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Why New Year's Resolutions Typically Fail

Identifying and Eliminating the Obstacles to Success

By Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)Published about a year ago 3 min read
Why New Year's Resolutions Typically Fail
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

New Year's resolutions are a common tradition for many people as the new year approaches. These resolutions often involve setting goals related to improving one's health, career, relationships, or personal growth. However, research has shown that a significant number of individuals who make New Year's resolutions fail to achieve their goals. Turns out there is research behind some of the reasons why New Year's resolutions typically fail, as well as how some strategies improve the chances of success.

One reason that New Year's resolutions fail is that individuals often set unrealistic or overly ambitious goals. A study conducted by the University of Scranton found that only 8% of individuals who make New Year's resolutions achieve their goals (Norcross, Vangarelli, & Kremer, 1988). This may be due in part to the fact that people often set goals that are too difficult or time-consuming to achieve within a short period of time. For example, resolving to lose 30 pounds in a month or to quit smoking cold turkey may be overly ambitious and difficult to achieve.

Another reason that New Year's resolutions fail is that individuals may not have a clear plan or strategy for achieving their goals. A study by Gollwitzer and Sheeran (2006) found that individuals who made specific and implementation intentions (i.e., detailed plans for achieving their goals) were more likely to succeed than those who did not. In other words, simply resolving to "lose weight" or "exercise more" is not enough; it is important to have a specific plan for how to achieve these goals.

A common obstacle to achieving New Year's resolutions is a lack of resources, support or accountability. Research has shown that individuals who have social support or accountability from others are more likely to achieve their goals (Burger, 2011). This may be because having someone to report to or rely on for motivation can help to keep individuals on track. It is important to realistically identify and address any potential barriers or limitations that may prevent the achievement of a goal.

By Markus Winkler on Unsplash

A lack of focused commitment, follow-through or discipline can sabotage any goal achievement. It is easy to make a resolution at the beginning of the year, but it takes sustained effort and dedication to see it through to the end. Without a strong commitment to the goal, it can be easy to lose motivation or get sidetracked. Especially at New Years, it can be tempting to set multiple goals or to try to tackle too many things at once, but this can lead to feeling overwhelmed or scattered. It is important to focus on one or a few specific goals at a time, and to be disciplined in working towards them consistently.

Finally, a lack of self-motivation or a negative mindset can also cause individuals to give up on their New Year's resolutions. A study by Oettingen, Pak, and Schnetter (2001) found that individuals who focused on the positive outcomes of achieving their goals were more likely to succeed than those who focused on the obstacles or challenges they faced.

There are many reasons why New Year's resolutions may fail, including setting unrealistic or overly ambitious goals, a lack of a clear plan or strategy, a lack of accountability or support, a lack of self-motivation or a negative mindset, a lack of commitment or follow-through, a lack of focus or discipline, and a lack of resources or support. Being aware of these potential pitfalls is the first step in avoiding resolution regret. To increase the chances of success with New Year's resolutions or any long-term aspiration, it is important to set realistic and achievable goals, develop a clear plan for achieving those goals, seek support and accountability from others, and maintain a positive mindset. With these strategies in place, individuals may be more likely to turn their New Year's resolutions into lasting changes.


Burger, J. M. (2011). Goals and goal setting: A social psychological perspective. In J. M. Burger (Ed.), Handbook of social psychology (2nd ed., pp. 257–292). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta-analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 69–119.

Norcross, J. C., Vangarelli, D. J., & Kremer, C. M. (1988). The resolution solution: Longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. Journal of Substance Abuse, 1(1), 79–93.

Oettingen, G., Pak, H. J., & Schnetter, K. (2001). Self-regulation of goal-setting: Turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80(5), 736–753.


About the Creator

Donna L. Roberts, PhD (Psych Pstuff)

Writer, psychologist and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, human and animal rights, and industrial/organizational psychology

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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  • Julio Navasabout a year ago

    I think most of the times it's just that we romanticize the idea of the goal and not get to like the process itself, process is the most important, it is the mechanism that will take you where you want. That process is made up of all the things you mentioned: support, motivation and self discipline, if you get yourself to like the process and TRULY live it, the goal will eventually reach out to you with so much ease.

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