New Year's Resolutions Don't Work

Here's why I'll still make one anyway.

Posted Dec 21, 2016

At 7 a.m. on December 21st, I signed on to Twitter and saw the following hashtag: #My4WordNewYearsResolution. Over 20,000 people already responded with their resolutions, and it got me thinking, “How many of these resolutions will actually come true?”

Sadly, not many of them will. According to William Vanderbloemen, an entrepreneur and pastor, “New Year’s resolutions just don’t stick.” Around this time of year, so many of us commit to losing weight, spending more time with loved ones, or participating in more professional development activities only to quickly lose sight of those goals by January 15th.

If we know that we won’t really keep our goals, then why do we still make them?

According to research by Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis (2014), we are more likely to set goals and commit to them at the New Year because of the “fresh start effect.” We want to believe that we can improve our health and relationships or accomplish a personal or professional goal, so we jump on the bandwagon when we feel that there is a chance for a fresh start.

Interestingly, Dai, Milkman, and Riis’ research indicates that “people are more likely to commit to their goals at the beginning of a new week (by 62.9%), month (by 23.6%), or year (by 145.3%) and following federal holidays (by 55.1%)….”  So, employers might apply the “fresh start effect” to help shift employees into gear when they return from vacation or start a new role (Dai, Milkman, & Riis, 2014). That might also be the time to encourage an employee to attend a workshop or commit to submitting deliverables on time.

Dai, Milkman and Riis (2014) suggest that managers might “frame” specific times as “opportunities for a fresh start.” This idea expands well beyond the New Year. Why not help our employees to have a fresh start each quarter, and set realistic goals for them to meet at the start of a new month? We’ll leave that discussion for another blog post.

Now that we understand why we make resolutions, what can we do to have a higher likelihood of keeping them? We should make sure that our goals are specific and measurable. And, break larger goals into smaller, more attainable ones. Instead of saying that you want to lose 20 pounds this year, commit to losing 2 pounds a month. Further, clearly define how you will lose those two pounds, like by incorporating daily exercise or by eliminating soda from your diet. That’s realistic and attainable. On the work front, instead of saying that you want to find a job this year, commit to scouring 2 job sites per day and to applying to 3 jobs per week.  Tell your loved ones about your goals and write them down, too. Help others help you to hold yourself accountable.

Please comment to this blog with work-related goals for the New Year. I’ll incorporate your goals into future blog posts and share key ways to meet those goals despite any workplace and personal obstacles. Happy, Healthy New Year!

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Dai, H., Milkman, K.L., & Riis, J. (2014). The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior. Management Science, 60(10), p. 2563-2582. Retrieved from

Vanderbloemen, W. (2016, January).Why your New Year’s Resolutions Won’t Work (And What Will). Retrieved from