Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work — and What Does

By Jackie Lam

Ah, the “jump on the bandwagon” mentality of New Year’s resolutions. The allure of a full year when you can magically transform into a new you makes it hard not to follow the crowd. 

Sure, it’s tempting to commit to a New Year’s resolution. After all, everyone else is proudly posting on social media their resolutions — hitting the gym seven days a week, going low-carb, or finally mastering their money

And by the end of the year, we’ve all hit our goals.

If only. 

In fact, a study reveals that while everyone is gung-ho on January 1st, nearly a quarter of folks fail to keep their resolutions by February. 

Let’s take a closer look at exactly why New Year’s resolutions don’t work, and what does: 

Why New Year’s resolutions fail 

Here are a handful of reasons why it can be so hard to keep a New Year’s resolutions:

  • You have unrealistic expectations. Let’s say your New Year’s resolution is to go from having zero to $5,000 in your bank account. That would be the same as trying to lose 20 pounds within a week, or becoming vegan overnight. If your expectations are unrealistic, you’ll likely fall short and lose motivation. 
  • They’re too vague. Perhaps your New Year’s resolution is to have “better financial health,” or to “work out more.” Because they’re too general, you won’t have a way to plot out the steps to get there, points out psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert, author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. For instance, while a lot of people want to “lose weight,” I want to lower my blood sugar and cholesterol levels. This is much more specific and applicable to me.
  • You’re framing them negatively. Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind? “I need to lose weight because I look too heavy.” “I need to pay off my credit card debt because my friends think I’m a loser.” We’ve all been there. Those negative thoughts will only lead to bouts of self-loathing. What about framing them in a positive light? Take note of these better options: “I want to exercise more so I can feel better.” Or “I want to crush my credit card debt so I can free up money to use in other ways.” 
  • You’re feeling overwhelmed. Trying to change everything at once is bound to lead to failure. So pick something achievable and work toward that. 

What to do instead of making a New Year’s resolution

Focus on gradually changing your habits instead of trying to achieve a massive goal in record time. 

It turns out that it takes 66 days, not 30, to form a new habit. So, give yourself sufficient time to change your ways. Here are some ideas to do this. 

  • Try an if/then statement. A study reveals that changing a habit can be as simple as using an “if/then statement.” For instance, if you’re trying to keep better track of your money, start with “If I am having my morning coffee, then I will log in to my mobile banking app and check my balance.” 
  • Make it easy. The road to real, long-lasting change is hard. And you’re bound to encounter a few hiccups along the way. Back to financial goals: Let’s say you’re trying to save for an emergency fund. If you have a bank account with Chime, you can set up automatic savings
  • Develop systems. Systems and structures can support you in reaching your goals. If you’re a Chime member, features like direct deposit can help you get paid up to two days early
  • Expect to lapse. There will be times when you’re on track, keeping yourself accountable, and feeling like a regular badass. And there will inevitably be times when you’ll fall off the bandwagon and need time to recoup. When I was trying to cut back on carbs, I had sprints when I was doing great. And then there were times when I would lapse back into my pizza-eating ways. 

Focus on gradual change

Instead of a New Year’s resolution, focus on developing positive habits over time. There’s no overnight solution. It takes patience, grit, and long-term commitment. Are you ready to give it try and develop positive, lasting habits?

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based financial writer whose clients include Fortune 500 companies and FinTech startups. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD.

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