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Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

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New Year’s resolutions are kind of like a drunk uncle. You know you shouldn’t take him too seriously…but you can’t help but laugh and play along when he comes around once a year.

It’s become popular for people to make fun of New Year’s resolutions (they never work!) in an almost gleeful way (why don’t these fake January people get out of my gym??) but few people understand WHY these resolutions don’t work.

Here, take a look.

I asked some of my students how they felt after claiming they were going to do something…and then NOT doing it.

But what about people who DO follow through? I asked some of my successful Dream Job graduates to share how they felt after taking action and learning how to take control of their own behavior. Watch what they said:

Some of these Dream Job graduates got new jobs that paid paid $10,000 – $50,000 more than their old job. From the outside, that effectively seems like magic (“How did they do that? There’s no way I could ever do that”).

But notice how when you hear how they ACTUALLY did it, there are no magical secrets. It’s an “iterative process, as Chris, one of the DJ graduates, says in the video. “The interview is the easy part,” another student says. These top performers have a very different perspective than the average person, who says “I want to get in shape this year.”

The successful students follow a proven system, so it’s no surprise when they get dramatic results.

Which brings me to your New Year’s resolutions.

Why New Year’s resolutions fail

Consider this insight I discovered during the research of one of my courses: In an interesting quirk of human behavior, we would rather continue doing something that doesn’t work rather than try something new that COULD work — but also could fail.

That sounds insane, but think about these examples… First, think back to your resolutions from last January. Did you follow through? Do you even remember what they were? Yet how many of us were tempted to make more resolutions this year?

3 more examples:

SAVING ON POINTLESS EXPENDITURES: This is why you see people constantly trying to cut back on lattes or other pointless savings goals…and when it fails, they resolve to “try harder” next time. Codewords: “I did all the right things…and look how it turned out.”

WORKING OUT INCORRECTLY: This is also why you see people who’ve been working out for years but don’t really show any visible changes. It’s scary for them to to admit that perhaps they’ve been working out wrong for years — and that while it makes them feel “good,” they are not getting the results they want. Codewords: “I’m not the kind of person who can lose that kind of weight” or “Lift weights? I’m a girl. I don’t want to get huge!”

SENDING OUT 100+ RESUMES: We have people who send out 100 resumes, then complain about the economy. They never understand that there’s an entire game being played around them, and top performers are snatching the best jobs away before average candidates ever see them. Codewords: “The Baby Boomers and immigrants stole my jobs…I guess I just need to send out another 50 resumes and wait and see.”

So yes, we want to change, but don’t know HOW to do it. So we do what’s easy, and what the media tells us to do: Make a New Year’s resolution!

Here’s why New Year’s resolutions fail:

  • They’re unspecific. We say “I want to get healthy this year” but when faced with the birthday parties in March, the overtime in June, and the family vacation in August, that goal falls by the wayside.
  • They’re unrealistic. “I want to go the gym 5x/week.” Really? You averaged twice a month last year. Setting unrealistic, highly aspirational goals is a quick way to guilt and failure.
  • They’re based on willpower, not systems. We say, “I want to walk more” instead of parking our car 10 minutes away. We say, “I want to stop messing around and go to sleep earlier” instead of testing different ways of falling asleep (like leaving our laptop in the other room, unplugging our TV, quietly covering our partner’s face with a pillow, etc). Hey, it’s a test.

But here’s the most haunting part of all…. Failing at our resolutions has implications…we start to distrust ourselves. If you’ve set the same resolutions for 5 years, and you never follow through, what makes you think you’ll be different this year?

And yet every year, we set yet another one (because that’s all we know), saying things like, “Ok, this year I’m going to buckle down” and “I’m gonna get serious about ____ this time,” but as we say it, in the back of our heads we KNOW we’re not actually going to do it.

Having a goal isn’t enough. We need a plan and a system.

Let me show you the difference between GOOD and BAD plans:

I asked some students to share their goals for the week:

These seem like good goals, but they are actually terrible.

Then I gave them some feedback, and they got much better after that.


You can see how being specific, being realistic, and using systems can help you actually achieve your goals.

If you want to improve your health or find a job that pays you 25% more, hope and willpower aren’t going to cut it. Just like they didn’t cut it last year. Or the year before.

You need a system. Let’s practice building that today.


I want to focus on what you’re going to do THIS WEEK — by Friday. In the comments below, share your plan and BE SPECIFIC. I will hold you accountable.

P.S. I’ve also included a “Time Clinic” below, which over 25,000+ people have used to save hours every week. Imagine: What would you do with an extra hour a day?

Enter your email address to get it — and I’ll send you an email to check in on you this week.

Save an hour a day — Sign up FREE to get my exclusive Time Management Clinic

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  1. Agreed, Ramit. It’s about S.M.A.R.T. goals, like you’ve explained. This little acronym makes sense.


    Having someone to be accountable to can also make a huge difference, which is something your bro has written about recently too.

  2. well for me it never worked out. i was going to create something related to that but nahh then i thought lets just fix some things and get along with them

  3. “…quietly covering our partner’s face with a pillow”

    lawls, I’m totally trying this tonight Ramit! 😀

    As for “what you’re going to do THIS WEEK — by Friday”?
    Thursday: Work for 11 straight hours then go home and sleep.
    Friday: Work for 11 straight hours then go home and sleep.

    On the plus side I’ve had all this week off so far and been quite productive. I do have a rather specific question for you though.

    How do you “be specific” or set specific goals for a general task that you may not know how to complete? For example, if your goal is to “Invent a Hoverboard” what would you schedule to accomplish that goal?

    The only thing I can come up with is to schedule specific “brain storming” sessions, turn everything else off and focus solely on that… what do you think?


    • [For example, if your goal is to “Invent a Hoverboard” what would you schedule to accomplish that goal?]

      1. Schedule time to research. Research flight, the physics of flight, vertical takeoff and landing, other people who have attempted to invent hovercraft.

      2. Take notes. Especially keep an eye out for questions which could spur future research.

      3. Find a shop or a hackerspace where you can put things together. Or a tech club. Research people and resources in the area. Reach out to them. Tour hackerspaces or invite local tinkerers out for coffee to discuss your ideas.

      4. Research people like professors who are interested in this kind of engineering. It’s not true of all professors, but a lot are overjoyed to talk to people about their areas of interest, and will often give you more time than you ask for if you have a good basic knowledge ans ask intelligent questions. (Schedule time to write out specific questions you have, along with your hypotheses. Show them you’ve done the work in understanding this.)

      5. Schedule time for experimentation — constructing, testing, conducting postmortems. If you’ve built up a team, schedule times for, yes, brainstorming — with specific questions to springboard from. What worked? What didn’t? Why didn’t it?

      Those are a few ideas. 🙂

    • Inventing a hoverboard is probably a multi-year (decade?) task – but this week you could:

      – Spend 2 hours casually researching hovercrafting online. “How to make a hovercraft?”, “Problems creating hovercrafts”, “Hovercraft engineers”
      – Purchase a model helicopter (to be assembled next week)

      – Find 5 scientific journals covering the latest in hovercraft tech (maybe aerospace journals)
      – Find 1 recent article and read the abstract.

      – Read the rest of that article (could take all day) and write down questions.

  4. May be its because we dont want to change the status quo. The only reason we want to change is because everyone is having a new year resolution ie, herd mentality. and this type of ‘herd mentality motivation’ dies out soon.

  5. Finishing reviewing all 10 of the departments’ scheduling plans sent to me. Provide feedback to each one.

    • What does “reviewing” mean? By when? What kind of feedback? How long is the feedback going to be?

      This is too vague so far…try rewriting.

  6. By the end of Friday, I plan to (at minimum): Walk 4 miles at 2.6 mph (1.5 miles Wed, Thurs, and Fri at 2.6 mph) and do 4 arm exercises 8 times (Wed and Fri) with 5 lb weights. As built-in rewards, if weather permits (safe footing), I will do the walking outdoors or, if I must walk on a treadmill, I will read while walking (non-fiction books from a stack of “improve my knowledge base” books).

    I spent most of last year injured or ill, confined to bed, to the point that I was literally unable to exercise. I set a goal on January 1st this year:
    –To be able to walk 1.5 miles at 3.0 mph and lift 5 pounds for 10 reps each of 4 different exercises that use all arm muscle groups. I wanted to achieve this goal by January 31st.
    –If I reach my goal, I will have similar exercises, at a higher walking speed, and with 8 lb weights for arm exercises, in the month of February, and so forth, until I return to my pre-injury, pre-illness level of fitness (which will take about 12 months total, if I don’t hit any snags).

    I track my efforts daily in a log which includes:
    –the distance I walk
    –the speed at which I walk
    –walking intensity (degree of slope in the day’s chosen walking path)
    –weight lifted (done on an every other day basis)
    –number of reps of each of the 4 arm exercises
    –any additional activities that involve walking or arm exercise.

    So far, I’m on track, and have read 4 books from my stack.

  7. My original three goals for this week were to:
    1. Design some options of business cards for a client
    2. Design a first round of a site for a client
    3. Finish branding homework 48 hrs before it’s due

    Revised goals:
    1. Today: Spend 7-9pm drafting 3 business card designs for a client. Send at 9pm.

    2. Today: Sketch out design ideas for site project from 6-6:30pm
    Tomorrow: Design mockups from 7-9pm
    Saturday: Make revisions and send out initial designs by 5pm

    3. Today: Look over notes and write up initial thoughts from 5:30-6pm
    Tomorrow: Write first draft of homework from 5:30-6:30pm
    Saturday: Review, edit, re-write the document from 5-7pm

    • Hi Nadia, just a tip from another designer here 🙂
      In your 1st goal, I suggest you to send the designs a little later, so you could review them a while after designing and improve some details or fixing any errors or so. You could send at 11pm.

      What you think?

      Good luck with your goals 🙂

    • @Camilo, SOLID TIP. Thanks, man 🙂

  8. Task 1 – I prep equipment and solutions for five different chemistry and physics labs for a local college. To ensure I don’t miss any deadlines I will complete my master calendar for the semester by Friday. This calendar includes the date, time, and experiment being performed for each lab. Next I will determine the date and time each lab will be set up and mark that on the calendar.
    Task 2 – I will go through the labs for each class and determine what equipment is needed to run them. The I’ll compile a complete list of the equipment and chemicals needed, check the stockroom to see what we have, and order whatever we’re missing.
    Task 3 – I have three students working for me this semester. I’m going to meet with them individually and put together a work schedule for each that fits in their class schedule.

  9. Work on the plot outline for my novel using the Hero’s journey from Christopher Vogler’s book from 8-9 pm today and tomorrow to finish by 9 p.m. Friday.
    By 2 p.m. today, I will look at the schedule for a local fiction authors group’s meetups and register for the next meeting that fits in my schedule. Hmm… I’ll just do that one right now.

  10. By 4pm today, I will type up the notes from my meeting with our engineer. By 12pm tomorrow I will have turned those notes into a feasibility study with 1) rough timeline, 2) issues, 3) scenarios.