New Year’s Resolutions: Are You Setting up for Failure?

The clock strikes midnight. You made the decision that this year is going to be THE year for it. You dive in headfirst, guns blazing on it.

After a couple weeks, the enthusiasm fades. It is no longer something that excites and energizes you. Instead, it drains and defeats you. Maybe this isn’t even the first time you’ve failed at it.

The it is the infamous New Year’s resolution. If that story sounds familiar, you have crashed and burned on a resolution. And you’re not alone.

Do Resolutions Work?

While the stats are mixed as to how many New Year’s resolutions are successful long-term, the overall results are not good. Research shows the majority of people eventually abandon their New Year’s resolution. Even more disheartening is that it only takes a few weeks for a good chunk of people to drop off.

Between working at a fitness center and being a gym rat, I saw this firsthand for more than a decade of my life. The first few weeks in January the parking lot, weight room, and cardio machines were packed. Tons of new faces, people excited and full of energy.

Then, even before February arrived, the crowds began to thin. It was easier to snag a weight bench or score a favorite treadmill. I wish I could say it wasn’t always like that, but it happened like clockwork — year after year.

That said, I am not here to discourage you from making a New Year’s resolution. Any attempt to do something that will improve health, organization, quality of life, or whatever the desired outcome, is something to encourage.

What I want to do is challenge the approach to resolutions. To dig deeper into the reason for setting a resolution in the first place.

Why to Make a New Year’s Resolution

In 2021, what was the number one New Year’s resolution? Exercise more.

At first glance, this is great! People want to get mentally and physically healthier and recognize exercise is the way to do that.

Run because it makes you feel good.

Let’s check in and see the second most popular New Year’s resolution: lose weight.

Ugh. There it is.

Exercising and getting in shape are always at the top of every New Year’s resolution list. Unfortunately, the driving force behind exercise sometimes isn’t for the positive outcomes like stress relief, better sleep, and a healthy heart.

Most often, efforts to exercise more are rooted in losing weight. It’s the ugly side of the health and wellness industry, this idea that losing weight is the holy grail. That losing weight will solve every problem. We are conditioned to believe that losing weight means we will be happier, more attractive, people will like us more, or we’ll overall be a better version of ourselves.

I don’t mean to just single out exercise resolutions. That’s simply the area I have the most experience. Looking at other popular resolutions, the negative undertones are there, too.

The Motivation

Think about resolutions like getting organized, learning a new skill, and spending more time with family. Even with the positive implications those have, there is often a lot of negativity driving them. And that is what needs to be examined when making a New Year’s resolution — the “why” behind it.

Do you want to get organized because you believe that it will help you organize other priorities in life? Or do you feel like you missed the boat to Marie Kondo your life?

Does learning a new skill sound exciting because you have genuine interest in trying something new? Or do you feel badly about yourself that you cannot do something?

Is spending more time with your family appealing because life is short and there are genuine things you want to do with them? Or are you struggling to manage your mom guilt?

Changing the Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

I believe there are two major reasons New Year’s resolutions fail.

One has to do with lack of a clear goal and a plan — but that’s a whole topic of its own, for another time.

Second, I believe the process to create resolutions is broken. We are too negative, too down on ourselves, too social media-obsessed. We think:

More coffee dates with friends – that’s my kind of resolution.

When I start exercising, I’ll lose all this extra weight that makes me so unattractive.

Once I get organized, my messy house will finally look good when my in-laws come over.

If I start spending more time with my kids, I’ll have great Instagram photos that are better than Rebecca’s.

Wrapped up in each of those scenarios is a whole lot of negativity and negative self-talk. It’s not as direct as saying, “I’m fat,” “I’m a mess,” or “I’m a bad mom,” but those messages are in there.

It’s more about comparing ourselves with others and looking to maintain a certain image.

Make it Positive

This year, should you choose to make a New Year’s resolution, do it to celebrate yourself. And make sure it’s something you actually want to do for yourself.

Exercise more because you are healthy enough to and it will make you feel great.

Get organized because studies show that it can boost happiness.

Spend more time with your kids because they are awesome little people. And gosh darn it, they are growing up too fast.

Please don’t spend one more year on a resolution to “fix” something about yourself or your life that you feel is broken; because, really, it probably isn’t.

And in the event there is something majorly broken in your life, the reality is that it probably can’t be solved by a resolution.

Instead of focusing on the negative, consider the positives that will result from a changed behavior.

How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution

That takes care of setting the New Year’s resolution. What about keeping it? This again is where going in with a positive mindset makes a difference.

Imagine this scenario:

My resolution is to exercise because I’m fat and ugly.
I’m finally going to lose that weight and be attractive.
This is hard and it’s not getting easier. Maybe I’m terrible at this.
I’m tired, I’m sore, nothing is changing.
I may as well just give up. I’m such a failure.

I sincerely hope this doesn’t sound familiar to anyone reading this. It illustrates a concept that is proven time and time again: negativity breeds more negativity. Starting a resolution with a negative undertone can make it tougher to keep going.

Little setbacks are normal, they are part of the process. And if you do find yourself slipping away from your resolution, give yourself grace. Keep in mind the positive reason why you’re doing this and get back on track.

Bonus, the Mayo Clinic shows that there are tons of benefits that come with having a positive mindset.

Finally, remember that change is hard.

Our brains are wired to resist change. That’s essentially what a resolution is, changing a behavior or a mindset. Change is a process and it can take a long time to see results. Stay focused on the benefits and what motivated you to make a positive change in the first place.

A healthy and happy holiday and New Year to all! Good luck to those looking at the new year as an opportunity to do something good and positive.

Do you plan to set a New Year’s resolution? Let me know in the comments or connect with me @LindsayIRL on Twitter or @lindsayinreallife on Instagram. And find more tips for staying well all year long on

And for more on New Year’s resolutions, see New Year, Same Routine. That’s a Good Thing.
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Lindsay Paulson
You know the moms who bake delicious treats for school, throw Pinterest-worthy birthday parties, and have picture-perfect Christmas cards with the whole family in matching pjs? Lindsay is the exact opposite of that. What she lacks in skill and willingness to do ALL the things, she tries to replace by being present and positive. Her top priority is her family - her husband, Chris, two boys born in 2018 and 2020, and dogs, Burton and Gus. She also prioritizes herself, working as a Communications Manager for a healthcare company and staying well through exercise, gratitude, and mindfulness. Her first love is running and she has run marathons in several cities, including Boston, Chicago (which she ran pregnant with her first son), Duluth, and of course, Fargo. Her writing is often based on personal stories, with a touch of humor, and lots of honesty. She hopes all moms know how strong they are and encourages you to embrace who you are, rather than try to be who you think you should be.


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