Are New Year’s Resolutions Stupid?

by | Dec 30, 2022


Are New Year’s Resolutions stupid?


New Year’s Resolutions are a powerful way to make positive changes in your life. For why this is the case, this IFOD will draw heavily on the book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Wharton professor and expert on behavior Katy Milkman. Here are two great reasons why you should make New Year’s Resolutions:

1. Not All Resolutions Fail

About 40% of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions. Most people give up on their resolutions within a few weeks, and somewhere between 9% and 20% stick with their resolutions long-term. These statistics may seem dismal, but according to Prof. Milkman, there’s another way to look at it:

I like to remind cynics that if you flip the discouraging statistics about New Year’s resolutions on their head, you’ll see that 20 percent of the goals set each January succeed. That’s a lot of people who’ve changed their lives for the better simply because they resolved to try in the first place. Any time you make a resolution, you’re putting yourself in the game.

I like this idea of “being in the game.” If you don’t play, you can’t win.

2. A New Year is a Good Time for a Fresh Start

Prof. Milkman’s research on behavior change uncovered that “people instinctively gravitate toward moments that feel like fresh starts when they want to make change happen.” Adopting a new habit on a momentous date like a new year, a birthday, or even a Monday increases the likelihood of success because they give you an impression of a clean slate. It’s like there’s the old you and now the new you.

Try this: view the version of who you will be in 2023 as having a different identity. Let’s say you want to start exercising. Say to yourself, “the 2023 version of myself is an athlete.” Shifting your identity can be powerful. Here’s an example from my own life: in 2002, I decided to eat a plant-based diet. I declared to myself (and others), “I am vegan.” It became part of my identity. I know people who say the following things about themeselves:

“I am a runner” or “I am a marathoner” or “I am a Crossfit athlete”

“I used to be a smoker” or “I am a non-smoker now”

“I am a vegetarian”

“I am someone who meditates”

Some Tips for Making Your Resolutions Stick

There’s a lot of research about how to make your resolutions stick. Katy Milkman’s book is great on how to create positive change. Atomic Habits by James Clear and the Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg are also good. Based on my research and personal experience, here are three tips:

1. First and foremost, success requires establishing a process.

According to Prof. Milkman, “evidence suggests that, surprisingly, our intentions are only loosely predictive of our behaviors.” In other words, goals and resolutions aren’t self-executing. You have to have a plan or process.

Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert” and author of a number of books says the following: “Losers have Goals. Winners have Systems.” Similarly, James Clear notes that “If you genuinely care about the goal, you’ll focus on the system.”

Those are great quotes and good advice on how to have success. If your goal is to lose weight, that isn’t going to happen on itself – you need a system! Instead of focusing on that goal – over which you have no direct control – create the system you are going to follow and focus daily on that system (like following Weight Watchers, eating five servings of fruits and veggies a day, or whatever).

A popular IFOD on this topic is Beast Mode: Motivation and the Key to Success. This article by Mark Manson is also great: The Most Important Question of Your Life.

2. Use the StickK App.

This is an app where you set a goal (or better yet, a process) and stake money on your daily success or failure. Here’s my IFOD about this app: A Simple Hack for Building Positive Habits.

3. Don’t Have Too Many Resolutions

“Studies suggest that willpower is a limited resource. If you make too many resolutions, you won’t have enough willpower reserves to stick to all of them. ‘People make all these different New Year’s resolutions, but they are all pulling off from the same pool of your willpower,’ said Florida State University psychology professor Roy Baumeister, who spoke to me earlier this month for a post about willpower. ‘It’s better to make one resolution and stick to it than make five.'” Source.

1 Comment

  1. Wonderful IFOD! Nice touch from
    The FSU prof- Goooo Noles!
    In clinical practice around education toward healthy lifestyles and behavior change we implement the trans theoretical model or stages of behavior change. And use SMART goals for the process: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound.


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