4 Simple Reasons Resolutions Fail (and Why Yours Won't)

How do you keep your New Years resolutions on track through February and beyond? Dr. Ellen Hendriksen busts 4 of the most common resolution roadblocks.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #182

image of new years resolutions not met

January 1st sparkles with good intentions: this will be the year we finally get in shape, get serious about love or our career, or get our life together. But too often, the spark fizzles faster than a Fourth of July fireworks display and most of us are using that new bosu ball to help reach the donuts at the top of the kitchen cabinet. So how to keep your light burning brightly through January and beyond? It may be easier than you think. This week, we’ll tackle the four most common reasons resolutions fail and give you the keys to success.

The 4 Most Common Resolution Roadblocks

  1. Resolution Roadblock #1: A grand but vague goal.
  2. Resolution Roadblock #2: Fitting in a new habit.
  3. Resolution Roadblock #3: Your resolution sucks.
  4. Resolution Roadblock #4: You start out gangbusters and then give up.

Let's explore each a little further. 

Resolution Roadblock #1: A grand but vague goal.

The problem: Starry-eyed resolutions like “lose weight,” “get organized,” “live life to the fullest,” or everybody’s favorite catch-all “get healthy,” all have a fatal flaw. What exactly? They’re vague, which gives them all the credibility of, “We should get together sometime,” or worse, “I’ll call you.”

The fix: Be specific. You’ll know your resolution is specific enough if you can check it off on a list. For example, instead of “get healthy,” try “Eat fewer than 25 grams of sugar a day,” or “Eat vegetables at every meal,” or “Go to that 7 AM yoga class every Thursday.”

Quantification is often the key to specificity: that means defining a specific number of pounds to lose, number of times a week you’ll work out, or what distance you’ll run.

Resolution Roadblock #2: Fitting in a new habit.

The problem: A resolution to take on a new activity, like volunteering, spending more time with your family, reading more, or learning French or the ukulele, is often doomed from the start. Why? Because changing your habits (and accompanying schedule) is surprisingly hard. Problems abound: finding the time, remembering to do it, and maintaining the habit.

And it’s more complicated than just being set in our ways. Many of us spend our days running around the bases so fast we’re lucky if we touch them all. Adding another base to touch, even if it’s just five minutes of meditation every morning, much less two hours of volunteering once a week or 30 minutes of reading before bed, magically morphs the resolution from a feel-good goal into a giant hassle.

The fix: Automate it. Habit change works best when it’s linked to another habit. For example, if you’re aiming to meditate daily, link it to something else you do every day. Try meditating while your coffee brews, or right after brushing your teeth. Likewise, if you want to start a new gym habit, don’t sign up at a fancy place that’s a half-hour drive away—you’ll never go, no matter how awesome the rock climbing wall or how delicious the smoothie bar. Instead, choose a place between work and home, link working out to your commute, and a few weeks into 2018, after everyone else’s resolutions peter out, you’ll still be going strong.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.