According to Science, Most New Year’s Resolutions Are Doomed to Fail

Get ready for some New Year’s resolution realness, supported by actual science!
Publish date:
January 15, 2015
setting goals, quitting smoking, Self Love, new years resolutions, Actual Science, Fun Facts

As a rule, I am resolutely opposed to New Year’s resolutions. That is not to say that I am opposed to other people setting goals and kicking old habits to the curb, but I will not be joining them. I don’t know if my budding nihilism or near total lack of self-restraint is to blame, but come January 1st, I dig in my heels and refuse to take part in the discount gym memberships and vision board frenzy that is the start of each New Year.

Here's something I do know: Most New Year’s Resolutions are bound to end in tears and self-loathing. And you know what?

Science agrees with me.

So, whether you’re a ride-or-die resolver or an insta-quitter, take heart from these three reasons why New Year's Resolutions are doomed to crash and burn:

1) False Hope Syndrome Exists And You Might Have It

Using a time of year — instead of your best judgment — as a catalyst for change can be damaging. Mainly because, as an xoJane writer recently pointed out, January 1st isn’t any more significant than July 16. Expecting yourself to quit smoking, start running, or stop drinking just because the world has hit the reset button on its 365-day-cycle is what psychology professor, Peter Herman, calls “false hope syndrome.”

I am familiar with false hope. False hope was there when I quit smoking in 2012 and 2013 and 2014. Surprisingly, false hope was a no show when I actually stopped smoking for a whole eight months. Spoiler Alert: The start of that glorious fresh-air stretch did not coincide with the start of a new year.

2) The Odds Are Stacked Against You

Every year, new and dismal resolution up-holder numbers roll out. In 2015, the consensus is that roughly 40 percent (thanks a bunch, Marist Poll) of Americans make resolutions, but only 8 percent of people achieve them. Want more disheartening statistics? Check out the chart below, courtesy of the University of Scranton’s top statisticians:

My biggest take away from this handy dandy graphic is that I am a member of the 38 percent (of people who absolutely never make New Year’s Resolutions). Solidarity!

If you’re more of a glass half-full type of person, maybe take note of the fact that successful New Year’s resolutions have a pretty explicit shelf life. Achievable goals are easier to achieve (because you totally needed a graph to tell you that).

3) When You Set Yourself Up For Failure, Guess What? You Fail.

Social psychologists agree that goals and resolutions should never look like the photo of the dashing Samuel Beckett shown above. That is, we ought not to rely on black and white restrictions. Amy Cuddy, Harvard Professor and social psychologist, cautions against setting goals with absolutes.

It turns out, human beings are terrible at setting flexible goals. Instead of taking small steps, we’re inclined to go full Icarus: setting sky-high expectations and plummeting to failure when our motivation melts away. Again, I am familiar with this. I spend a lot of time planning and a lot of time plummeting.

4) I Kind of Lied In The Title

Here’s that realness I promised earlier: Resolutions don’t work for me because I’m prone to addictive behaviors and bad at positive self-talk. I’d rather take my life one day at a time and focus on creating positive change in the present than set up future hoops I know I won’t be able to jump through. That’s my personal beef with this time of year and I’ll deal with it in therapy when my emotional to-fix list gets a little shorter.

In the meantime, I’m in awe of people who make and keep resolutions – at any time of year. My mom has been sober for almost fifteen years. One of my closest friends has managed her disordered eating in a healthy way for just about three. I applaud them both.

No matter how falsely hopeful or failure prone we are as a species, resolutions aren’t irrevocably doomed. According to science (that I just falsified), wanting something badly enough to really work for it has a 98% success rate.

So, I want to know about your resolutions. Are you sticking to them or have you hit it and quit it? And before you throw side-eye my way for asking for comments that I won’t even read: I am the xoJane comment moderator. I always read the comments.