Why Your New Year’s Resolution May Do More Harm than Good

I know it sounds cliché, but most American s who make a New Year’s resolution have dropped it by the month of February. 80 percent of us will downright fail to keep them at all. They look good in January—but not so much in June. Gym memberships skyrocket at the beginning of the year, and plummet in the following months.

But why?

I love setting and pursuing goals. It lights me up, like it does many people. There will be millions of people, however, who set some New Year’s goals—and those goals come back to bite them; in fact, those very goals can discourage you instead of inspire you. I know several people who have resolved to stop making any New Year’s resolutions.

Let me offer four of the most common reasons why our New Year’s goals fade and what you can do about them.

Four Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

1. The goal is too big.

Too many of us try to sprint before we can walk. For instance, we may know we need to lose weight or exercise, so we jump into a regimen at the gym that is not sustainable. Or, we decide we want to read more, and we instantly attempt to read for two hours a day. It’s difficult to go from zero to two hours overnight. I suggest you begin small and progress toward something bigger. Why not resolve to workout once a week or read a book for ten minutes a day. Leave yourself wanting more and more will come.

2. The goal is not specific enough.

Too many of us don’t put much thought into our resolution. We say things like: “I want to be kinder.”  Or, “I want to get in shape.” These are good aspirations, but not good resolutions. Goals motivate us when they are clear and specific. Instead of the statements above, what if we said: “I will speak one word of encouragement each day to someone,” or “I will walk a mile each week and lift weights for 15 minutes each day.” The more specific your resolution is, the more likely it will inspire you and enable you to achieve it.

3. The goal is out of your control.

Resolutions are a crap shoot if they are goals that are out of our control from the moment, we set them. If I say: “My resolution is to experience good chemistry with my colleagues at work,” that becomes a goal that is up to several people other than yourself. It would be far better to say, “My goal is to pursue 30 minutes of personal time in conversation with my colleagues this year.” There are all kinds of elements to factor in when you set a goal—like the weather, the response of others, and decisions of your authorities. Choose goals that are in your control.

4. The goal is not measurable.

My past resolutions have failed when I chose ones I couldn’t evaluate. If a goal can’t be measured, its inspiration fades quickly. We must track our progress. Seeing a goal achieved over time is one of the most motivating activities we can enjoy. But we have to keep score. Daniel Wallen says, “Keeping a written record of your training progress will help you sustain an ‘I CAN do this attitude. All you need is a notebook and a pen. For every workout, record what exercises you do, the number of repetitions performed, and how much weight you used, if applicable. Your goal? Do better next time.”

Standards, Not Just Goals

Twenty years ago, I decided to not merely set some goals for each new year but establish some standards for myself—standards that represent a lifestyle I want to maintain. A goal is something you can pursue and reach, and then it’s over. A standard means setting the bar high for yourself and maintaining it. Some of mine are:

  1. Be a quality husband for my wife by listening to her every day, dating her once a week, and doing my share of the domestic tasks at home.
  2. Live healthy by keeping my blood sugars under 140 (I’m a type one diabetic), eating a salad each day, drinking three bottled waters daily, and working out three times a week.
  3. Practice lifelong learning by reading two books each month, meeting with six mentors regularly this year, and listening to a podcast daily.

Here’s to 2020 being a year that makes you better than you were a year ago. My friend Derric Johnson says, “Daily devotion is better than yearly resolution.”

Why Your New Year’s Resolution May Do More Harm than Good