Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

2013 is just around the corner. Thinking about new year’s resolutions? How well did they work for you in the past? If your experience was like that of most, they didn’t work. The truth is, unless the optimal internal and external environment is there to support our resolutions for the new year—or any other time, for that matter—we’re basically setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. With that said, let’s look at the top 3 reasons why new year’s resolutions fail, along with an alternative suggestion for 2013.

Reason #1: Unrealistic stretch goals

old life, new life

With the best of intentions, our new year’s resolutions are often too far of a stretch from our instinctive nature or the reality of where we are in our lives and how much change we’re truly ready to undertake. One thing we either don’t consider or grossly underestimate is how much we’re creatures of habit. Habitual thoughts, beliefs and actions don’t require conscious thought.

We can most certainly break old habits and develop new ones. However, it takes conscious commitment and consistent practice to stretch our comfort for some time before the desired changes can be habituated—and we don’t have to think about them anymore. The more our new year’s resolutions represent a major departure from our habitual norm, the more likely we are to lose our resolve—and revert right back to our comfort zone, i.e., that which we resolved to change.

For instance, let’s say you decide to start the new year joining an exercise boot camp meeting at 5:30am every morning, because it has received rave reviews on weight loss effectiveness. However, you aren’t a morning person. What do you think will likely happen to your resolution? As another example, your 70-hour work week leaves you exhausted, grumpy and uninspired every, single day. Without some steps to shift your energetic, mental, emotional and physical state, how realistic do you think is your resolution to find happier employment?

In short, we simply can’t set stretch goals in a vacuum. Instead, we need to consider how the changes may challenge our nature and shake up our habits—and be honest about whether we’re truly ready to commit to making these changes.

Reason #2: Lack of support


Related to the above pitfall, one common reason new year’s resolutions fail is that we don’t optimize our environment to support the change in habitual patterns necessary to move us from our current to the desired state. By environment, it can be physical, mental, emotional and/or spiritual.

For instance, do you keep junk food in your house or at work that challenges you to stay true to your weight loss resolution? Are you hanging out with people and engaging in activities perpetuating your old eating habits that contributed to your carrying unwanted extra pounds/kilos in the first place? If you resolve to live more fearlessly and purposefully following your “Why,” how do your commitments and routines support the necessary follow-through and continued nurturing of your intention? Who in your life supports you, including lovingly calling you on it when you stray from your intention?

When a resolution calls for perseverance, having encouragement vs. nay-saying can make a world of difference. That’s why peer support is a critical component of lasting behavioral change, e.g., kicking an addiction. That’s also why group classes and programs offer synergistic benefits. Aside from being able to compare notes with fellow participants with similar learning objectives, we don’t feel we’re alone, but instead journeying with similar others.

My spiritual community since 2008 was an invaluable source of energetic support for me as I prepared to leave my corporate job in 2009. The consciousness-raising classes I took there over the years helped me to know my authentic self. In turn, that enabled me to overcome my ego protestations and own my mission. That included writing my first personal empowerment book in the first quarter of 2011, honoring an intention I set for that year—a truly exquisite creative and spiritual experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Reason #3: Belief in not being enough


Perhaps the biggest reason why our new year’s resolutions fail is the same reason why we set them in the first place. That is, we believe we aren’t ok unless we fix ourselves through whatever changes we believe we must make. That’s why the weight loss, fitness, and self help industries do really well at the start of a new year. The masses clamor for motivation to do what we really don’t want to do but feel we must do in order to feel ok, to feel enough.

Dr. Robert Holden says that no amount of self improvement can ever make up for the lack of self acceptance. That’s golden truth. It’s one thing to want to acquire new skills or improve our competency in doing something that inspires us and fulfills our purpose for being. It’s an entirely different matter if we feel that we need to fix ourselves in order to deserve living our best lives. We essentially come from a place of lack and fear. Lack and fear make us contract, and can’t inspire us. It’s because of this lack and fear that self-sabotage kicks in, old limiting habits take over, and our well-intended new year’s resolutions fall on the wayside, perpetuating the vicious cycle of feeling not enough.

Instead, when we restore our knowing that we’re inherently enough, we don’t need to be fixed. We can then be open to receiving the highest vision for us and for our lives. We can allow that vision to guide us to take inspired action toward being our best selves and living our best lives. An intention to do so stems from expansion and love, not lack and fear.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, before setting a resolution for 2013, consider the following:

  1. What’s my motivation for wanting to make this change? If I’m willing to entertain the idea that I’m already enough, is this change still necessary?
  2. What changes to my routines and habits must be made in order for me to fulfill this resolution?
  3. How does my physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual environment need to be optimized to support my resolution?

An Intention for 2013


Have you noticed that words are very powerful? They can inspire or demoralize. A “resolution” is a specific, hard and fast decision to solve a problem. An “intention” is more fluid and flexible, allowing room for us to ebb and flow with the unpredictability of life, while consciously doing our best toward what we wish to create.

With that said, let me propose this: Instead of making a resolution to fix something about yourself or your life in 2013, how about setting an intention to do your best in the new year to be the best you and to live your best life? Stay tuned for more on how to call in the highest vision for you to live your best life in 2013.

Meanwhile, over to you, what’s your opinion on new year’s resolutions? Do you like them? Have they worked for you? Would love for you to share your insights below in the comment box.


Photo credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/

If you’re new here, welcome! I invite you to subscribe to my blog via email or RSS feed. Simply look for the “Subscribe & Connect” box below.

About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

Subscribe & Connect

Subscribe to blog articles by email, and connect with Alice across the web.

, , , , , , ,


Thanks for this list Alice - I love the focus on starting rather than the usual emphasis on stopping (fixing). Great post!

Cathy Ritter
Cathy Ritter

Hi Alice, Your post reminded me to step away from the resolutions. I have been thinking about where I'd like to put my focus in 2013. I'll keep in mind that my focus will be my intention and that it is fluid and flexible. The anxiety melts away and I feel free to do my best without judgement. Thank you so much for this post. Best wishes for a great 2013.

Jon M (@ThinDifference)
Jon M (@ThinDifference)

Alice, Great post to read as we enter a new year. I also believe we place too much emphasis on "new year's" resolutions. We need to have a plan and checkpoints along the way. Having a longer term direction with quarterly resolutions may be a more productive and meaningful approach to take. Here's to a great year ahead! Jon

Nicole Sanchez
Nicole Sanchez

Hello Alice! I love this post so much! I really do believe in having goals and an outline for how I will get to them. Yes, they keep me moving forward and ever growing and changing even if I don't quite get to the desired outcome. What appealed to me the most in this post was accepting ourselves and living our best lives, being the best version of ourselves. My life has been very much moving towards the positive in the past few months and I believe the points you make here are a large part of the "why" things are improving. Thank you for sharing!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Thanks, Scott! Glad my post offered a useful perspective to you. Happy (almost) New Year!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Hi Cathy, Your comment was mistakenly filtered as spam, and I just saw it...sorry for the delayed response! I'm glad that my post served you. So many people beat themselves up for failing to fulfill resolutions, myself included! A fluid and flexible intention to do our best really is the best way to go. Wishing you a great 2013 as well, Cathy!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Jon, thank you very much for adding your thoughtful comments to this conversation. Yes, we do tend to over-emphasize markers like "new year's" when life is one fluid journey, even with twists and turns. It's good to have a sense of direction and a clear intention on where to head, with openness and flexibility to course-correct as needed. Wishing you a great year ahead as well, Jon!

Alice Chan, Ph.D.
Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Hi Nicole, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. So glad that your life is moving towards the positive! Yes, self-acceptance is so important, as the quality of actions we take from that place instead of fear that we aren't enough reflects the truth of who we are and expresses our best self. One of my favorite books of all times is "The Four Agreements" by Don Miguel Ruiz. The fourth agreement is "Always do your best," knowing that your best varies from day to day, ebbing and flowing with life. Truly, no one can honestly do better than their best. So, instead of being chained to a resolution come hell or high water, we can intentionally live every day doing our best from a place of knowing we're enough--and love. Thanks again, Nicole!


  1. […] week, I wrote about why new year’s resolutions fail, and suggested setting an intention for 2013 instead to do our best to be our best selves and live […]

  2. […] of another. What’s your practice for releasing the old and embracing the new? I don’t set new year’s resolutions, as they don’t work. Instead, I like to review the past year and vision for the new year. In a nutshell, 2013 is ending […]

%d bloggers like this: