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New Year's Resolutions: Why 92% Fail (But Yours Won't)

It’s the season for resolutions—but now that the partying is past, we can have that conversation sober.

Here's a sobering thought: the vast, vast majority of New Year's resolutions will fail. For example, last year Forbes reported that only 8% of people who set a New Year’s resolution will actually achieve it during that year.

The odds are against you. But we’re not cynical about New Year’s resolutions. An 8% chance of success still means 12-to-1 odds. To ambitious people (and gambling folk), those are decent odds of winning if you can play smart. 

This week, we're calling out the novice mistakes we see in most resolutions—including yours. To wrap it up, we've got our prime advice for turning those wishy-washy wants into sharp instruments of purpose.


Your New Year's Resolutions have problems. 

Most people don't even realize what a resolution is. It's a statement of determination, but it's meant to be specific. In other words, a New Year's resolution isn't just a wish—it's a decision with particular details and context. 

That helps explain the biggest problems with everyone's New Year's resolutions:



Wanting isn't specific. Think about it: anyone can genuinely want anything. (That's one of the major bugs in the human code.) 

We're good at picturing things. The fun of wanting is that, if only in your mind, you can have it all—and right now. If you want to be rich, pretty, and famous, you picture it as though you'll wake up tomorrow morning and never struggle through real life again. Fun thought, right?

But here we all are. The cruelty of New Year's resolutions is that, for one week a year, they help us confuse wishing for willpower. That probably helps explain the 8% of people whose resolutions succeed: they realize this and choose wishes they'll be able to follow through later. 



Pretend you have to budget your wanting. What do you want most? Focus your energies on two goals, not twelve—and realize this might mean you save certain goals for next year. 

And however much this question might annoy some of you: how do you quantify when you've gotten what you want? If you're saving money, how much? If you're losing weight (or gaining muscle), what's your target number? If you're improving your relationships or habits, which ones and why?

Get granular. Write down the details and make a plan for fulfilling your resolution(s) in 2017. You might find that the details are helpful for two things: for visualizing those goals, but also, for beginning to motivate yourself with your own concrete successes.



Thinking in terms of concrete success is important—because sooner or later, everyone realizes that their New Year's resolutions have concrete costs. (Very literally, in the case of people who vow to get back into the gym.)

Whether or not fitness is your goal, the gym's example makes visible the biggest weakness of most self-improvement efforts: that they don't properly account for pain. Most people remember that the gym takes time—but forget that it just plain hurts to go to the gym. (Newcomers have it even harder, since they're more likely to be insecure while there.) 

This is part of the reason you pick your battles. Losing 30 pounds AND saving $5,000 AND getting promoted might all be awesome, hugely-fulfilling goals—that you're totally capable of accomplishing! But each one likely requires lots of effort and lots of time. The effort and time are worth the reward if you can focus down the goal—but if you spread yourself thin, it'll all go to waste.   


(Start 2017 off right by setting yourself up with the best tools for success. Check out our collection of notebooks—designed for creatives, by creatives.)

Winning Resolutions — or How to Make the Top 8%

With the likeliest issues visible now, re-examine your resolution. If you think it's still weak in one of those ways, consider the following buffs and tests:

Figure out what you actually want. Test your resolution by pitting it against its competitors, the other things you might want to do. If you were guaranteed that only one thing would go right this year, what would you want it to be?

Write everything down. Write your resolutions down, write the plans down, write your progress down. If you don’t put it in writing, it’s at the mercy of your memory. Even a perfect memory can never show you, with objectivity, what was committed in words and how progress trends over time.

Talk to others about the goal, especially people who know more about it. Partly, setting up “accountability partners” is a good idea, but partly also, you may learn a lot you didn’t know about your goal, and you may find some surprising sources of encouragement along the way.

Give yourself time and space. Even people who are doing everything right feel discouraged sometimes. And, hey, life happens; when things beyond your control get in the way, you don’t deserve to feel like a failure. One specific tip is to allow yourself all year to accomplish the resolution; that way, you’ve got some built-in padding. 

Before you go, plan on your next steps to take action. For us, that involves with documenting our goals, thoughts, and initiatives. We do this with the best gear for creatives—a Code&Quill notebook. Check out our collection of notebooks—designed for creatives, by creatives—now.


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1 comment

  • Love these tips! I should write them down somewhere…. :)

    Em on

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