New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Make Them, Why they Fail, and What Mine Are

I love New Year’s Resolutions. After all, it’s a list, and I LOVE lists! For me, resolutions are like getting a new notebook when you start a new class or project, the blank pages make me feel more organized and the new beginning is visible. New Year is a whole new calendar, a new start, and a marker of change. For as long as I can remember, I have always made resolutions. Some of them I keep better than others, and some, like stop biting my nails and to floss my teeth, I don’t quite manage year after year. But I still make them because it gives me a starting point and a clear defined goal.

c9e5d9dfa75965db03e69594fcdec167According to John Norcross and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50% of the population make New Year’s resolutions. “Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and debt reduction.” The changes people resolved to do go well the first few weeks, but then start to fall once February comes along. By the end of the year, people are back to where they started, or worse. Why can’t people, myself included, keep their resolutions? Perhaps its because we are lazy or are weak-willed?


According to this article, people make resolutions as a way to motivate themselves, but people aren’t may not be ready to change their habits, particularly if they are bad habits, which is why so many resolutions fail. People also set unrealistic goals and expectations, and when they individual inevitably doesn’t succeed in the goal, they get discouraged, and not only is it damaging to one’s self-esteem, there is little desire to try again.


If you want to make resolutions that stick throughout the year, you have to modify your behaviors and change your thinking. By studying MRI scans, brain scientists have discovered that a person’s usual behaviors, often the ones wanted to be changed by resolutions, are created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories. These actions or habits become your default behavior. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” won’t work. Change requires creating actual new neural pathways in the brain to from new thinking.


One of my resolutions that I had made in 2013, along with the teeth flossing and nail biting, was to not buy new clothes. After too many trips to the mall that ended in tears because nothing fit, and I couldn’t find anything that wasn’t made overseas, I decided to just not buy anything. I already had a closet full of things I didn’t really like and rarely ware, so did I really need more? Some may think that this resolution was a bit extreme, but I thought I did pretty well. I did end up buying: a new pair of Dansco sandals, which I wore almost every day during the summer; a beautiful handwoven silk scarf from Laos that I’ve worn a few times for “fancy events”, a button up blouse that was on sale that I’ve only worn once (so fail on that purchase), and then about $300 worth of organic, free-trade, hand-woven sweaters and shirts from the Indigenous warehouse sale.


So what will 2014 bring? As always, I will continue my regular resolutions of flossing my teeth (which I’m getting better at), and not biting my nails (it comes and goes). We have major house goals like fixing our plumbing and getting better lighting in the house, but those aren’t personal- more of giant To-Do’s.

My 2014 resolutions include:

  • Getting finances in order and replenishing the savings account. Within the past two years, Matt & I paid for our wedding, traveled out of the country for our honeymoon, and bought a house. Needless to say, our credit cards and savings account balances have seen better days. One of the easiest ways I am able to save is by not going out to eat. Which brings me to my next goal….
  • Meal plan, and better stock the freezer and fridge. Despite having TONS of ingredients, I don’t ever have meals or prepped ingredients made in advance. After a long day, particularly in summer when we are outside working until the sunsets at 9:00, grabbing a burrito or Thai down the street is much easier. Yes, I may have chicken and beans, but they are frozen. So in effort to save money, I need to get back in the habit of meal planning and prepping in advance.
  • Just do the damn dishes. Another reason we end up eating out a lot? Because all the dishes I own are dirty and covering my limited counter surface, and I don’t want to do dishes and THEN cook. I hate doing dishes. HATE. And they are always there…..There is no regular “do the dishes after a meal” routine, but just pile them up throughout the day and after dinner. Weown a dishwasher, but its super low quality and produces dishes that are only 70% clean. Plus, because our plumbing suck ass, the washer drains though that weird hold in the top of the sink where you can attach a spray hose. That, combined with having a bunch of the dishes not being dishwasher safe, makes doing them by hand surprisingly easier. Except I HATE doing the dishes, and procrastinate until the last minute of having to do them because I need the counter space. I always hope that if they sit there long enough, the other member in my family will do them. But he won’t, and after 6 years, I need to just accept the fact that if they are to be done, I have to do them. And having a clean kitchen makes me a happier person.
  • Eat better breakfasts. The “most important meal of the day” has always been hard for me, even as a kid. I just don’t like normal breakfast foods like oatmeal, sugary pastries or cereal, but I am hungry right when I wake up. I love to cook, but not first thing in the morning. Probably because my counters are filled with above mentioned dishes, I eat whatever I can find. Usually its toast with peanut butter. Sometimes it is microwaved leftovers. Cookies have also been known to fill the void. This random, and often un-healthy, consumption becomes an element of my day that could be full-filled of with meal prep. I’ll totally eat a bowl of soup or a couscous curry for breakfast. It just has to be made or thought of before the morning when I’m starving. And hopefully, there will be clean bowl to eat it in….
  • Knit and sew more. Transform the stash of yarn and fabric into things that I can wear and use!
  • Wear an apron, for both housework and gardening. I have them, I just often forget to put one on. I find that if I wear one, I not only feel more productive, but I also keep my clothes cleaner. Which is good, because I also hate doing laundry….
  • Write. As in old school pen and paper. I sent my grandpa, whom I’m not close with nor had I talked with in a long time, a Christmas card and he responded with a note of being very thankful for my card. Small actions like this won’t take up much time, but receiving a hand written letter have big impact on making someone feel loved.
  • Do puzzles. We lost Matt’s grandma, Mary, earlier this year, and her brain was as bright as can be until the lasts days. I think part of this is because she regularly did puzzles, such as the daily crossword in the news paper. We would often watch and play Jeopardy together, and she was a worthy opponent. I’ve bought a book of (easy) crosswords, in order to challenge my brain. I’ve always failed miserably at crosswords before, but I resolve to put in real effort to try again.

What about you? Any goals or resolutions you are setting for 2014?


If you are, here are some tips from Phycology Today on making them successful:

    • Focus on one resolution, rather several; Set realistic, specific goals. Instead of “save money”, set a goal of “save $10 a week”.
    • Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big and requires too big of a step all at once.
    • Focus on the present. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
    • Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to check in with about how your goal is going.
    • And finally, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, but don’t let the slip hold you back from working at your goal.

2 thoughts on “New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Make Them, Why they Fail, and What Mine Are

  1. Setting realistic, specific goals is really key. My new year goals right now are 1. Take care of my body temple. 2. Finish painting the inside of the house. I’ll set more goals and add more projects, but those are good ones for now.
    I will totally be an accountability buddy with you. We can knit at your house and paint ceilings at mine! Yay! Or cook up big freezer meals so in the morning you pull dinner out to defrost.
    Have you thought of making yourself a quiche or frittata to eat for breakfast throughout the week?

  2. OMG, I hear you on dishes. Once I get them all washed and have a clean slate, I can maintain (I guess I don’t want to leave the first dish in the clean sink…) but as soon as a spare cup or plate ends up sitting in the sink, it is game over for dish washing. I am so much happier with a tidy kitchen, and whenever I actually make myself wash dishes it is always faster and easier than I thought, so I don’t know what my problem is! I’ll try to do better in 2014 as well! Happy New Year! 🙂

Comments are closed.