The 8 New Year Resolutions Most Likely to Fail (And the 8 Most Likely to Succeed)

Everyone knows that most New Year’s resolutions fail, from the diets we give up in the first week in February to the expensive gym memberships that we never manage to use.
Various statistics suggest that a quarter of all New Year’s resolutions are abandoned in the first week of January – and only a tenth make it through the full year. That’s a depressing thought if you’re determined to see in the New Year next year having made a permanent change to your lifestyle.
Thankfully, there are lots of ways that you can give your resolutions a better chance of succeeding. For instance, making several resolutions, rather than just one, significantly reduces the chance of sticking to any of them. And keeping your resolutions – or even better, your resolution – a secret from friends and family also increases the chances that you’ll give up on it, because you won’t have other people helping you to stick to it, and the motivation that you’ll lose face if you don’t.
In this article, we take a look at some common New Year’s resolutions that are almost certain to fail – and what you can do instead so you might stand a chance of sticking to them for a whole year.

1. Do more exercise

Is this the New Year’s resolution that people are worst at keeping? If not, it’s certainly a strong contender. Like most bad resolutions, it takes something you probably don’t much want to do – in this instance, exercise – and requires that you do it, without giving yourself any means of getting it done or way of measuring whether you’re achieving it or not. Effective New Year’s resolutions should be achievable and measurable; with this, you could go from four gym visits last year to five this year and count yourself as having succeeded – but it’s doubtful you’d really feel like you’ve achieved anything.

Instead: Go to the gym twice a week, join a football club or do a daily 15-minute stretching routine

Feet wearing running shoes walk up steps
Keep you fitness goals measurable.

Depending on what you want to achieve with your resolution, our alternatives take a different approach. They’re all quantifiable – either you’ve been to the gym or you haven’t, there’s no middle ground – and they give you a practical way of getting more exercise. It’s also worth remembering that if you want to exercise but hate the gym, there are other alternatives. Joining a club, for instance to play football, hockey or even rounders, makes getting exercise a fun, social experience, and helps to motivate you as you won’t want to let the rest of the club down by flaking on them. And if that doesn’t sound like fun, remember that there are also exercises that you can do in your own home, where you stay warm and no one has to see how red-faced and sweaty you get.

2. Study harder

If anything, this is even worse than “do more exercise”. Ultimately, you’ll be able to judge whether you’ve done more exercise or not, at least on the basis of how out of breath you get when you have to lift a heavy suitcase or run for the bus. But studying harder isn’t necessarily a synonym of studying more – for instance, if you follow our top study tips then you might find yourself studying harder without needing to commit more hours to your schoolwork. What’s more, there are probably other obstacles in the way of you studying harder, such as having too many other things to do or struggling to concentrate on your work; unless you deal with these obstacles, your resolution doesn’t stand a chance.

Instead: Read a book every month on your favourite subject that hasn’t been set by your teacher

Notebook, keyboard and coffee on a desk
How hard constitutes “harder?”

Much of your schoolwork is likely to be targeted at getting through the syllabus for whatever your next exam is. That’s important too, but it’s often boring, and reading ahead in your textbook or doing more of the same sort of work might not expand your knowledge all that much. Finding a series of well-written and well-researched books in your chosen subject and taking the time to read those throughout the year is a much better preparation for any future studies you might undertake in this area – and it should be enjoyable, too. Not sure what book to choose for your preferred subject? Here are some of our recommendations.

3. Eat more healthily

There are lots of ways to struggle with eating more healthily. Sometimes it’s because you’ve tried too radical a change to your diet all in one go, swearing that from the first of January you’ll be a sugar-free vegan eating only raw food, and most of that kale, after spending the entire Christmas period eating nothing but turkey and Quality Street. Sometimes it’s because you haven’t planned any kind of change at all, so you end up swapping regular Coke for diet every so often and feeling guilty that you haven’t done more. As above, the problem with this resolution is that it’s too vague to stick to.

Instead: Replace three treats a week with fruit or vegetables

A bowl of salad with eggs
Going cold turkey is a recipe for failure.

Make this resolution more specific and achievable by choosing exactly what you want to change, and not completely upending your diet from the start of the new year. For instance, if your lunch usually includes a bar of chocolate, you could switch that for an apple or a handful of carrot sticks three days a week, leaving yourself with a treat on the other two days. Other small ways to eat more healthily could include switching from a sugary breakfast cereal to porridge (again, start with two or three days a week if a complete switch is too much) or drinking water instead of fizzy drinks during the week.

4. Raise more money for charity

Vowing to raise money for charity is definitely a noble aim, and this is far from the worst New Year’s resolution on our “likely to fail” list. For one, it suggests doing something new (unless you’re a frequent fundraiser already) and you can probably come up with some ideas for achieving it as well, such as applying to your school to hold a sponsored fancy dress day or a lunchtime bake sale. All the same, this is the kind of resolution people going into in January with great intentions, but that’s likely to fizzle out come March or April when you get busy with other things.

Instead: Set up a direct debit or standing order to your favourite charity

A red heart painted on a group of people's hands.
Donate regularly so you don’t forget.

If you want to make sure that your favourite charity benefits from your New Year’s resolutions, one way to ensure this is to set up a direct debit or standing order from your bank account – and if your bank won’t let you do this because of your age, many larger charities will let you make a monthly donation by text instead. Make sure that you set your donation at an amount you can afford, and when possible, top it up with fundraising. That way you’ll know that you’ll be doing good every month, even if you don’t have time to collect sponsorship money or sell raffle tickets.

5. Learn a new language or instrument

An ever-popular New Year’s resolution, this one presents the danger that you’ll spend a lot of money up-front only to quit a few weeks into the year (much like a gym membership). Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking that spending the money will be enough to motivate us, but it seldom is. What you need is a more concrete plan for achieving your resolution. That’s particularly true of learning a new language or instrument, both of which require regular work, rather than just a bit every now and again, in order to make any real progress.

Instead: Spend 2+ hours per week on learning a new language or instrument

A boy wearing sunglasses holds a saxophone.
Could you be the next John Coltrane?

Building a time commitment into your resolution increases the chance that you’ll spend enough time on it to make good progress; it’s hard to stay motivated when you can’t tell if you’re improving. Making sure that you spend at least two hours a week on your new language or instrument should be enough that you’ll find yourself getting steadily better.

6. Stop procrastinating

Not only is this resolution vague, it’s also nigh-on impossible. While most of us would like to procrastinate less, not procrastinating at all would require superhuman willpower and concentration. Plus, when else would you tidy your desk and colour-code your homework diary?

Instead: No social media for the first half an hour of a study session

A girl ignores her studies to procrastinate with her phone.
Setting realistic time-boundaries is much more achievable.

There are lots of more concrete, quantifiable ways of stop procrastinating: this is just one suggestion. If you don’t use social media for the first half hour of your study session (and make yourself stick to it by putting your phone in a drawer and temporarily blocking social media sites on your laptop or tablet) then that should be enough to get your head in the right space to study in a more focused way. If your procrastination takes a different form, then find ways to stop yourself from engaging in that, specifically – for instance, you could ban yourself from mobile games for an hour while you’re studying.

7. Be more organised

This is a resolution that can work if you already know how you’d like to go about becoming more organised – for instance, if you have a habit of writing to-do lists and ignoring them, you might be planning on paying a bit more attention to those lists in the coming year. But as should be clear by now, if this is just a vague aspiration, it’s probably doomed: vague aspirations don’t make for effective or achievable resolutions.

Instead: Buy a diary, planner or calendar and fill it in every week

A good approach to this resolution is to think about outcomes. What would being more organised look like to you? Is this a case of getting your homework done more punctually? Not forgetting plans? Keeping your room tidier? Can you make these outcomes the focus of your resolution instead? One way to improve general organisation is to own and use a diary or calendar (which can be virtual) and update it every week with appointments and deadlines. You can use that to form your to-do list. Keep yourself up-to-date with everything you need to do by setting your own deadline that’s earlier than the absolute last possible date, so that you can get things done early, rather than last minute. Having a diary or planner also helps in that you can look over the weeks when you’ve forgotten things or missed deadlines and find out what went wrong. For instance, if those are all very crowded weeks, you might simply be taking too much on.

8. Save money

Vowing to save money is tricky, especially if your income is fixed (e.g. because it’s pocket money, or because you can only work a set number of hours in your Saturday job). If getting more money is not an option, then this resolution requires you to cut back on your spending – and that’s easier said than done. Many money-saving techniques rely on exchanging time for money, such as taking the time to make your lunch yourself rather than spending money on buying lunch from a café or takeaway, but that doesn’t help much if you’re short on time as well.

Instead: Plan a budget and save a set amount of money per month

A wallet containing money.
Your greatest expenditure might surprise you.

Making saving money easier by giving yourself a pass in January, and instead taking the time to record what you’re spending money on, and where you could cut back. What you find might surprise you – for instance, you might learn that you’re not spending as much money on takeaway coffee as you thought, but that you’re spending a lot of money on trains, buses and taxis, which you could save by cycling more often or taking advantage of student discounts. Once you’ve figured that out, calculate how much you can comfortably afford to save each month, if possible by putting it into a different bank account that you don’t have easy access to.

What New Year’s resolutions have you chosen? Leave a comment and let us know.

Images: salad on pile of recipe books; wallet containing money; saxophonist; red heart on handshealthy egg saladrunning shoeskeyboard and coffee;