Laura Crewe
December 20, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions Suck: Here’s Why

Expanse of Snow


A new year lays fresh before you, like the cleanest, whitest expanse of snow you’ve ever seen. Unmarked. Untrammeled. Full of promise.

Seems kind of corny, but that feeling of limitless possibility is one of the reasons people are inspired to make New Year’s resolutions. It’s also one of the reasons they fail.

Buoyed up by giddy feelings of holiday excitement and the prospect of a fresh start, you tend to set goals that are unrealistic. By February, you’re struggling to stay on track. By the summer? Forget about it. And that’s when you get depressed and pissed off at yourself for failing.

Just say no

Rumor has it we have Julius Caesar to thank for the tradition of setting goals as the calendar flips to January 1. The Roman god Janus — January is named for him — is the god with two faces, one that looks back to the past and one that peers forward into the future. Julie thought a good way to honor Janus was to do the same: review the past 12 months and set goals for the coming year.

If historians are right about that story, then by my calculations, humans have been setting New Year’s resolutions for more than 2,000 years. And probably failing at them for just as long.

As many as 88 percent of people don’t meet their New Year’s goals, says one 2007 study. That sounds about right. Have you ever followed through on a January goal? I haven’t. Heck, by March I can barely remember what my resolutions were, never mind completing them.

Calvin & Hobbes on New Year's resolutions

Apart from often being unrealistic, the resolutions people set are not usually well-defined. They aren’t S.M.A.R.T. goals. Get organized, spend less, get fit and fall in love are four of the top 10 resolutions people set each year. Do you see how broad and unspecific they are? Spend less on what? How much less? For what reason?

No, setting New Year’s resolutions isn’t the most effective way to spend the last days of December. So let’s join Scarlett Johansson and give New Year’s resolutions the boot.

Pick a word

Happy New Year
Instead of New Year’s resolutions, many people are choosing a single focus word, or sometimes a set of two or three words. Your chosen words are meant to set the tone and guide you in making decisions throughout the year.

Let’s say you choose connect and grow as your focus words for 2013. In February, a co-worker you don’t know very well invites you to a party. You’re not sure if you want to go. But then you remember one of your focus words is connect. The decision that supports connection is to attend the party and be open to meeting new people. So you go. Your focus word has moved you closer to where you want to be.

Your focus words can be anything that’s meaningful to you. Here are some words that other people have chosen:

Girish – Know, Live, Be
Nancy – Abundance, Love, Generosity
Lara – Simplify, Inspire, Connect
Alex — Focus, Create, Smile
Betsy – Connect, Grow, Excel
Chris – Build, Body, Write
Farah – Learn, Grow, Live
Sarah – Spearhead. (Just one. But a powerful one, right?)
Barbara – Inspire, Ask, Receive
Deb – Passion, Focus, Delegate
Peggy – Authenticity, Action, Amore

What will your words be for 2013?