Insights – 4 min read

Why New Year’s Resolutions so seldom work

January 24, 2024
By Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Why New Year’s Resolutions so seldom work:

Explained in the language of metaphor




  1. The boat without a rudder.

Without a clear direction and a plan, you will drift aimlessly until you inevitably lose your momentum and run aground.


  1. The balloon filled with hot air.

You start off hot to trot filled with excitement and enthusiasm but as time passes you cool down and sink back down to earth only to find yourself back at square one.


  1. The treadmill is locked on its highest speed.

 Initially, the year ahead appears filled with promise and you are confident you can meet its challenges but the “all or nothing” mindset soon leaves you exhausted right back where you started.


  1. The house of cards.

 You need balance, stability, and a plan to deal with inevitable setbacks. Be prepared to face adversity or even the tiniest hiccough could be the catalyst that brings all your fragile plans and best intentions crashing down.


  1. Sprinting without training.

 You take off like a wounded buffalo filled with enthusiasm, but your lack of preparation soon leaves you wheezing on your knees. Without realistic expectations, consistent effort, and plans of how to deal with adversity, your commitment and energy will evaporate like morning mist in the hot savannah sun. “I want it all and I want it now” usually translates as “None of it, neither now nor ever”!


  1. Planting seeds in barren soil.

 Without the right conditions, adequate preparation and ongoing care, you will inevitably struggle to grow or sustain positive change. Your hastily-made, ill-conceived plans will bear no fruit. Growth and change need solid foundations. And most of all; time.


  1. The maze.

 You may start out confident of where you are and where you are headed but, if you have not mapped out a clear path and a realistic time schedule, you will soon become confused and find it increasingly difficult to navigate the best route by which to reach your goals.


  1. The starvation diet.

 This may deliver short-term very short-lived results, but it’s not sustainable. Without a holistic approach you will soon find yourself frustrated and disappointed. Starting the New Year with cold turkey is a very bad idea.


  1. The Band-Aid.

 Bad habits run deep. A covering them up temporarily with a little plaster is hopelessly inadequate. You may experience a little momentary relief or even feel like you are taking adequate positive action but without addressing the deeper underlying issues lasting change is impossible.


  1. The rollercoaster.

 Initial success may fill you with excitement and motivation, but with the dizzying ups comes the miserable corollary of the downs. If you have not made plans to endure and soldier on through the hard parts you are likely to get out of the rollercoaster and abandon the journey altogether.

I suggest that you eschew making New Year’s Resolutions altogether. Make a resolution to not make any. However, if you insist here are a few tips to add to your metaphorical insights that may prove helpful.

Set specific measurable goals against a realistic time schedule.

Saying “I will get healthier” is not as effective as setting a specific goal like “I will exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week.”

Have realistic expectations.

Impossible, overly ambitious goals are counterproductive. Consider your current habits, capabilities, and resources. Unrealistic expectations lead to frustration and higher chances of giving up.

Be completely committed.

Beware of the “pie in the sky”. It’s easy to get excited about resolutions early in the year. Maintaining motivation and commitment for the entire duration is challenging. Without strong internalised commitment it’s easy to just give up when faced with obstacles or setbacks.

Make a plan to make a plan and then make it.

Preferably in writing! You are making a contract with yourself. Make sure the terms of that contract are clear and achievable. Simply expressing a resolution without developing a detailed plan of action just makes it difficult to follow through. If anything, it’s a shortcut to shoulda woulda coulda. Without a clear roadmap, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or unsure about where to start and how best to progress.

Be accountable.

Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. If you do, you’re just ensuring that there is no external accountability. It’s tantamount to planning to fail and then letting yourself off the responsibility for having failed in advance. Sharing your goals with others or a partner can will increase your motivation and provide access to support.

Regularly assess your progress and be prepared to make adjustments.

It’s important to regularly review your resolutions, celebrate small victories, and modify your plans wherever and whenever needed.

Don’t be a perfectionist.

The all-or-nothing mindset can be deeply discouraging. If you slip up once, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed completely. This often leads to giving up altogether. Embracing the idea of progress rather than perfection is much more sustainable. Remember; it is impossible to be defeated it you resolve to never surrender.

The idea of setting resolutions is not inherently flawed. However, the way they are approached and executed will impact their success. The simple fact that the resolutions are made upon the advent of the New Year in no way affects the likelihood of you being successful in maintaining them. By setting realistic goals, creating a plan, staying accountable, and maintaining flexibility, you can increase your chances of making your resolutions stick. And on that sober note: Happy New Year:)



Dr Mark Whittington


About the author

Dr. Mark Whittington and Gaby Bush

Dr. Mark Whittington is a graduate of the distinguished Otago Medical School, and has more than 30 years’ experience working at the clinical coalface as a Consultant Psychiatrist.

Gaby Bush is a creative director, writer ,ex-patient, corporate refugee, and survivor of severe PTSD. Gaby is living proof of how well the Metaphorical Therapy System works in the real world.

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