4 reasons NOT to set New Year’s resolutions and what to do instead

blue and orange fireworksIs it far enough past New Year’s to talk about this yet? I kinda feel like it’s best to wait a few weeks after The Day to think about setting resolutions so I can think clearly, apart from the rah-rah and the hype. Setting resolutions is always the thing to do around New Year’s, but I am here to tell 4 reasons NOT to set New Year’s resolutions and what to do instead. And the real key to living the life you actually want.

Because, let’s face it, most people give up on their New Year’s resolution by January 20th. Did you know that? A staggering percentage of people never make it past the first few weeks of the year with what they want to do to improve their lives. They even have a name for the day that typically falls on the second Saturday in January: Quitter’s Day.


Look, I am the FIRST person to get excited about people making a plan to change things in their life they aren’t happy with, because:

If you want to change your life, then you have to change your life.

I know. *mind blown*

And for sure, the New Year is a great time to evaluate things in your life (or even better, do it at the beginning of each month….so you get 12 re-starts a year). But there are several reasons why people quit their resolutions LONG before any change in their life can possibly be made.

If you set a goal, the idea is that you would have an improved quality of life if you achieved it. It’s usually important to you. Like spending more time with family (I mean, not this year, but in a regular year), or taking control of your finances. But, honestly, how can we expect to succeed at a New Year’s resolution this year if we don’t have a track record of success?

It’s kinda a painful, fruitless cycle. I mean, right? So why do we keep setting New Year’s resolutions?

(If you are in that 8% of people who DO make progress past January, you are excused and can go do something else, like working successfully towards one of your goals…)

For the rest of us, if we can figure out why we have failed in the past, we can fix it. We are smart people who want a better life.

Here are 4 reasons NOT to set New Year’s resolutions:

  • You don’t really want to do it.

Many of us lived in a bit of a bubble this past year, with way fewer social demands and more control of our time. And it became evident pretty quickly that we really just didn’t want to accomplish a lot of the things we said we would if we had more time. In some ways, it’s a kind of freedom to realize what you DO want to do and the reasons why you don’t succeed at those things. Continuing to set a goal because you think you SHOULD set it is a waste of your life and time.

If you keep re-setting a goal, it is seriously time to re-consider if you really WANT to do the thing. If it’s something you know you really need to do (like getting healthier or saving money) and you continue to struggle with making progress–get someone to help you. For reals. Otherwise, consider what your life would be like if you just DIDN’T accomplish that goal. Maybe it would be just fine and you would be happier NOT pursuing it.

  • You don’t know how to set a realistic goal.

Now, I’m all for dreaming big, but when it comes to your real life, it is imperative you take into consideration the cost in time, money and other resources when you think about what can actually be accomplished. It’s part of setting S.M.A.R.T goals, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, and Time-limited.

Let’s say you want to become fluent in a foreign language this year, get a promotion, or eat healthier and exercise more. Do you know how many hours it will take? Will you need to hire a professional to help? Consider the season of life you are in right now and if the goal is reasonable to attain in your actual life. It’s hard to know what to account for this year, but if you have a busy travel year ahead of you for work or have a lot of family happenings this year with the weddings or reunions or graduation celebrations that were cancelled last year, consider what is possible to tackle.

Think about what you can actually do this year, not just what you would like to do. Yes, we make time for what is important to us, but unless you plan to continue to live in a bubble and have no outside obligations, the demands of your actual life do impact what you can reasonably accomplish. It is absolutely ok to be honest about what you are willing to sacrifice for this year and what you are not.

  • You set too many goals.

Probably one of the most important reasons NOT to set New Year’s resolutions is because you overwhelm yourself. More is not the merrier when it comes to setting goals. And the New Year is not the only time you can set one. In fact, I caution you to be careful how many things you try to pursue at one time. Some experts say you should only set one goal and you can probably only focus on one at a time. Your goals deserve attention. If you have three goals, consider when in the year is the best time to focus on them and how many months you will need to achieve them.

Did you know that starting a goal in April is just as valid as if you started it in January? Yep, it is. In fact, each month is a fresh chance to start again. Each day, really.

  • You don’t think you can do it.

When you write down a goal, if in the back of your mind a little voice says, ‘You won’t actually do that’, you need to consider shutting.it.up. Here’s a little secret: people change their lives all the time. You know people who have set a goal and accomplished it. But changing your life by altering or eliminating well-established habits is REALLY hard. Otherwise, you would have already done.

So, assume it’s going to be a little bit hard to achieve a goal. Possibly really hard. And you are probably going to need other people to support and encourage you in some way. If you’re the only one who knows about your goal and you fail, you’ve disappointed yourself, but you don’t risk any social embarrassment (which, let’s face it, stinks, and thus, is a powerful motivator).

Raise the stakes a little and be brave. Hire a professional to help you in your endeavor. Announce your goal (that you have put through the S.M.A.R.T. test) to your social media following and keep them updated with the highs and lows. You might inspire other people to be brave. With each post you share, you hold yourself accountable. And that’s a good thing. You’ve set New Year’s resolutions because they are important to you. They are worth risking a little social transparency for.

But here’s what to do INSTEAD of setting New Year’s resolutions

The real problem is that we set New Year’s resolutions for things we THINK we should want, not for the things we ACTUALLY want. It’s a function of what are you WILLING to do vs. what do you say you WANT to do. And no amount of setting S.M.A.R.T goals or getting your social media following involved is going to solve that fundamental problem.

I think the biggest issue around setting (and quitting) New Year’s resolutions can be solved if we do ONE thing:
seek more joy.

For reals. Because how is ‘working out’ or ‘eating healthier ‘ (50% of New Year’s resolutions set one of these two goals) going to compare with the joy of a cupcake? So the idea is to build the story in your mind about what the RESULT of the goal will get you, the joy you will feel when you get there. Where is the joy in running a mile every morning? In the image you have of yourself of being able to feel great about what your body can do–your strength and fitness, and also how adorable you are gonna look in that outfit you have saved on Pinterest.

Choosing to deny the very real joy of your favorite breakfast pastry will not be easy (or very possible) if you don’t have the joy of what you get when you stick to your resolution. It’s hard, obvi, because cupcakes are immediate joy and feeling strong is a longer-term joy.

You have to think of the joy you WILL have–and it has to be practically a visceral response in your mind. And the feeling of what a badass you will be when you pass on the cupcake KNOWING you have made a small change to change your life.

There’s some joy right there. And if you’ve waded through and evaluated the reasons NOT to set New Year’s resolutions, you really are gonna be on the right track to join those 8 percenters who are getting.it.done.

Now, go make a resolution you are WILLING to do, one where you know what joy you are seeking.

Happy New Year! (or month!)


Thanks to Andreas Dress for this lovely photo on Unsplash!

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