Why Most New Year's Resolutions Don't Work

How to turn your resolutions into realities

Posted Jan 02, 2017

Source: Ivan Akira - Postcards2CardsNewYearsResolution1915.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8860980

This time each year millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, but how many of us keep them?

Some of us set ourselves up for failure by making too many resolutions instead of focusing on one change at a time. Some resolve to exercise, join the gym but then slack off. Others begin a new diet but fall back into old habits. And that’s the problem—habits.

Habits are hard to break because they’re conditioned behaviors. We do them without thinking.

But we can develop positive momentum by linking our goals to a current habit or passion. One of my clients brushes her teeth after dinner to stop snacking at night. Another has recruited a friend to join her for gym workouts, combining exercise with fun and friendship.

You can also use the powerful strategy WOOP, developed by Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues (Oettingen, Pak, & Schnetter, 2001) which involves: W--a wish, O-- an objective or goal, O--recognizing an obstacle, P—a plan to deal with the obstacle.

This strategy has helped people achieve their goals in diet, exercise, health maintenance, improved relationships, and academic performance.

To practice WOOP for yourself, choose one goal to work on and ask yourself these questions:

What do I want?
What would life be like if I achieved my goal? How would I feel?
What’s been holding me back? 
What’s one step I can take to overcome this obstacle?

WOOP gives you a clear vision of what you want and what life would be like when you achieve it, strengthening your motivation. The next step is developing effective strategies: focusing on what’s been blocking you and coming up with a plan to deal with it (http://woopmylife.org/woop-1; see Feldman and Dreher, 2012; Snyder, 1994).

To take one example, if you wanted to begin a healthier diet, you could:

  • (Wish) State your goal or intention.
  • (Objective) Visualize yourself accomplishing your goal and feeling the result
  • (Obstacle) Recognize what’s been blocking you—Is it mindless snacking? emotional eating?
  • (Plan) For mindless snacking, get rid of candy or junk food in the house and fill your kitchen with the healthy fruits and vegetables you enjoy. If it’s emotional eating, substitute a healthy behavior: perhaps a mindfulness exercise for when you’re feeling anxious or restless.

To move from resolutions to reality, good intentions and will power are not enough. Effective strategies make all the difference between wishing and actually achieving your goals.


Feldman, D. B. and Dreher, D. E. (2012). Can hope be changed in 90 minutes? Testing the efficacy of a single-session goal-pursuit intervention for college students.  Journal of Happiness Studies, 13, 745-759.

Oettingen, G., Pak, H., & Schnetter, K. (2001). Self-regulation of goal setting: Turning free fantasies about the future into binding goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 736-753. For more information about WOOP, see  http://woopmylife.org/woop-1

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The Psychology of Hope. (1994). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web sites at  http://www.northstarpersonalcoaching.com/ and www.dianedreher.com