You may believe that setting goals and making resolutions are great ideas. But, like most things, there are some downsides. Let’s discover what they are and how to avoid them.
2023 is here and it’s time to make your New Year’s resolutions and goals. You know, those things that you want to change about yourself in order to be happier, healthier, or more productive.
But, although New Year’s resolutions are great, they can be hard to stick with. Plus, they can have other disadvantages that you’re not even remotely aware of.
So, before you go out and buy a gym membership or start eating kale salads every day, let’s talk about why setting resolutions and goals isn’t always such a great idea.
Here’s everything you need to know before you set your New Year’s resolution and goals.
Let’s start by clarifying the difference between a goal and a resolution.
What’s the difference between a goal and a resolution?
First, we need to define what a ‘resolution’ is.
A resolution is a resolve or determination to do something specified, typically one forming part of an overall plan. It’s a decision to do (or not to do) something.
A goal is an aim or a purpose in life.
Comparatively, resolutions are usually less specific, made for the upcoming year, and involve few if any deadlines.
Goals are far more specific than resolutions, can be made at any time, usually involve deadlines by which they must be met, and are often broken down into sub-goals or “objectives.”
Is setting goals and resolutions worthwhile?
Setting goals and resolutions can be incredibly beneficial.
In fact, when correctly implemented, New Year’s goals and resolutions can increase your chances of succeeding in any area you decide to focus on. They inspire you by encouraging learning and growth.
Some persons even hire a coach to help them stay motivated and accountable.
"Many years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to never make new year’s resolutions. Hell, it’s been the only resolution I’ve ever kept!" - D.S. Mixell
E-E-E model of goal setting
There is the E-E-E model of goal setting which argues that goal setting has 3 core purposes:
- Enlighten: giving direction and insights and knowledge including about ourselves and our weakness.
- Encourage: to stay motivated and determined
- Enable: build skills and efficacy (Chowdhury, 2021)
Motivated individuals are self-starting and often far more productive than those who only ever achieve their goals through the external motivation of others.
The advantages of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals
Here’s a list of some of the advantages of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals:
- You have a better chance of succeeding.
- Moving towards your resolutions and goals incites positive feelings and emotions which will motivate you to keep going through the rough patches that occur from time to time.
- Setting achievable goals can make you feel good about yourself.
- Resolutions and goals can help you avoid unhealthy distractions.
- You can look back and see how far you’ve come in attaining your goals to date, motivating yourself even further (seeing is believing).
So, what are the downsides of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals?
The disadvantages of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals
Unfortunately, research shows that they are some disadvantages of setting goals and resolutions.
Actually, scholars argue that:
- The benefits of setting goals and resolutions may be overstated.
- The negative consequences are often ignored.
After analyzing some of these myself, I’m sure you would agree with most – if not all of them.
Let explore some of these arguments.
Firstly, it is important to remember that not everyone will succeed at achieving their goal. This ‘failure’ could discourage other persons and even the persons themselves from trying to set future goals.
According to research, even if the goal is achievable, the time allocated to achieving that goal may cause you to have a myopic view, leading to short-term behavior that may be harmful in the long run.
Let’s say for example, you set a resolution to achieve financial security by putting all your excess money into savings at the start of each month.
This may sound like an excellent goal, but what if it leads you to avoid long-term investments or turn down promotions? What if your strive for achieving this goal causes you to ignore your personal wellness?
Further, setting goals too often may cause you to be only motivated by goals; decreasing your overall desire to perform other duties.
Personally, I could be so fixated on achieving my goals that everything else that I do apart from goals seem like ‘wasted time’ – even certain self-care activities. So I’m definitely toning it down a notch.
"This year, be structured enough for success and achievement and flexible enough for creativity and fun." - Taylor Duvall
The cons of creating multiple New Year’s goals and resolutions
According to an article from Harvard Business School, even if you do create multiple goals and resolutions, you’ll likely focus on some more than others.
In fact, the results showed that persons focused more on quantity over quality goals since these are comparatively easier to achieve and can be measured.
So, keep this in mind if you’re considering creating multiple New Year’s resolutions and goals
The cons of creating challenging New Year’s Goals and resolutions
Undeniably, goals should allow you to extend your abilities. But, if you set goals that are too challenging, eventually you may believe that there is no point in even trying.
Or, you may become willing to implement riskier, even unethical strategies to achieve them.
Then, there is the psychological toll of failing to achieve your goals which is often significant, silent, and ignored. However, these effects should never be overlooked since they affect your self-view and significantly impacts your future behavior.
In fact, failure to achieve your resolutions and goals may cause you to consciously or subconsciously question your efficacy, abilities, and intelligence. These perceptions determine your future effort and commitment.
One study of 185 participants, 86 of whom did not achieve the high-difficult and specific goal showed decreased self-esteem, motivation, and feelings when compared to those who did (Höpfner & Keith, 2021).
List of the disadvantages of setting goals and resolutions
Here’s a list of the disadvantage to goal setting:
- Setting an unachievable goal can set you up for failure and won’t allow you to feel good about the other ‘collateral’ benefits that you did obtain. For example, you didn’t achieve your goal to lose 30 pounds and in doing so you ignore the fact that you did lose 5 pounds and finally started exercising.
- Having too many goals at once will cause you to put the ones with the lowest priority or the most challenging on the back burner. This can hinder your ability to make progress towards any of them.
- If goals are not achievable, you’ll likely give up before they have even started because there isn’t a clear deadline to meet.
- If you try to do too many goals at once, you will struggle and get overwhelmed by the volume of work that needs to be completed.
- You can get completely demotivated if you constantly change your mind about what it is you actually want.
- Setting goals and resolutions can lead to a narrow focus or tunnel vision. This is as a result of concentrating on goal-related areas and ignore non-goal-related areas.
- Goal setting may create unnecessary stress.
- Focusing on specific goals and resolutions may limit learning.
- Setting New Year’s resolutions and goals may cause you to ignore the risks/undesired consequences/downsides of achieving that goal.
But this doesn’t mean that there’s no benefit at all or that goal setting is always bad. Or that your efforts are futile.
Is setting New Year’s goals and resolutions even worth the effort?
Yes, setting New Year’s goals and resolutions can very much be worth the effort! In fact, the New Year is a great opportunity to reflect upon your life and how you’d like it to change for the better. Unfortunately, if we don’t no it at New Year, we may never do it at all.
Setting goals can be very beneficial in many different areas. Goals offer the possibility for personal and professional improvement but resolutions that are repeatedly broken can cause discouragement or even depression.
"What the new year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the new year." - Vernon McLellan
Here’s another statistic that I found very interesting
After 6 months, only 46% of those who made a resolution were still successful in keeping it. But, surprising this compares to only 4% of persons who had similar goals but did not set a resolution.
So, setting resolutions did help to keep more persons driven and motivated – even if for not as long as planned.
When is goal setting is highly beneficial
Research shows that goal setting is beneficial when:
- Goals are clear and have a purpose
- You are committed to the goal
- You have the ability, skills, and resources to attain the goal
- There are no conflicting goals
However, it’s important to keep some key tips in mind to achieve your New Year’s goals and resolutions.
Tips to achieving your New Year’s goals and resolutions
- Know when to set specific goals
- Carefully consider deadlines
- Consider the consequences of working towards and achieving your goals and resolutions
- Regularly monitor and revise your goals and resolutions
- Avoid creating too many or unattainable goals
- Your goals and resolutions should be based on a solid foundation of knowledge
- Have or develop the know-how to deal with difficulties
- Break down big targets into smaller ones, with clear deadlines and measures of success
- Don’t ignore your progress or collateral benefits even if you don’t achieve your goals
- Decide to not punish yourself for failure
- Don’t become addicted to results
- Keep learning and improving
- Be creative
- Don’t be so overly focused on achieving your resolutions and goals that you ignore other opportunities and possibilities
Hey, even if you don’t achieve your resolution of eating healthy but it made you improve your eating habits for 6 months or even 3 months… that’s still something to celebrate. And, your body will still reap some benefits.
Additionally, use the following questions as a litmus test for whether to move forward
- Do I have a purposeful reason (not frivolous) for wanting to make changes?
- Am I committed enough to make a change in the next year?
- Do I have a good enough reason to keep me from stopping when it gets hard?
- Can I take the steps necessary to achieve my goal?
- Do I have someone to help keep me accountable?
"May all our troubles last as long as your new year's resolution" - Joly Adams
What about if I’m not sure exactly where I want to be in a year?
Have you ever heard some experts say that when setting goals and resolutions you should look at where you want to be in a year and start from there?
But, this may be challenging for many people or may lead to ‘limited ambition.’
However, another way of thinking about goal setting is to ask yourself: “What would success look like?” rather than “What should I do to become successful?”
This is because it directs your focus on where you want to go instead of assigning a specific path that assumes that you know exactly what to do. Because sometimes we just don’t.
And, other times our ambition may be nowhere near what we can actually achieve.
Plus, planning and goal setting doesn’t always work. And, it may be that we’re not spending enough time on dreams because we’re too busy chasing them.
Why negative visualization is beneficial when setting New Year’s resolutions and goals
A technique called “negative visualization” can be helpful in situations when you’re debating which goals and resolutions to implement.
This is where you imagine all the things that could go wrong or prevent your success, try to decide if or how you can overcome these obstacles and what would happen if you don’t achieve those goals.
It’s important to be realistic about what you can achieve. And asking yourself the following questions will help you do that:
- What is the likelihood of success?
- What would get in my way? How can I prevent or overcome it?
- Is this worth doing? If not, what is?
Knowing yourself and your abilities will also help you be more realistic about the goals and resolutions you choose to commit to for this upcoming year.
Negative visualization can shift your attention away from goals to the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.
It brings an awareness of other perspectives which reduces stress, mental exhaustion, anxiety, fear, depression, anger, etc.
You’ll still be aware of the possibilities that your life won’t turn out exactly as you want it to. And, this mindset allows a place for improvisation and spontaneity.
Negative visualization requires that we adopt a growth mindset that is characterized by curiosity rather than doubting one’s ability therefore it builds resilience and increases happiness.
Plus, it creates a long-range view and reduces the pressures from today’s challenges making it more likely that you’ll be successful.
Why is “counterfactual thinking” important in goal-setting
But, we can be really bad at predicting what will make us happy in the future. In fact, when people were asked how they felt after receiving their desired outcome (e.g., winning an award), they reported not feeling as good as anticipated.
Plus, the feeling of getting what we want is temporary and can be fleeting.
If you’re going to set goals and resolutions for the New Year, don’t assume it will all turn out exactly as you predict or expect it to be.
Things rarely work out that way which exaggerates disappointment and failure. Then we start to think about what should or could have been.
This phenomenon is called “counterfactual thinking” – which means thinking about what could have been instead of what actually happened – and it turns out that this type of thinking can lead us down some pretty dangerous paths… like quitting our jobs or getting divorced because we think these changes will improve our lives but end up making them worse instead.
So while setting goals might seem like a good idea on paper, there are many reasons why achieving them may not bring as much happiness as expected.
"Approach the new year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day" - Michael Josephson
Why do so many persons fail to achieve their goals and resolutions?
The problem with most resolutions is that they’re either too general (I’m going to lose weight) or just plain unrealistic (I’ll never eat sugar again).
According to one study, Only 9% of American’s who made a New Year’s resolution were successful at achieving it (Discover Happy Habits, 2021).
What were the reasons for failure?
- 35%: setting unrealistic goals
- 33%: did not track progress
- 23%: forgot about the resolution.
Curious about what the number one New Year’s resolution was?
The most frequent resolution was to eat healthier.
So, at the very least write those goals down and keep checking in on them periodically.
I think this is even more powerful than we believe. Sometimes, myself included, we are so busy with work and the everyday challenges of life that we lose track of what our goals really are and the things that we’re most passionate about. So schedule regular dates to check in with yourself.
Check out this 3 in 1 positivity journal for happiness, wellness, mindfulness and self-care. It also has a sleep tracker, affirmations and daily quotes. This is the perfect resource to keep you motivated.
Here’s another simple tip:
Get enough sleep.
In fact, experts claim that getting enough sleep plays a major role in the success or failure of many of the most popular New Year’s resolutions including losing weight, eating healthier, improving work performance, quitting smoking, and boosting social lives.
BTW, I actually did achieve one of my resolutions from last year. Actually, this is the only one that I actually remember making because I wrote it down.
However, I think that was mostly due to:
- It was specific and quantifiable.
- I told my husband about it and wanted to brag about achieving it.
- In August I checked and realized I was way behind and then bought a tool to help me reach my target.
I am very proud of the achievement but honestly, I don’t feel as great about it as I thought I would.
So, since I don’t feel as good as anticipated when I do achieve my goals, I’m resolving to not feel as horrible when I don’t.
However, now I’m more cautious about setting goals because I’m considering the other aspects of my live that I’m giving up in order to focus on achieving these goals.
What about if I decide not to set New Year’s resolutions and goals?
Even if you do decide not to set New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2022, there is another way for you to work on improving your life.
One that has been shown by science over and over again to literally change our lives for the better. That way is mindfulness.
Mindfulness brings about a “present focus” instead of a goal-oriented mindset. In fact, mindfulness can cause us to shift from self-focused (e.g., worrying, ruminating) to present-focused which can substantially increase happiness and positivity while decreasing stress and anxiety.
Sounds like a better alternative to setting goals, doesn’t it?
Why is it so hard to achieve goals?
To answer this question, we must understand the dimensions of behavioral changes which includes:
(1) The will (motivation)
(2) The way (cognition)
The “problem with goals” is that we often set them either too high or too low… and when we fail to meet them, we feel really bad about ourselves and become even more discouraged.
That’s why so many of us give up on our New Year’s resolutions by January 14.
But, if we think of life as a journey instead of a to-do list, then this kind of thinking is less likely to happen because it’s more about the process than any outcome. Something that mindfulness excels at.
Remember, you don’t need to wait until the new year to make a resolution. And, even if you don’t accomplish your goals in that years.
Be thankful for life and the ability to pass those purposeful goals over to the next year.
"Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has pass" - Cavett Robert
Final words on setting New Year’s resolutions and goals
The beginning of each new year is a time when many people resolve to change something in their lives—to eat healthier, exercise more often, or spend less money on frivolous things like coffee drinks and takeout meals.
But while these kinds of intentions can seem positive on the surface, they’re actually counterproductive because they focus too much attention on one specific goal (e.g., “I want to lose weight”), rather than improving overall well-being (e.g., “I want my diet and fitness habits in general”).
And if you’ve ever tried setting a resolution before only for it fail miserably within weeks or even days, then you know firsthand how difficult it can be stick with them over time—especially when life gets busy or stressful.
But, implementing the strategies mentioned in this post can help you make more sustainable changes and may even boost your overall happiness in the process.
Are you planning to set New Year’s resolutions? Let me know in the comments below.
How do I create a personal wellness plan?
A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but it can be especially challenging to maintain a routine when you’re juggling work, family, and other commitments.
If you’re looking for ways to create a personal wellness plan that works for you, read on for some tips.
How to stay motivated to healthy eating?
It can be tough to stay motivated to healthy eating, especially when you don’t see immediate results.
But with a few simple tips, you can stick to your goals and see positive changes in your health and body composition.
Here are some expert ways to stay motivated to healthy eating. Read more on how to stay motivated to healthy eating.
Berkman ET. The Neuroscience of Goals and Behavior Change. Consult Psychol J. 2018 Mar;70(1):28-44.
Chowdhury, M. (2021) The Science & Psychology of Goal-Setting 101
Discover Happy Habits (2021) New Year’s Resolution Statistics
Höpfner Jessica, Keith Nina, Goal Missed, Self Hit: Goal-Setting, Goal-Failure, and Their Affective, Motivational, and Behavioral Consequences, Frontiers in Psychology, 12.2021;3991
Ordonez, Lisa D., Maurice E. Schweitzer, Adam D. Galinsky, and Max H. Bazerman. “Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Side Effects of Over-Prescribing Goal Setting. ” Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 09-083, January 2009.