Why New Year’s Resolutions Suck And What You Can Do Instead

There are some strange traditions around the world. Tomato fights in Spain, the battle of the oranges in Italy, cinnamon showers in Denmark and cheese rolling competitions in England. Another tradition, and one which doesn’t involve an unnecessary waste of good food, is setting New Year’s resolutions. An opportunity to remove something you really enjoy during the darkest months of the year when you need it most. What could possibly go wrong?

The tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions goes back over 2000 years to the mythical god Janus of Rome. Janus had two faces, one looking back and the other forward. This became symbolic of looking forward and backwards at the start of a new year. It provided an opportunity to learn from the past, to inform the future.

These days, however, it seems to be an opportunity to buy a really expensive one-month gym membership.

The intention behind them is good as we enter a new period or stage in life but people rarely approach them in the correct manner. This explains why only 10 percent of New Year’s resolutions are achieved. Some of the mistakes people make are:

  • No deep why – most New Year’s resolutions are built on guilt. People aren’t ready for the change they are adopting because they feel as if they “should” be doing it. This is because they don’t know the deeper reason as to why they’re doing it in the first place.
  • Mindset – this is a big one because if you love Netflix and hate the gym then simply setting a resolution to go to the gym isn’t going to happen. We need to develop a new mindset.
  • Unrealistic goals – deciding to run the London Marathon when you haven’t run a yard since school could just backfire. Realistic goals aren’t exciting though and don’t sound as good to our friends!
  • Time of year – choosing to introduce a new habit or behaviour during the most depressing month of the year is destined for failure.
  • No support structure – doing it on your own is much harder than with an accountability partner and structure to support you.
New Year's Resolutions
Annual View

An alternative to setting New Year’s resolutions is to do an Annual View of the year. This is different to an annual review because, like Janus, in the Annual View we look both backwards and forwards.

These reviews can be long and drawn out. That’s why I’ve created a much shorter one that’s fun and easy to do. You can use it to take stock of the last year and help you to create some clear intentions and direction to the year ahead.

It’s also not just for New Years and can be done at any time to review a period in our life.

The Annual View comes in three sections:

  • Reflecting – looking back over the last year. Remembering what went well, what went badly and what didn’t happen at all. This is all about learning lessons to help inform the year ahead.
  • Visioning – looking ahead over the year to come. Taking what you learnt from reflecting in order to help vision for the year ahead.
  • Deciding – we can’t do everything and the sooner we realise this the happier we’ll be. We must decide what we will do and, just as importantly, what we will not.

To begin, find a pen and some paper. Turn off your phone, find a quiet space and take some time for yourself. It could be the most valuable time you spend on yourself all year, so make it count.


The first part is to reflect and take stock of what happened last year. As Jocelyn K. Glei said:

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. But practice plus reflection does”

This is because we need to reflect and apply that learning to our lives in order for it to improve. If we constantly apply the same lessons we will get the same results. A common misunderstanding of Malcolm Gladwell’s work on 10,000 hours to mastery is that we just need to put in the practice. This is untrue. It’s purposeful practice that we need, and this comes from reflection and learning.

Here are seven questions to help you reflect on the last year:

  • What did you accomplish that you’re proud of?
  • What brought you the most joy or happiness during the year?
  • What could you have achieved (but didn’t) that would have changed everything for you?
  • What do you most regret doing during the year?
  • What habit helped you the most in accomplishing what was good in the year?
  • What habit most held you back in the year?
  • Looking back over the year, what advice would you give yourself?
New Year's ResolutionsVisioning

It’s well known that athletes visualise achieving their goals as part of their preparation for major events. The power of visualisation has been shown in studies again and again that visualising something can generate neural pathways in the brain similar to those created from actually achieving the desired outcome.

As a result, it’s important to get close and personal with what you want in your life. The key to creating a vision of what you want to is to first focus on the feelings you want to experience and then work backwards. That’s because we live in a world where the number one currency is not money, but feelings. We don’t pay for the car, we pay for the feeling that we think the car will give us.


Follow these steps to create a set of visioning statements of what you want to create in the next year:

  1. Sit comfortably, with no distractions and a pen and paper. You want to be relaxed so do whatever you need to do. Maybe candles, gentle music, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Metallica or Kenny G. What matters is you’re calm, relaxed and focussed.
  2. What are the feelings that you most want to experience next year? It’s easy to say happiness or joy (and these are totally valid) but if there were deeper feelings what might they be? What are the less obvious feelings that you most appreciated about last year? Maybe it’s security or creativity. Whatever they are, make a note of them. If you get stuck then here’s a list of common positive feelings to inspire you.
  3. Take your top 5 feelings and vision what you want to do in the next year to experience those feelings. Write out a list of whatever comes up for you. Let yourself be creative because you never know what deep desires are hidden beneath the surface. For example, if it’s freedom then what do you need to do to feel free? What did you do last year that did and did not support the feeling of freedom? Use this to inform your vision for the year ahead.
New Year's Resolutions

We spend so much of our life doing things we feel obligated to do or that don’t serve us. It’s often caused by some false belief or guilt around what we think we should be doing. Derek Sivers devised a simple approach to making decisions. He called it Hell Yes Or No and it helps you to manage situations where you’re overcommitted, scattered or procrastinating.

It provides a great framework to bring into the Annual View. It creates a new lens through which we can look at where we intend to spend our time. It’s not the only lens but a no BS approach to making decisions.

Imagine yourself in 12 months time advising you of today. What do you imagine you would say to yourself?

Take the list you created in the previous section and imagine your 12 months older self by your side advising you. Ask yourself if you’re a Hell Yes, a No or a Maybe to each one.

Let me explain each one:

  • Hell Yes – A Hell Yes is what you’re fully committed to doing. It will feel as if it’s the right thing to do and is where you want to give your focus.
  • No – What do you need to say no to? What doesn’t serve you or have you been kidding yourself about doing that you’re never going to do? Saying no to something creates the space, energy and time to say yes to something you really want to do. A great question I love here is “What is it you’re not going to do? Now don’t do it”.
  • Maybe – There are some things we aren’t ready to say yes or no to; these are the maybes. These take a lot of our energy as we procrastinate and lose focus on them. Be honest about what is a maybe for you. What are you not ready to commit either way to?

Go through everything on your list and state if it’s a Hell Yes, a No or a Maybe. The Hell Yes’s are what you focus on during the year. The No’s are what you avoid. The Maybe’s require further work to decide on whether they become a No or a Hell Yes. Revisit them during the year and ask if they’re a No or a Hell Yes. Be aware these will be taking a lot of energy and time in your thinking so the sooner you decide the better. Some useful questions are:

  • What needs to happen to make this a Hell Yes?
  • What needs to happen to make this a No?
  • What need is this REALLY meeting for me?

So there you have it. I hope that was useful. Feel free to share your insights and here’s to a great year ahead for you.



I hope this post was helpful. Do you use New Year’s resolutions and if so what’s your experience of them? If you did the Annual View, what insights did you get? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.

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To your success


About the Author

Writer and coach, Mike writes about the struggles and triumphs of how to be a modern man. He writes to support these men, and the women that love them. Click here to learn more.

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