Why you’ll probably fail your New Year’s resolution

Ramit Sethi

The most common New Year’s resolutions deal with health & fitness, money, career, relationships, and travel.

Sorry to be blunt, but if you’re not making steady progress at your top resolution right now — September 6th — you haven’t set up systems to maintain ongoing accountability, and chances are you’ll fail again in January.

On the other hand, if you’re systematically working towards a specific goal you set, the world is your oyster. What’s the next challenge I can set for myself? How can I top myself last time? Bring it on. These are the phrases of top performers I know.

The time to think about resolutions is not January 1st. It’s in the middle of the year, when nobody else is thinking about them.

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  1. Larry Mahoney

    You sound a lot like Seth Godin in this one. But I really like it!

    • Paweł Kata

      I had exactly the same feeling 😉

    • Ricardo

      same feeling ( so Seth Godin style) but it is so true .. it’s all about execution !!!

    • Casey

      I agree, and it’s something I’d like to see more of from Ramit. Usually his lifestyle advice comments are buried in the middle of other posts.

    • Alex Dumitru

      I’m really confident that I won’t fail 🙂

  2. Josh

    The main reason, I think, people fail at achieving their new year resolutions are because they underestimate how hard to achieve them throughout the year. They set the goals – thinking it’s pretty doable, but then in the midst of all other things going on in their lives, they don’t put continuous efforts to take a step forward and make that thing happen real. Losing 10 lbs sounds great and doable, but can you consistently workout throughout year and really lose it? Only you can tell…

    • Dustin Sanchez

      I think Ramit referred to this once as “sustainable change” I use that phrase all the time now. One way to increase your chances of sticking to your gym going schedule is to grab a workout partner or what I might call an accountability partner. Sometimes just telling someone, or just having someone to hold you accountable is an extremely large predictor of success.

  3. Robert

    Y’know what’s interesting is that I always think of my Labor’s Day resolutions right around New Year’s.

  4. Stickypurplecat

    It’s funny, I had actually stopped making resolutions every year because inevitably they’d be unreasonable to start with. I’d have trouble making plans to get started (instead of just diving in), then I’d feel guilty about procrastinating for a few months until I finally pushed it out of my mind completely. I spent the last half of 2009 getting my financial affairs in order with the help of IWTYTBR, and between the money I freed up by revamping my budget (I didn’t really have any debt to speak of) and the increased income from using Ramit & Co.’s negotiation tips I had plenty of money this year to spend on the first resolution I’ve made in years. I’m studying a language of my choice, on my time, and have been making great progress so far. It feels great, and that feeling motivates me to keep working towards optimizing all aspects of my life until my friends and coworkers spontaneously combust with jealous rage.

  5. Tim

    Thanks Ramit. This advice is a far cry from my typical New Year’s goal setting method, which goes like this: spit out a goal when asked at the New Year’s party. No wonder they always fail.

  6. Srinivas Rao

    It amazes me that people set their goals in January and then never look back at them. I remember thinking exactly what you are talking about in this post in March so I wrote about it saying that we’re already 1/3 done with 2010. One of the most useful things I learned about goals from another blogger when I asked him about growing was this simple idea “focus on what you can do today.” So, I’ve set many goals, but I look at everything that I can do today to make progress to that goal and that’s made a huge difference in accomplishing some of the things I’ve wanted to get done this year.

  7. Thea

    Most people fail their New Year resolutions because they think that they need a huge amount of willpower in order to achieve them. I used to think that too. But setting good habits is much more effective. You should not have to think about going to the gym each week, just do it every Tuesday at 8 pm. Once it becomes a routine, you are set.

    • Dustin Sanchez

      I tell people all the time, you don’t need a workout program or a diet, you need a habit. That’s a good point Thea b/c inevitably will power fails us.

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  9. Zach

    I totally agree with you! I wrote something similar regarding health and fitness telling people the need to cancel their new years resolution and make right now resolutions.

  10. Sandra

    I’ve always been horrible at resolutions. The one thing I really, really want to do is make webcomics. I’ve failed horribly in the past…for three years all I managed to do on my comic was two pages (and four site redesigns…but that’s another story).

    This year I decided to try something different, I made a resolution on the first of January to do one drawing everyday, not matter how stupid or complex or boring or whatever. Just DO it.

    I’m now on drawing #250. I’ve finally got into the habit of getting things done. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to take all that momentum and get my comic done.

    • Maria

      I agree with Ramit, Sandra and the rest of y’all that have been using small milestones as a way of reaching greater goals. I found that it has helped me work up to different and more complicated goals. A small goal of mine this year was to start a blog that connects to my love of finding visually stimulating things on the web to share. It was a fun idea that has helped me achieve my more complicated resolutions. I just added Sandra’s drawing site to my blog. Awesome work Sandra!

  11. Sophie

    I stopped caring about resolutions years ago… But I guess I do set smaller 2 to 3 months goals for myself. Also, I like to do some kind of small checkup before summer and one before Christmas, when I also take time to clean my desk and get rid of things/projects that are going nowhere, to start fresh from then.

    So tell us about your “fall resolutions”?!

  12. Andrew

    Any resolution with a future start date is doomed to failure. If you’ve got the motivation to lose weight, save money, pay debt, earn more, etc., why not start right away? Saying, “OK, Monday is the start of a new me” basically means that you like the idea of something, but you aren’t willing to make sacrifices to make it happen.

  13. Sheridan

    Actually, when I set my resolution this year I did it based on one of your old posts.

    I weighed 217 lbs and I set the goal to be below 200 lbs by my Birthday. Since my birthday is in mid-April that equated to losing about 1 lb. per week. I actually had a couple of friends give me a hard time over my goal. “1 lb a week?!? Why not just make a resolution to get out of bed every day? That’s weak!”

    Here’s the thing, the few weeks I didn’t lose my 1 lb. I felt like a chump. “You couldn’t manage to lose 1 measly pound?” I would berate myself. The next week I would get on the scale and have lost 3 lbs.

    Not only did I hit my resolution of being below 200 lbs by my Birthday, but I continued the diet and exercise program I had been using. I am now down to 186 lbs which is only about 10 lbs above my goal weight.

    So even though this post isn’t about helping us hit resolutions, thank you because your older post did exactly that for me.

  14. Desi

    have not seen any real content on this site for a long time now. These one paragraph articles are getting very annoying now!

  15. Gerard

    For new years resolutions Leo Babauta’s method of changing just one habit at a time is a very good method. Not very ambitious, but very lasting.

  16. Gal @ Equally Happy

    I don’t think every new year’s resolution needs automation, but they all need planning and that’s what most people don’t do. Resolutions like “Lose weight” or “make more money” are useless if you don’t actually plan out what those mean. And yes, automation could and probably should be part of most plans, but start with the plan.

    Ramit, what were your new year’s resolutions this year? How are you doing on them?

  17. Lukas

    Chris Guillebeau over at The Art of Nonconformity (his book comes out today!) has an awesome process for setting and following up on goals. The post below illustrates that approach (spreadsheet inclusive!).
    Has helped me a lot and definitely is worth checking out.
    Chris rocks, btw.×5/how-to-conduct-your-own-annual-review/

  18. Sharon

    It really is all about mindset. Yeah, you can say “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to travel more” as a mid-year or January 1 resolution, but you have to be in the place to make it happen. Speaking it is one thing, but going out and actually doing it every day, step-by-step, is when success happens.

    And most people who have accomplished something out of the ordinary – successful entertainers, entrepreneurs, fitness competitors, best selling authors, etc. – they have the ‘make it happen’ mindset. And they are generally more positive, ‘put in the work and you’ve definitely got a change’-minded people.

  19. Sarang

    Telling people your resolution might actually be counterproductive:

    I think the “having a system” point that Ramit makes is the key. You have to be accountable to yourself and choose meaningful, achievable goals.

    It does make for boring New Year’s Eve party conversation though.

    • David

      Like Tim Ferris, this is one of the few blogs I read where the comments are just as good as the post.

  20. Tyler Wells, CPA

    On the other hand, I’m still working on last year’s resolutions!

  21. t-bone

    from Ramit the other night @

    “anyone can offer something for free. very few people can offer something people want.”

  22. Lucille

    Great comments! I am a divorced mother of two who was sick and tired of living paycheck- to- paycheck and decided to take charge of my financial situation. On my journey I realized that I have the right and the power to live debt-free. I also realized that that the financial choices that we make no matter how small will determine our destiny. If you give your money no direction it will run wild and you will struggle financially.

    Join me on my journey to wealth.
    Lucille Baldwin
    Author of: Sick and Tired of Being Broke”

  23. Adam

    Happy Rosh HaShanah. The Jewish New Year is tonight.

  24. J. Money

    Interestingly enough, I just blogged about NY’s resolutions last week 🙂 I like the way you think, sir!

  25. David

    You make a good point about systematically working towards a goal during the year, not using an arbitrary date on a calendar to dictate behavioral change. I wrote an article about this a few years ago for my website that speaks to this idea — and expands on it. You may find it interesting.

    BTW, I’ve been following your posts for several months now. Well written and very informative. Keep it up.


  26. Elizabeth Polis

    I routinely send my patients email reminders about their prescribed home exercise program or fitness routine. This allows for increased accountability and the chance of disappointing someone that you “report to”. When people choose to rely on themselves for checks and balances-they have a higher rate of failure unless they are continually goal setting, and preventing any plateau. With all the electronic gizmos and apps that are available, we have limitless free resources keep us on target….but sometimes having a breathing, heart pumping human being to keep you in check, increases compliance.

    I am someone who likes to recruit buddies for goals. A friend or family member, living near or far…for weight management, investing, nutrition and recipes and more. A) its free B) it builds relationships and helps people connect C) you have someone to laugh with when things dont go as planned.

    Cheers to all you goal setters and go getters out there!


    PS: WAY TO GO SHERIDAN!!!!! Keep up the healthy lifestyle 🙂

  27. Alex Spirer

    I don’t set goals in January, but have them for myself and my business throughout the year. That way I don’t feel like I failed if I don’t reach them right away. This has helped me achieve more of them.

  28. Brandon

    This has been my sentiment for a few years now, and people look at me like I’m missing my head when I tell them that I don’t make ‘new year’ resolutions.

  29. Rose M

    Zach’s idea of “right now resolutions” is great. And being flexible is important too. Life and circumstances change all the time so you have to flexible enough to change what has to be addressed right now. Sometimes our lives don’t pay attention to the calendar.

  30. Christopher

    OFF TOPIC: I’m not sure if this has been discussed on the site recently. Why are interest rates so low for supposed “High Yield” online savings accounts? I just started reading the book and then went online expecting to see around 3% but could barely find anything close to 2%. I’m looking at ING right now and am getting a 1.10% APY. I guess it’s better than the 0% that I’m getting a my bank right now but still….ADVICE? Thanks!

  31. Rita S

    I never make new year resolutions, I just plan something and put it into action. New Year resolutions are pointless.

  32. Fred

    @Christopher: “high” yield is supposed to be high relative to what everyone is offering as rate, and that rate is set by the Fed. And the Fed is currently keeping rates low, in the hopes of stimulating the economy.

  33. Elizabeth


    Thanks for this post now! Just last night, as I was watching the various football games start off the season, it occurred to me that I only have four months (well, a little less) to achieve some pretty big goals. I immediately re-evaluated my budget (woefully neglected since about March) and my fitness goals and begin a new system tomorrow.

    Seeing this post helped reinforce my feelings that now was as good a time as ever to reevaluate and get back on track. Thanks.

  34. Moneymonk

    off the subject…

    Cool favicon~

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  36. Kristine

    Awesome. I heard recently that only 2% write down their goals…and that only 2% of the population are successful in achieving their goals…Coincidence? Probably not.

    Brian Tracy said that if you write down your goals on a piece of paper on New Year’s Day and seal it in an envelope…you may just accomplish some of those goals without even thinking about it….just by the act of writing it down.

    Why wait till New Years to see if this works? 🙂

  37. dustin sanchez

    Thanks for the reminder Ramit. The time to think about the next 20 years is right now.

  38. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    great post. and great supplement Dustin – how does one know if they are making progress toward the goal when the end result is not clear. agreed totally – and yes resolutions need not be only for the new year. each day is a new day and resolutions should be ongoing – both in identification of gaps and working toward them

  39. Scott

    I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution every year since 1996.

    That resolution was: Never again make a New Year’s resolution. They’re pointless, you might make it a week or a month if you’re lucky, then you fall back into the same old stupid habits.

  40. Usama

    An interesting idea. New year resolution in the middle of the year. Its brilliant to set your goals before you set your goals. Know what i mean?

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