The Folly of New Year’s Resolutions

by Dan Walsh

I’m writing this on New Year’s Day, though it will post on January 2nd. One of the big topics of the New Year holiday, of course, is making resolutions.

  • Lose weight
  • Exercise more often
  • Quit smoking
  • Get out of debt 

Since this is a writer’s blog, we might add things like:

  • Write X-number of words/week
  • Attend that big writer’s conference
  • Finish that novel

This morning I heard a TV news host read several Tweets people had sent in about their New Year’s Resolutions. This one caught my eye: “My New Year’s resolution is to be more physically active. I’ve only missed one day so far.”

It took a moment for the host to realize (maybe you, too?) that this person was admitting they’ve already failed to keep their resolution. They had only missed “one day so far.” There had only been 1 day so far this year.

That’s a failure rate of 100%.

This is a great illustration for why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Not anymore. I gave up on the tradition decades ago. I’m not saying I don’t need to make them. If I could wave a wand, there are plenty of areas in my life that I’d change. Some that need serious improvement.

The problem is, I can’t find that wand. Making a list of promises I can’t keep doesn’t put one in my hand. When I was younger and tried to make New Year’s resolutions, my failure rate (like that Tweeter this morning) was also 100%. I’m not alone in this, making and failing to keep New Year’s resolutions is the norm for the vast majority of “resolutioners.”

The University of Scranton did a study on this and found that 92% of people who made New Year’s resolutions failed to keep them…and the 8% who succeeded were so annoying they had no friends left after they reached their goals (the last part of that is my contribution to the study).

Why are so many of us–the overwhelming majority of us–unable to keep our resolutions? And in light of this, why do we keep making them? What’s that definition of insanity again (doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result)?

I’m not against the idea of setting goals in general. Or even working hard to achieve them. I’ve actually changed in some major ways over the years. But never as a result of making or keeping a New Year’s resolution. I gave some thought to the few times I have experienced significant and lasting changes in my life, and came up with a handful of items those “successes” had in common:

  1. Something had happened to change my heart, and I totally “owned” the need to change.
  2. Aware of a history of failure to succeed on my own, I’d turn to the Lord every day for grace and strength.
  3. I humbled myself and accepted the help and accountability of trusted friends.
  4. It often took several weeks, even months for the change to become real.
That’s pretty much it. The upside of this is, God really does want to help us change in many of the areas we need to, and want to change. The downside is (at least the way I see it), we really don’t possess the goods to pull it off on our own. So that’s my New Year’s advice. Just say No to New Year’s resolutions and say Yes to humility and prayer.
How about you? Have you found the secret path to lasting change? Anyone here part of that 8% who’ve actually made and kept your New Year’s resolutions (and had any friends left at the end)?
Dan Walsh is the award-winning and bestselling author of 9 novels, including The Unfinished Gift, Remembering Christmas and The Dance. He has won 3 Carol Awards and 2 Selah Awards. Six of his books have been Top Picks on RT Reviews. Three were finalists for Inspirational Book of the Year. Dan is a member of ACFW and Word Weavers. He lives with his wife, Cindi, in the Daytona Beach area where they love to take long walks. To connect with Dan or check out his books, go to: