How long do New Year’s resolutions last? The reality of successes and setbacks

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated December 30, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Setting ambitious goals and resolutions is often the first step in making changes in our lives. With the New Year ahead, many people commit to various New Year’s resolutions. After the holidays, some people may aim to lose weight or start a gym membership. Other popular resolutions may include pursuing specific career goals or learning new skills. For both older and younger adults, the end of the year can be an opportunity to reflect and set positive intentions for the future. But how long do these resolutions actually last? 

The odds seem to be against those making resolutions, with statistics on New Year's resolutions showing many people abandoning their goals within the first week or two. According to one survey, only 36%, on average, make it past the first month of January, compared to 9% who successfully keep their resolutions throughout the year. 

Why is it that most New Year’s resolutions fail? The problem may lie in how people set goals, as well as how they adapt when obstacles come up. 

Read on to learn why New Year's resolutions might not last and what you can do about it.

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Struggling with New Year’s resolutions and setbacks?

Why your New Year's resolution might not last

Your New Year’s resolution might be hard to maintain for several different reasons. If you recognize the potential pitfalls you might experience and plan accordingly, you may be able to increase your chances of success. 

Unrealistic goals

One common reason New Year's resolutions may fail is that people often set unrealistic goals. These goals may seem achievable at first, but they can quickly become overwhelming. For instance, trying to lose a large amount of weight quickly or completely transform your lifestyle overnight can be difficult. As a result, people may lose motivation and ultimately abandon their resolutions.

No specific plan

Another major reason why many New Year's resolutions don't last long is the lack of a specific plan. Most people tend to set generic goals such as losing weight, improving fitness, drinking less alcohol, or eating healthier. However, without a clear goal and timeline, it can become hard to stay committed and measure progress.

Lack of motivation

When it comes to New Year's resolutions, another one of the main reasons people quit is a lack of motivation. Many people are initially enthusiastic and hopeful, but over time, their interest and determination may wane. They might lose motivation for a number of reasons, such as unrealistic goals or a lack of support. In some cases, it’s not motivation they lack, but discipline.

Too many resolutions at once

Another common issue that happens when setting New Year's resolutions is making too many goals at once. Having too much on your plate can be overwhelming and highly stressful. In addition, managing multiple resolutions at the same time can divide your focus and reduce your chances of reaching your goals. It may be better to prioritize one or two major goals and develop a realistic action plan.

Lack of support or accountability

A lack of support or accountability can also increase the likelihood of failure. That’s because supportive friends and family can help keep you accountable and encourage you to stay on track. For example, you might share physical health goals with a friend and start going to the gym together.

It may also be helpful to set up accountability partnerships or join a group with similar goals. When people discuss their resolutions and share their progress, they may be more committed and focused on their goals.

New research suggests that social norms may play an important role in changing our behavior. In 2023, researchers performed a series of studies on how norms influenced people’s behavior in different social contexts. They found that being in an environment where behaviors like multitasking or eating unhealthy food were frowned upon made people less tempted to engage in them. This is another example of how staying on track may be easier when you enlist others.

Not tracking progress

Another reason New Year's resolutions may fail is a lack of progress tracking. Having clear values to measure can help you determine whether you’re on track or need to make adjustments. For instance, someone looking to improve their financial situation can regularly assess their income, expenses, and savings. As they start to see results, they might have more clarity and motivation to work toward their goals. 

Giving up after a setback

It's common for people to feel discouraged after a setback in their New Year's resolutions. You might lose enthusiasm as January comes to an end, and you might abandon the resolution altogether if you experience an unexpected setback. However, reaching your goals is rarely a straight path; progress is often accompanied by periods of setbacks. Instead of giving up, you can account for the fact that you’ll experience failures early and recognize them as a part of the process. 

Choosing resolutions based on what others expect

Some people might choose their New Year's resolutions based on peer pressure. However, it can be helpful to remember that resolutions should be about your own personal growth and improvement. You may want to reflect on your own desires rather than conform to certain trends or expectations.

Not making the resolution a habit

New Year's resolutions might not last as long as they should because they’re not being made into a daily habit or routine. For the resolution to be sustainable, it should become a consistent habit. Creating new habits can take time and commitment, but strategies are available to help with the process. For example, if you want to exercise more in your daily life, you can start with a few minutes a day and gradually increase the duration over time.

Underestimating the difficulty of change

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When it comes to New Year's goal-setting, many people tend to underestimate the difficulty of making big life changes. People often start with ambitious goals, setting the bar high for themselves. However, they may focus on the end goal rather than taking the smaller but necessary steps to get there. Comparing yourself to others may also cause you to underestimate the difficulty of change. Everyone’s path to success may differ, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.

Lack of time management skills

A common reason why people struggle to maintain their New Year's resolutions is a lack of effective time management skills. As people set new goals, they may underestimate the amount of time and effort that’s needed to achieve them. Creating specific timelines and milestones can help you stay focused on gradual, steady progress. For example, working toward a fitness goal often requires scheduling exercise sessions and meal planning for the week in advance.

These are just some of the many reasons you might not keep the resolutions you planned for. Although it can seem like the odds are stacked against you, there are various strategies you can try to stick with your resolutions.

Strategies for keeping resolutions

Using a few strategies may increase the chances of success when pursuing New Year's resolutions. These may include the following:

  • Setting clear intentions: Know the reasons and motivation behind your resolutions. Having a strong purpose can help you stay focused on what's truly important and avoid getting lost in the details.
  • Breaking resolutions into smaller goals: Complex goals can be overwhelming. Breaking them into more manageable tasks may make the overall goal seem more achievable.
  • Creating milestones: Define milestones and deadlines for your resolutions using a calendar. That way, you can track your progress and make adjustments as needed.

In any case, you may want to create an environment that helps rather than hinders your success. For example, if you’re looking to improve your fitness, you might benefit from joining a gym close to your home or workplace. Similarly, if you want to eat healthily, you might consider planning meals in advance and avoiding stocking up on unhealthy snacks. This can have a positive impact on your ability to stay consistent.

What to do when you struggle with your resolutions

It's common for people to face challenges when trying to achieve their New Year's resolutions; however, there are strategies that can help improve your chances of success. Consider the following when you find yourself struggling with your resolutions:

  • Reevaluate your goals: Take a step back and reflect on whether your resolutions are realistic. If necessary, you can always change your goals to make them more achievable.
  • Be prepared for setbacks: Setbacks are a normal part of the process, but you can always regroup and learn from them.
  • Seek support: Ask friends and family or join support groups for help with accountability, encouragement, and guidance.

Ultimately, the key to success with New Year's resolutions is staying persistent and flexible. With these characteristics, you can increase your chances of achieving your goals and maintaining positive changes in the long term.

Consider therapy

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Struggling with New Year’s resolutions and setbacks?

If you’re struggling to keep your New Year’s resolutions, you might also consider therapy. A therapist may be able to help guide you and identify whether underlying mental health problems, like depression or anxiety, could be stopping you from reaching your goals. 

Studies have shown that online cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in treating symptoms of depression. For example, one study found that online therapy was shown to be just as effective as face-to-face sessions for those with depression, and more people tended to continue the treatment until the end. This suggests that online therapy may be a potential tool for people struggling to keep their New Year's resolutions due to mental illnesses like depression. 

Benefits of online therapy

BetterHelp is an online platform that helps match people with licensed therapists based on their needs, preferences and location. Whether you're struggling with motivation or simply need someone to talk to about your journey, BetterHelp may be able to connect you with a therapist who will work with you to keep your resolutions on track.

Takeaway

Many people struggle to maintain their resolutions beyond the first few weeks or months of the New Year. However, you can increase your chances of success by creating realistic goals, tracking your progress, and getting an accountability partner. If you’re facing emotional obstacles or having trouble with staying consistent, you can also seek guidance from a therapist.

Learn how to cope with challenging events

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