrival doesn't make this any easier. That's especially because...

3. We Expect Too Much

There are people in this world who can simply pick up a new hobby or undertake a big challenge like it's nothing. Take my brother-in-law (please!), who can lounge around smoking cigarettes and eating massive plates of pasta, and then one day, simply run a 10K race for the fun of it...without fainting.

Most people are not my brother-in-law. If you are miserably out of shape, making a New Year's Resolution to run a marathon by June isn't just hard, it can be disheartening. If you have medical problems that affect your health, or complicate your ability to partake in physical activity, it can be even tougher.

This doesn't mean that you should abandon your desire to be healthier, to run a race, to swim across a lake, to cut back on booze, or to learn to play tennis. What it means is that you can't approach the goal as an "all or nothing" resolution. You can aim high, but you have to occasionally accept that there are some targets that aren't reachable, need modification, or will take more time. There's nothing sillier than wanting to lose 20 pounds and giving up by mid-February because you haven't seen enough of a change. Change takes time, perseverance, and commitment. Without these things...

4. Momentum Dies So Fast

I go to the gym on a fairly** regular basis, but I know to avoid it during the month of January. Why? Because I know that the elliptical machines and free weights will be occupied from dusk to dawn with people who made the New Year's Resolution to "get in shape." But by February, the gym will be nearly empty again, and I can return and lift weights in relative peace.

New Year's Resolutions are usually sincere — people don't say to themselves "I want to take a half-assed stab at being healthy." People DO want to quit smoking. They DO want to be in shape. They DO want to have a baby, and get a better paying job, and save for retirement.

But you have to be committed to these goals before the New Year rolls around. In fact, you have to be ready to start making lifestyle changes immediately, even if in modified form. Because while January 1st signifies the start of a new calendar year, actual change starts with YOUR internal clock, and that clock is already ticking.

*Fortunately, nobody eats fruitcake. Except Canadians. Who may or may not be an actual people.
**Every other month or so.

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Guest's picture

I wrote about this over at my own blog, mainly because I had a lot of friends who were caught up in the hype of having a new year's resolution (and asking me what I was going to do this year). I agree with you to some extent, of course - because I believe that a lot of the new year's resolutions aren't founded in any real reality. Those that actually work on their resolutions should be doing it all year instead of a prescribed time set forth by the media.

Thank you for this article. :) It makes me feel good to know that there are others who share my opinions.

Andrea Karim's picture

We pessimists need to stick together!

Guest's picture
Tricia Kolsto

Great Article. But you are right - I like fruitcake, but I am Canadian - eh! =)

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm only half Canadian, but we get one from the Canuck side of the family every year. It's delicious; after it cures, we freeze half of it and then slowly savor it over the course of a couple of months. Amazing with cream cheese.

Guest's picture

So true. For me, I guess if we are to have our own New Year resolution, it's better to do it not just because it's New Year. Everyone should do what he ought to do all year round.

Guest's picture

Fact: Responsible use of credit is a myth sold to us by creditors. Debt is Dumb…PERIOD! Explore a Debt Free Lifestyle in this New Year!

Guest's picture

This is the first time I made anything close to a resolution. I just aim to re-focus on some things that I fell behind on because of the holidays and my new job - primarily getting back to regular counselling sessions and Weight Watchers meetings, and placing more focus on my handmade jewelry business.

Guest's picture

You're right. I'm always exited when new year coming, make many plans, but I can't do all of them. I expect too more than I can do. Very bad.
After reading your post, I think I will change my mind. Thank you very much!