Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail and What to Do Instead


You’re probably like many of us. You had grand visions of what you’d do in the new year, but after setting ambitious resolutions you didn’t make it very far. Those 10 pounds hung on, your diet didn’t get permanently cleaner, and your gym membership card stopped getting used. Frustrated, you hoped the next year would be different.

This is the story for most of us. In fact, over 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail miserably and most don’t even make it to February. Why? They’re unrealistic and don’t work with the way humans think or the way we’re motivated.
Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail and What to Do Instead

Why Resolutions Fail

Typically, we set goals that are too ambitious. You want to lose 20 pounds in a month, so you set up big changes to your daily routine. You throw out all the ice cream, buy all the vegetables, set your alarm for 5 a.m. so you can hit the gym, and say no to dinner out with friends. Pretty soon you’re sick of cooking veggies and the ice cream has snuck back into your freezer. You hit the snooze too many times to get to the gym and you’re missing all those lively conversations with your friends over dinner.

Most resolutions tend to focus on short-term, 100%-or-not-at-all solutions that aren’t sustainable. They make us feel deprived and overly restricted. We start to hate our diets and loathe how extreme everything feels. Then we indulge in all the things that we were trying to change, making us feel like failures. This kind of pattern over time tends to make us feel like we’re not good at creating change in our lives. We give up on resolutions and goals, wishing they were easier to achieve.

The good news is that there is another way to get where you want to go, without the extremism, the depressing fails, and negative self-talk. It’s called setting intentions.

How Intentions Create Success

Resolutions are usually short-term-focused solutions, whereas intentions focus on creating changes that will last a lifetime. Where resolutions are usually just skin deep, intentions are all about changing yourself at an almost “soul” level.

With a resolution, you might not be completely sure why you want something. When you set an intention, you know exactly why you want a change and how it will benefit your life. Intentions focus on the bigger picture of your life’s story and how you want it to transform.

Resolutions use an “either/or” mentality. So if you set a goal to hit the gym every day, you’ve already failed if you miss just one day. An intention would instead have a focus such as, “Honoring my body this year through movement and self-care.”

This kind of big-picture thinking allows you to skip the gym and take a walk when that sounds like a better fit for your day. Or it keeps you from feeling guilty when you’re sick and you need to rest instead. You win every day when you set intentions, building up your self-esteem and your commitment to wellness and self-care.

Goals are a useful part of setting intentions since they are the action steps you take to turn those intentions into reality. If you want a healthier, stronger body this year, you might want to find ways to exercise and move more regularly. With an intention like this, you might outline three to five steps that you can take to making movement a regular part of your life. This way of framing meaningful change in your life gives you the flexibility to make choices based on what you need in the moment.

How to Set an Intention

Creating intentions takes more time and present-mindedness than do resolutions. You need to spend some time in your mind and heart listening to what you know you need to change. Your past mistakes and lessons are helpful and your future dreams are good to keep in mind, but to set an intention you’ll need to be fully in the present moment.

Here is one way to help you get clear on an intention for the new year.

  1. Quiet your mind and leave your worries at the door. Empty your mind as much as you can.
  2. Let your mind enter into a meditative state and focus your vision on what you see for yourself this year.
  3. Really sink into the imagery and let it align with your intuitive knowing.
  4. Once you’ve seen the things that you want to create for yourself, pull out your journal to write down some keywords and themes.
  5. Choose themes that tie into your personal values, such as being healthy.
  6. Write out an intention that embodies those ideas. For example, “I am creating a healthy life that fuels me with energy.”
  7. Then write down your ‘why’ for this intention so that you strengthen your purpose.
  8. List out the steps you need to take to make your intention a reality and how you’ll set yourself up for success.
  9. Create a practice that helps you to remember your intention every day. This can include posting the intention on your mirror, meditating on it every morning, or placing a symbolic representation of it at your desk.
  10. If you get off track, just come back to your intention. Meditate on the intention and make it more central in your life.

New Year’s Intentions

Creating success in your New Year’s goals should be a positive experience and can cause lasting change in your life. By embracing intentions and giving them a bigger role in your life, you can finally get off the frustrating self-deprecation path and begin to walk with more self-love and confidence in your journey.

Wishing you meaningful and fulfilling changes in the year ahead!

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About the Author

Suzanne Monroe

Suzanne Monroe is the author of Live Well Dream Big: The Ultimate Guide to Becoming Your Best Self and Living Life on Your Own Terms. She has also written and published The Holistic Cookbook & Lifestyle Guide: 12 Weeks to a Healthier, Happier You, the co-author of 101 Ways to Improve Your Health and the host of the Live Well Dream Big Podcast. Suzanne was inspired to create the IAWP Wellness Coach Training & Certification Program in collaboration with other leading health experts in order to inspire people to create meaningful careers and spread the message of wellness.

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