Born to Lose: Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Have Already Failed

By now you've probably given up on your New Year's resolution. Join the club. Where did you go wrong? Well, it all started when you made your New Year's resolution...

I hate New Year’s resolutions (NYRs). I don’t make them. I have never made them. I will never make them. And honestly, I question the judgment of anyone who takes them very seriously.

It’s nothing personal. I know many wonderful people that make NYRs, but I despise NYRs because they are irrational, ineffective, and their popularity perpetuates failure on a massive scale.

NYRs are essentially a change in our behavior. The change could be in any and every portion of our lives. The unfortunate fact is that changing human behavior is difficult. Changing behavior that is ingrained deeply enough to require a NYR is really difficult. NYRs divert focus from the difficulty of this change and help people fool themselves into underestimating the difficulty of the change.

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Let’s examine each quality individually.


Bottom line: if you didn’t care enough to change in December then you don’t care enough to keep changing after January. NYRs ascribe some magical significance to the date January 1st. Smart money says that you’ve probably tried your NYR before and failed. That’s normal in any endeavor. If you never fail at anything then you’re not really challenging yourself. The issue is not that you’ve failed before. The issue is that you think this iteration will yield different results using the same method. It won’t! You have to change your method. That starts in your head by getting rid of the irrational idea that a NYR makes your goal more likely with the same amount of work you’ve always invested.


How many people do you know that make NYRs and succeed? That’s what I thought: very few. Do you know anyone who has resolved to make a difficult change in his/her life and has devoted time and energy to making that change? What fractions of those were successful? Probably much more than the NYR crowd.  As I said, changing human behavior requires hard work. NYRs focus on the timing and circumstances of the work rather than the work itself. The cart is put before the horse from the very beginning. I don’t think anyone will argue that the average NYR is an abysmal failure. If NYRs were a mutual fund they’d have a 10 year return of -87%, which is only marginally worse than my investment portfolio.

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Why do so many people play with these jokes called NYRs? They almost always fail, and anyone who succeeds would have succeeded at any other time despite the mythical flip of the calendar. They are just another speed bump to success in our society that is already obsessed with finding large results for little effort.

The popularity of NYRs prevents people from questioning their validity. This leads to people thinking, “Hmm, perhaps I really can ___ if I just make a NYR.” In reality they really can ____, but their probability of success is no more tied to a NYR than the price of tea in China.

Put the New Year’s resolution down. Put it down. Now, if you want to make a real change, proceed. Examine your goal and where you are now. Examine the road ahead and the work that will be required to accomplish your goal. Accept that the work is difficult, and resolve to complete it anyway. Have a plan for the work. Make accommodations to put yourself in the best position to successfully complete the work. Accept that to accomplish your goal you may have to initially invest much work for very little immediate return.  Commit to keep doing the work even when you want to quit, because that’s the only way you’ll succeed. Every day that you falter remind yourself of your goal, and that you can achieve it.

At the end of your journey you will have either succeeded or failed. If you failed, examine why you failed, go back to the beginning, and start again. Either your method or your mental state must be different this time or you will simply fail again. Success lies with you, and only you. If you fail then you didn’t desire success enough to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. We all make those choices every day, and I fail plenty, but I absolutely do not kid myself.

Every one of my failures is my fault. Mine.

Jeff Barnett

Jeff Barnett is an entrepreneur, fitness enthusiast, and former Marine. He has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA. When you don't find him wakeboarding, writing, or eating meat off the bone, he's at his startup, CrossFit Impulse.