10 reasons NOT to make New Year's Resolutions for Jan 2024

Sep 09, 2023

Every year the anticipation builds before January to set a new habit or a new goal. And for 2024, it feels even more important. We all felt that 2023, ushering in a new decade, would be a special year. Little did we know that a new virus would cause such global havoc.

So 2024, in many ways, is more important than 2023. As a global community we've had to pivot, shift and learn how to live with uncertainty, restrictions and lockdown.

Does that mean setting big annual goals for 2024 is even more important than before?

Not necessarily.

Here's some good news...

I’m giving you permission NOT to set any goals or resolutions or habits this January. You can relax. Your anxiety levels are probably rising at the thought, but here are 10 reasons why it may well be better to give New Year's resolutions a miss:

#1 - It doesn’t work

How many times have you set a New Year’s resolution (NYR) to exercise more, or tidy up your home, or save more money – only to give up, even without realizing – a few months or even weeks into the habit?

Einstein defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’

So, this year, instead of reinforcing a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure (studies show that 92% of people fail to keep their resolutions), let’s do something different.

 #2 – Resolutions are typically not actionable

More often than not, resolutions are just vague intentions: ‘I will lose weight’, ‘I will make more money’, ‘I will eat more vegetables.’

David Allen in his hugely successful ‘Getting Things Done’ gives the simple example of clearing up your garage. If you give yourself the ‘task’ of ‘clear up the garage’, you’re highly likely to put it off until kingdom comes!

 Instead, one should break down the task (which in this case is really a project) into much smaller actions and focus simply on the ‘Next Action.’ For example, ‘Get three boxes ready for garage clear out’. 

#3 – Unrealistic expectations

NYRs tend to be lists of hopes, wishes and vague goals. So in addition to not being actionable, there are simply too many goals to realistically achieve.

People who have achieved extraordinary results, and changed their lives around, almost always focussed on ONE habit or goal at a time. This allows you to harness all your energy on one habit and achieve success.

 With multiple habits, you spread yourself thin and risk failing in all of them. Less is more with habit forming.

 #4 – Weak external motivation 

Even if you made an elaborate SMART plan for your NYR, you are still likely to fail as your motivation may well be wrong.

 We tend to make resolutions because we think we should rather than because we want to. Perhaps it’s because it’s what we’ve always done, it’s tradition, or since everyone else does it, or countless articles/posts fill you with false hopes.

 None of these are good reasons. These reasons rely on weak exernal motivation whereas you need strong, internal reasons for change. 

No wonder that we lose steam after a few weeks when all the excitement dies and you realize, too late, that your why wasn’t strong enough.

#5 – Reverse Accountability

Habit forming experts are unanimous that accountability to a group is one of the strongest means for making your resolutions stick. There is a caveat. The group should be filled with inspiring people on a similar journey with plenty of role models.

With NYRs, you have the reverse of this: failing to meet resolutions is so common in society, you may subconsciously expect to fail before you begin!

 #6a – Problematic timing (1): holidays just over

Ironically, the new year is actually a BAD time of year to form a goal or habit. This point is so fundamental, it expands to two reasons!

Firstly, you’ll be just finishing the holidays. Psychologically, it can be hard enough motivating yourself to return to work, let alone adding the pressure to meet a challenging NYR.

#6b – Problematic timing (2): winter

Secondly, January is in the heart of winter for most of us. Have you ever tried forming a walking habit in winter only to put it off for spring?

It’s not just with exercise. Since January is one of the most depressing months of the year, it will be an uphill emotional battle to make any major life change.

 Dark, cold, wet. Sound motivating to you?

#7 – Long year ahead

If you start a habit in January, you can see the whole year stretching ahead of you with sunny days many months away. This makes it so easy to procrastinate as it’s hard to focus on one goal for so long.

We want lasting change, not just a short-term fix. New Year’s resolutions can often be like crash diets which rebound as soon as we hit our target weight.

 If we want true lifestyle change that lasts a lifetime, then we need to be more systematic and intentional with our goals.

#8 – Unnecessary stress

Setting an arbitrary date to set resolutions forces you to panic and think up of goals when you may not be ready – especially when there are 364 other perfectly good days to decide to change.

Furthermore, the mindset encouraged is a state of entering the new year wanting more in your life than you have right now. Wouldn’t it be great, instead, to be more grateful and present with what you have?

#9 – Tradition divorced from its origins

The practice of NYRs go back to the Babylonians and Romans who ‘celebrated’ the new year by offering sacrifices and pledges to their gods.

Interestingly, this is more in line with the Muslim philosophy of celebration. Eid, Jum’a, Dhul Hijjah and other holy times in the Muslim calendar are not marked with fireworks or secular goal setting. Rather, they are times for repentance (tauba), thanksgiving (shukr) and ibaadah (worship). 

#10 – Distraction from the most effective means of change

Some people do nothing all year except the same lame, half-hearted resolutions every January 1st – which they inevitably break. It’s probably a deliberate ploy by our inner chimps (nafs) to avoid doing the real work of forming challenging habits.

New Year’s Resolutions can be trendy, convenient band-aids to real change. Sure, it’s possible to set realistic, time-specific, mission-driven and achievable goals in time for the new year. But for all the reasons above, you’re more likely to succeed in simply starting another time. When you’re truly ready and self-motivated.

What to do instead?

Having said all that, I appreciate that New Year’s Day is still a symbolic, memorable time and therefore there is emotion attached to the occasion. It’s a great excuse to do something important.

So, yes, we should leverage the beginning of 2024. But how?

That is the perfect topic for my next article to be sent only to my mailing list next Friday. If you’re not on my mailing list, sign up via the link in the comments below. You’ll get the article and access to much more.

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