New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Don’t Keep Them

by Doc Orman, M.D.

In my first post on New Year’s Resolutions this week, we looked at why we keep making these optimistic promises every year, despite the fact that our track record for keeping them is pretty dismal.  I also asserted that the reason we keep doing this is not because we have some unconscious desire to fail, or that we are gluttons for disappointment or emotional pain.

Rather, I believe we keep repeating this failure pattern because we don’t really understand what it takes to make promises to ourselves, and keep them on a consistent basis. 

Have you ever made a promise to yourself to exercise regularly or to start that diet you’ve long been avoiding?  Have you ever gotten out of bed and told yourself that you were definitely going to exercise later today, only to lay your head on your pillow at night with yet another exercise promise unfulfilled?  And have you ever promised to love and cherish someone else, ‘till death do you part,”…well, I think you know where I’m headed with this one.

The Missing Ingredient

Well, if any of this sounds like you, it may not be entirely your fault.  It may just be that you’ve got an incorrect blueprint for what it really takes to make a promise and then keep it

You see, making a promise (to yourself or anyone else) and keeping it is not a simple act. Yes, creating a promise (in language) and uttering it is indeed a fairly simple process.  But actually keeping that promise, in the face of all the many forces in life that are going to work against you, is something else entirely.

It is these other opposing life forces—many external to us, like the weather or the behaviors or demands of other people, and some that are internal, like our own conflicting thoughts, feelings, etc.—where the real challenge to keeping your word comes in. 

Most of us are pretty good at keeping our word when all is going well to support this.  But when forces in the world, both external and internal, turn against us keeping our word—well, this is where many of us fall down.  And the reason we fall down is because we haven’t made the effort to train ourselves to withstand the numerous onslaughts of promise-breaking influences.

Word-Keeping Is A “Muscle” We Must Build And Constantly Maintain

I’m going to share an insight with you, about keeping your word, that can definitely change and improve your life—if you take it to heart and act upon it appropriately.

Keeping your word is actually a skill you need to work on. 

It’s just like a major muscle or muscle group in your body that you need to build up, strengthen, and then maintain.  And just like the physical muscles in your body, if you fail to build this “muscle” of word-keeping through constant repetition, or if you build it for a while and then neglect it, you will lose your personal power to follow through. 

And neglecting this “muscle of keeping our word” is what most of us tend to do. 

Then, we go out every New Year’s and make promises that we dearly want to keep, yet we haven’t done the muscle building and muscle strengthening, all year long, that is required to allow us to actually keep our resolutions.

Make A Simple Promise

If you don’t believe what I’m pointing to here, you can easily confirm it for yourself.  All you have to do is make a simple promise.  It doesn’t matter at all what that promise is, just as long as it stretches you just a little bit, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that you will easily follow through. 

For example, just make a promise that you will walk for 30 minutes sometime later in the day.  Or, promise that you will place a phone call that you’ve been avoiding for several days.  Or, make a promise that you won’t eat a certain type of food that you consume almost every day.

Just go ahead and make one or two of these very simple promises, especially ones that you can’t fulfill immediately, but that you could complete by the end of the day—and then sit back and watch what happens. 

I guarantee you that the world will rise up around you to try to make sure you don’t keep your word. Forces you never even dreamed of will suddenly appear to throw you off track.  Your kids will get sick. Your boss will declare a work emergency.  Your feelings will change.  Heck, you may even forget the promise that you originally made.  Even if you end up keeping your test promise, just notice how many obstacles and other forces you had to overcome to do so.

This is just the nature of making promises.  The universe will resist you, and if you haven’t built up, strengthened, and maintained your “psychological muscle,” that you’re surely going to need to overcome this resistance, you are likely to fail. 

And if it’s this tough to keep even a little “baby promise,” think about all the forces that are going to arise to throw you off your exercise plans, or that will sabotage your diet plans, or that will cause you to doubt the worth of your marriage, etc.

And yet, here we stand, as every New Years Day approaches, resolving that we will indeed keep our promises this year, yet we haven’t done squat during the previous twelve months to guarantee a successful outcome.

We haven’t done anything to build up the “muscle” we’re going to need to get the job done, and that—in a nutshell—is why we continue to make lofty resolutions each year, and then fail to keep them.

In the next and final post on this topic this week, I’ll give you some suggestions for how you can build up your muscle of word-keeping, so that your chances for keeping any resolutions you make will go up dramatically.


Even though there are only a few days left in the Holiday Season this year, if you haven’t yet downloaded and read my free holiday stress relief e-book on Facebook, please go grab it.  Just click on the link above, “like” the page, and download this 32-page PDF e-book that hopefully will still be of benefit to you.  If you want to know more about what’s inside it, just click on the brief 3-minute video at the top of this page.  Not only is there good advice in this free e-book for how to deal with holiday stress, but there’s also useful information for how you can learn to deal with stress all year long.

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