Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (And What to Do About It!)

[When I read the December 10, 2015, post at Inspiring and Challenging Dreamers, I thought, “That sounds like good advice. I’m going to try it.” And I am trying it. In addition to acting on the post, I asked its writer–Benjamin Conway, founder and pastor of the Tree of Life Network—if I could post the article at Open Theism so that its followers and visitors might benefit from it too. He kindly gave me permission to, and so here it is.]

I am preparing for Sunday this morning, writing a church bulletin, reviewing my sermon, making sure people are in place to do what needs to be done. And I thought this preview from this Sunday morning’s message might really help some people:

You see, New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. You know it and I know it. Yet year after year we make the same resolutions, the same promises, deep down knowing that by mid-January we will have broken them in spades, and extinguish even that glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe this year will be different. We have to get off that roller-coaster folks, it’s not good for you!

The problem is this: most people live their life on the basis of will-power. You will see it in the next few weeks across the country. Those of you who go to the gym, suddenly your gym is crowded. Don’t worry by February they will be empty again. Some people will come back to church in January telling me “I will be here forever now, pastor”, “I will never miss church again”, “I will be on time for every service”. By February they will be back to their 1 week in 3 or 4, turning up nonchalantly at the end of the worship wondering why nothing is working in their life.

So we know these resolutions do not work. So what do we do? We stop making resolutions, and we instead set GOALS. This New Year’s Eve we are not making resolutions for 2016, we are setting goals.

Now let’s reason together – let’s use our brains and grasp how and why this works. A resolution is a resolve to do A, B, or C, and not do X, Y, and Z. It is based on willpower. Willpower is your ability to muster strength from your soul – your thinking, the information you have and your feelings. The problem is your soul is not redeemed yet – you know it and I know it – and it has feelings, whims and wild ideas.

Let’s talk about dieting. The most common New Year’s Resolution is to lose weight. Now you all know how to lose weight – some ways are better than others, but you all know that stuffing your face with doughnuts is bad, and eating your greens is good. It’s not an information problem. So you make a resolution: you resolve to stop eating cake.

So day 1 you fight the temptation to eat badly all day, and all day you think about what? Cake! The house is still full of goodies from Christmas. There is still Christmas Pudding in the house. It’s not so bad the fight, you are stuffed full from Christmas and the belt is already tighter, so you manage day one. You eat the good stuff.

Day 2 is just day 1 again, but harder. Your resolve causes you to focus on the forbidden. Remember the Bible teaches the strength of sin in the law. In other words, people don’t want to do wrong until we start telling them not to. No one walks around touching the walls, but if you put up a sign that says “Wet Paint, Don’t Touch” there is something in us that wants to touch. The same is true for ourselves: if we set a law to ourselves – I will not eat cake. Then something inside you rises up and wants to do it. When you think “Do not eat cake”, you are thinking about cake. It’s that simple. You are setting yourself up to fail because you are programming your brain badly.

Day 4 you have a tough day. The kids really need to be back at school, and parenting is tough, you are tired, going stir crazy, you have started back at work and it’s hard catching up and getting in the swing again. And all day you are telling yourself “Do not eat cake” – you have cake on your mind! You are starving, so you eat the Christmas pudding. Just a little. And a little more. And some cream. And some more pudding.

And now less than one hundred hours after you made your resolution, you are lying on the sofa, stuffed full of pudding – but you are also full of regret, recrimination and shame! Your resolve is gone, so your resolution is over.

I think if you want to make some money you should open a gym called Resolutions. It is a gym the first two weeks of January, and then it become a pub for the rest of the year. We all know this is how things play out, but each year we play the same gain.

What can we do? How can we make choices that have longevity? By not making them resolutions and not making them from our willpower.

Instead, make choices on the basis of priorities. And you get your priorities right by setting goals. If you are on resolution mode, you are only thinking about the “don’t” all the time. You are being negative and are attracting failure. Thinking “I
must not eat cake, I must not eat cake” only attracts cake into your life and will inevitably end up with you eating cake. But if you are on GOAL MODE – we step away from all those negative thoughts and we look at what the GOAL IS.

So if you want to lose weight – don’t make a resolution. Don’t resolve to do anything! Set a GOAL instead. Tell yourself I am going to weigh X stone and Y pounds, or better still get yourself a size goal – I will fit into these trousers, that dress.

Now take the goal and put it on your dream wall. What does Habakkuk tell us: write the vision down and make it plain. I would (and have done) buy the trousers. I started this year with a 48? waist, and now it is a 40? waist. I assure you there are 38? trousers (and 36? and 34?) in the house. I will do it!

Now meditate on the goal. Reflect on the goal. Imagine the end result. Dream it, imagine it, visualize it. This is what the Bible calls “hope”. Now here is the good news – you are not even thinking about cake, you are focussing on the goal.

Your goal sets your priorities. The more you focus on the goal, the more your priorities naturally shift. You stop caring about the cake (the cigarette, the ex-girlfriend who is not good for you, the spending too much on shoes, the whatever) and you start caring about the goal. What you meditate on is where you will end up. As a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23.7, made famous by Napolean Hill, but penned by Solomon!). You have to let the goals lead, not the resolutions. The resolutions will lead you back into trouble, the goals will lead you forward to victory. Your resolve will fail. WE ARE NOT THAT GOOD TO BE RESOLUTE – we have to take our mind off that and PUT IT ON THE GOAL.


With a resolution, when you fail, it’s all over. But with a goal, it’s awesome, a long range goal supersedes short term failures. The goal enables you to get back up again and keep walking forward.

[Happy New Year!]


2 thoughts on “Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (And What to Do About It!)

  1. Allison

    I too am trying to set goals for this year. Even goals, of course, can be difficult to reach. There can be failure along the way.

    So, I like the idea proposed here of also stepping away from negative thoughts and focusing on the positive of what you want from the goal. For example, my long-term desire is to spend more quality time with my pets. To reach this desire, I set the goal of every week brainstorming ways to interact with them and the goal of every day trying one of my ideas. When I miss a day or a week, I am going to remind myself that it’s about that long-term desire. There’s no reason to give up when I fail on any given occasion. Instead, I should just resume my planned routine the next time I can. I’m working on forming a habit here.

    Nice article. Thank you!

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Best wishes in achieving your long-term desire to spend more quality time with your pets. With Leonora’s and Robert’s working and Shekinah’s attending school in St. John’s, I’m the only one with our pets, Jonesy and Mickey, much of the time. Thus I really should spend more quality time with them than I do.

      However for now I’m concentrating on the two goals that I identified in commenting on your “Six-Word Saturday #72” post on welcoming the New Year with goals: to clear up some undone or partly done things and to be more effective in my family, church, and Facebook activities and strengthen my relationships with family, friends, and members of Leonora’s and my Life group. Thanks for the good advice you gave regarding the former: “Remember to celebrate each little pile you take care of. They’re all steps!”

      Happy New Year!


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