New Year’s Resolutions: Why We Keep Making Them

by Doc Orman, M.D.

New Year’s Day is rapidly approaching, so have you been thinking about your resolutions for the upcoming year?   Better yet, are you planning to make any?  And if so, what has your track record been for keeping your New Year’s resolutions in the past?

Are you the type of person who makes New Year’s resolutions and then keeps them 100%?  I didn’t think so.  If  by some chance you’ve been able to keep your resolutions 100% of the time, that’s great.  You can take a well-deserved break from reading this blog and come back next week, once the new year has begun.

For the rest of us, I’m going to devote all three posts this week to examining this interesting tradition of failed promise-making.  In today’s post, I’ll focus on why we keep making New Year’s resolutions every year, even though we have very little confidence that we will keep them.  In the second post this week, I will explore exactly why, in my opinion, most people don’t keep their promises to themselves, not just at New Year’s, but all throughout the year. And in the final post this week, I’m going to give you some suggestions for how you can turn your track record around, and start having more success at keeping your word.

New Year’s Resolutions And Stress

At the time we make our New Year’s resolutions each year, we don’t normally associate this tradition with very much stress.  We are usually hopeful, optimistic, and full of determination to correct some long-standing problem or otherwise improve our life.

The stress usually comes later, say about March, when it becomes crystal clear to us that we haven’t kept our word, and we probably won’t as more time goes by.  So New Year’s resolution stress is more of a delayed-type reaction.  Kind of like unknowingly eating a tasty but spicy food.  It tastes pretty good going down, but then your mouth and tongue start burning 10 seconds later.

Are We Just Gluttons For Emotional Pain?

One theory for why we make resolutions each year, knowing well that we aren’t going to keep them, is that we know, unconsciously, that we are going to fail, and we just want to punish ourselves.  We know that we’re going to feel disappointed with ourselves three or six months into the future, and at some deeper level, we must feel we deserve this pain.

I don’t subscribe to this theory, although there may be a bit of truth to it for some individuals.  I prefer to think that we really do have good intentions, and that we do envision ourselves having long-term success, when we make these optimistic promises every year.

It’s just that we make the mistake of thinking that our optimism and our other heightened positive emotions will carry the day.  We repeatedly assume, mistakenly so, that if we just want something badly enough, we will simply follow through on our good intentions.  Then, when this strategy fails, at it usually does, we just conclude, wrongly again, that our mistake was not wanting it badly enough.  Next year, we’ll “really mean it.”

There’s Something Missing Here

When you stop to think about it, it might seem very mysterious why so many people make so many hopeful promises each year (that truly would benefit them) and yet the vast majority fail to keep these promises to themselves.  It might seem that this recurring pattern, manifested by millions of well-intended people every year, is difficult to explain. But for me, the reason is very clear.

Most people don’t understand what truly is needed to make a promise and then keep it.  It’s not as simple as it appears, and it has little to do with the amount of emotion or intention you have when you first make the commitment. Success or failure ultimately hinges on something else, and that hidden factor is what most people fail to recognize and incorporate into their word-keeping plans.

In the next blog post in this series, we’ll examine what this missing component is. Then, in the third post , you’ll see how you can take advantage of this knowledge to influence the outcome, whenever you make a promise in the future.


It’s still not too late to benefit from downloading and reading my free holiday stress relief e-book on Facebook.  Just click on the link above, “like” the page, and download this 32-page PDF e-book.  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.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alicia December 28, 2011 at 10:21 AM

I think you need to chip away at bigger goals. It really comes down to the small daily actions and choices you do/make. I’ve given up making resolution­s. Instead, I set intentions – daily – on how I want to live and what my priorities are.

At MeYou Health, where I work, we champion the message that small actions matter. We created an Anti-Resol­ution movement this year to help stop the cycle of shame (and failing) when those big goals don’t pan out. Like dieting or quitting smoking. You can check it out here: http://myh­.be/antire­s

Here’s to a great 2012!


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