Why It's Okay to Break Your New Year's Resolutions

As the new year approaches, most people start thinking about what New Year's resolutions they are going to make. After all, the start of a new year seems like the perfect time to make changes, lose weight, quit vaping, try something new, or get a fresh start on life.

But, if you're like most people, you make resolutions without giving much thought to how you are going to achieve them. Instead, you jot down a few things you would like to accomplish or change in your life and call it a day.

Then, by the time mid-January or the first part of February rolls around, you have given up on your resolutions and may even start to feel just a little like a failure. If you find this scenario is true for you, don't beat yourself up too much over the broken resolutions.

Studies show that less than 20% of people even keep their resolutions. Plus, breaking New Year's resolutions might actually be a good thing.

Why Breaking Resolutions Is a Good Thing

If you're like most people you may feel guilty about breaking your resolutions. But psychologists indicate that breaking New Year's resolutions should not be as guilt-inducing as some people allow it to become. Instead, look at your broken resolutions as an opportunity to learn a little more about yourself rather than beating yourself up for not sticking to your diet or hitting the gym every day.

For instance, if you resolved to go on a keto diet, but find yourself sneaking carbs, ask yourself why you think that is happening. Are carbs your comfort food and life is really stressful right now? Could it be that a different weight loss plan might be better for you?

Rather than berating yourself for not sticking to your plan, use the broken resolution as an opportunity to learn more about your habits and your preferences. Doing so will help you refine your goals and come up with a plan that is more attainable.

Likewise, some people come up with too many resolutions, which in the end can be overwhelming to try to attain. Instead of focusing on one thing they want to accomplish in the new year, they write down an entire laundry list of changes—sometimes as many as 10 to 20 resolutions.

In reality, expecting this much change in a single year is unrealistic. Plus, these types of resolutions put added pressure on you, which can increase your anxiety and stress levels, especially if you have perfectionist tendencies.

So, if creating long lists of goals is your approach to resolution-making, it should come as no surprise when you break your resolutions. But instead of getting down on yourself, be thankful that the broken resolutions will relieve some of the pressure you felt to perform or meet unattainable goals.

What You Can Learn From Broken Resolutions

Most people assume that breaking New Year's resolutions is a bad thing. They feel guilty for not achieving their goals for yet another year and wonder why they go through this process year after year.

Instead of assuming that breaking resolutions is a bad thing, look at it as an opportunity to grow and learn. Here are some things you can learn from breaking your New Year's resolutions.

How to Set More Attainable Goals

Many times, people draft resolutions that are too challenging or lofty. If this true of you, take some time to think about how attainable your resolutions are. For instance, if you made a resolution to go to the gym every day, but find that by February you are no longer going at all, it could be that you set your goal too high.

Maybe hitting the gym every day is just not feasible with your work schedule and family commitments. If this is the case, it could be that you need to make your resolution more attainable and plan to hit the gym two to three times per week or try working out at home for just 10 minutes to start. While 10 minutes may seem insignificant, a little bit of time spent working out is better than no time at all.

The key is that you take a look at your broken resolution and try to determine why it wasn't attainable. Once you do that, you may be able to set more achievable goals. Additionally, try to start small with a goal that you know you can achieve and then gradually work your way up to that ultimate goal.

How to Focus Your Energy

Many people don't put a lot of thought into their New Year's resolutions and write down a number of different things like losing weight, reading a book a week, going to the gym, and so on. But by mid-January they find that they have gained weight, are already behind on their reading goals, and haven't gone to the gym in a week.

Instead of creating a laundry list of resolutions, it's often better to pick one or two things that you want to change or accomplish and focus on those.

In today's hectic world, adding more to your plate is rarely effective. For this reason, you need to prioritize what you want to accomplish and then focus on achieving those goals throughout the year. Ideally, you should pick one or two things to focus your energy on.

How to Reframe Your Words

When it comes to drafting New Year's resolutions, how you choose to word things is more important than you might realize. For instance, it could be that you broke your resolution because of the way you worded it. It might have been written in a negative tone or it could have been too restrictive.

Thoughts impact emotions and behaviors. If something is worded in a way that is negative or restricting, it isn't going to help you to feel good or motivated to achieve it.

Let's assume you made a resolution to stop eating chips and other salty snacks. Instead of making a resolution that restricts foods and makes them off-limits, try rewording your resolution. You might say that you are going to replace salty snacks with fresh fruits and vegetables, which is more positive and does not restrict you or imply that you can never eat a few chips if you want to.

After all, studies show that expressing a desire to have more self-control could actually have the opposite effect on behavior.

What this means is that the more you want self-control, the less likely you are to have it. Try to word your resolutions using positive statements rather than imposing restrictions or implying that something is negative.

A Word From Verywell

If you're like most people, you assume that a broken resolution shows a lack of focus, commitment, and drive. But breaking resolutions is much more complicated than that. Most of the time, a broken resolution simply means that it was the wrong resolution for you.

For this reason, you should take some time to craft your resolutions, making sure they are attainable and easy to understand. If you can meet those two objectives, chances are you soon be making resolutions that reflect who you are and what you want to accomplish. And even if you still end up breaking them, just look at your broken resolutions as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Norcross JC, Vangarelli DJ. The resolution solution: longitudinal examination of New Year's change attempts. J Subst Abuse. 1988-1989;1(2):127-34. doi:10.1016/s0899-3289(88)80016-6. PMID: 2980864.

  2. Uziel L, Baumeister RF. The self-control irony: desire for self-control limits exertion of self-control in demanding settingsPers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017;43(5):693-705. doi:10.1177/0146167217695555

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.