The Effectiveness of New Year’s Resolutions: A Psychological Perspective

New Year's Resolution

Every year, as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, people around the world make New Year’s resolutions with the hope of improving their lives in the coming year. These resolutions range from losing weight and quitting smoking to saving money and traveling more. While the tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions is popular, it’s worth examining their effectiveness from a psychological standpoint. This blog will explore the science behind New Year’s resolutions and provide insights into how to make them more effective.

Understanding New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are essentially personal goals set for the upcoming year. They often reflect a desire for self-improvement and a commitment to making positive changes in one’s life. However, research shows that many people struggle to stick to their resolutions beyond the first few weeks of January. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology (Norcross et al., 2002), only about 46% of individuals who make New Year’s resolutions are successful in achieving their goals.

Why Do Resolutions Often Fail?

There may be several factors that contribute to the high rate of failure associated with New Year’s resolutions:

  • Lack of Specificity: Many resolutions are vague, such as “get healthier” or “spend more time with family.” Without clear, actionable steps, it’s challenging to measure progress and stay motivated.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: Setting overly ambitious goals can set individuals up for failure. For instance, aiming to lose 25 kilograms in a month is not only unhealthy but also highly unlikely.
  • Lack of Accountability: Sharing your resolutions with someone who can hold you accountable can significantly increase your chances of success. However, many people keep their resolutions private, making it easier to abandon them when the going gets tough.
  • Lack of Planning: Failing to create a plan or outline specific strategies to achieve resolutions can lead to aimless efforts and frustration.

Making New Year’s Resolutions More Effective

While New Year’s resolutions have a reputation for being short-lived, they can be effective if approached thoughtfully. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:

  • Set Specific Goals: Make your resolutions as specific as possible. Instead of “exercise more,” try “go to the gym three times a week.”  Your goals should also be consistent with your values.
  • Break It Down: Divide your goals into smaller, manageable steps. This makes progress feel more achievable and less overwhelming.
  • Track Your Progress: Keep a journal or use a mobile app to monitor your progress regularly. This will help you stay on track and motivated.
  • Seek Support: Share your resolutions with friends or family members who can provide support and encouragement. Alternatively, consider joining a group or seeking professional guidance.
  • Be Flexible: Life is unpredictable, and setbacks are normal. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip up; instead, adjust your plan and keep moving forward.
  • Be ready to change: In their research John Norcross and colleagues (2002) reported that  successful  New Year’s resolvers reported significantly more confidence and readiness to change than unsuccessful New Year’s resolvers.


New Year’s resolutions can be effective tools for personal growth and positive change when approached with intention, strategy and readiness. While the statistics on resolution success may seem discouraging, understanding the psychology behind goal-setting can empower you to make more achievable and meaningful resolutions.

If you find yourself struggling with your resolutions and need professional guidance, consider reaching out to the Centre for Clinical Psychology in Melbourne. Their team of experts can provide support and strategies to help you achieve your goals. You don’t have to let your New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside. You can book an appointment by phone at 03 9077 0122 or online at Take the first step towards a healthier, happier you!


Norcross, J. C., Mrykalo, M. S., & Blagys, M. D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397.