Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

“New Year’s is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, friendly calls and humbug resolutions.” – Mark Twain

Flawed human beings (that would be all of us) love new beginnings. The infamous fresh start is a romantic zed idea– a new job, city, relationship or even haircut is the sufficient boost we need to reinvent ourselves and change our circumstances. Besides the abundance of alcohol and appetizers, many Americans look forward to the New Year for this reason. After we purchase that glossy calendar from the mall kiosk and settle on a party destination, we start thinking about possible resolutions.

Forty-five percent of Americans make resolutions each New Year. Topping the charts are weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking and debt reduction.  After one week, 75% of resolutions are still intact. After one month 64% are going strong. By July 1st, only 46% of the “it’s going to be different this year” resolutions are hanging around.  A meager 3% see their resolutions culminate in achievement. What’s funny is no one needs these figures to know resolutions are prone to failure. The cloudy thought hanging over many conversations about resolutions: “I never really keep mine.” Why?

There is nothing magical or compelling about a new calendar year to change one’s life. The calendar we use comes from the Romans (borrowed from the Greeks) who instituted this calendar around 700 B.C.; this is the only reason we begin measuring the year in January. If the doctor tells someone they will die if they don’t lose weight, many make inconvenient and difficult changes to do so. If someone decides to lose weight because January 1st is coming up, the odds are stacked against them. A calendar system is not sufficient motivation for weight loss.

To the elite 3% of self-motivated, we say carry on. For the rest of us, how are we motivated? By getting outside help, of course. Millions of dollars are spent every year getting someone else to do the work: trainers, counselors, consultants, support groups, etc. The poorer and slightly more committed buy a book, program or new equipment. If these fail, the solution becomes accommodation…after all, we’ve been doing it this way for a while, right? November rolls around and we remember there’s something we intended to change.  Why does this happen? Two reasons: wrong motivation and wrong method.

Christians are not motivated by a New Year for any life change – they are motivated by the worship of and obedience to God. Life change is better classified as sanctification – the work done by the Holy Spirit. At the moment of salvation, we are justified (meaning sealed and saved for eternity) but salvation is a continuous event. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

What is he saying? Those who truly repented and believed in Christ are being changed daily by the gospel (sanctification), which is evidence of their salvation. This is why we are sometimes puzzled by someone who claims they “got saved” but their lives look no different than before. A life yielded to the Savior will consistently bear fruit; if not, that life does not belong to Jesus.

The Christian life is not a finite series of boxes to check off for completion. Those indwelt by the Spirit will reflect His work by consistent life change. Christians cannot stay the same as they grow in Christ. Someone who has been walking with God for 30 years will look different than someone who received Christ last week. If we recognize an area of our lives that is not bringing God the most glory (from lazy Bible reading to poor housekeeping), we seek to change it. How? By hammering out some steps, strapping on self-confidence and choosing a reward for our impending victory? No.

The Holy Spirit is the all-sufficient source for lasting change. In John 14 He is called our Helper whom Jesus would send to teach and guide us. We are not asked to execute life change as lone rangers. Only a few verses later, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing (15:5). When we see need for change, we seek God in prayer, repent of sin, search His Word, determine practical steps and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us according to God’s grace.

No doubt the names and faces of those who have accomplished positive change without seeking the Lord (non-Christian and Christian) are coming to mind. Achieving greatness apart from God, while possible, eliminates the need for Him and we become our own savior. Very few things are celebrated in America more than the self-motivated, self-sufficient success story…we love us! Change of this kind produces pride, self-righteousness and idolatry. Weight loss might make me healthier, however, apart from God, it brings me glory; if I can do this on my own, why do I need God for anything?

Many life changes honor God: overcoming an addiction, losing weight, making wiser financial choices, praying more, spending more time with your kids, being a better employee, etc. When we recognize these things, we pursue change immediately. James wrote “He who knows the good he ought to do and does not do it, to him it is sin (4:17).” The proper motivation and method brings God glory, joy to Christians and light to the lost. God will enact change in the lives of the obedient, no matter the date. So what are you waiting for?

Happy New Year.


(image credit)


2 thoughts on “Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

  1. Re Capitalism or Socialism How Would Jesus Vote you have have made the following claim.
    “Sadly, research indicates those who favor income redistribution (socialism) give and volunteer less than those who oppose it.”
    Just like a lot of debate that goes on in this country you have made a big statement and then failed to substantiate what you have said. I’m not buying what you say! Whose research backs up your claim? I challenge you to substantiate your “opinion”.

    • I would invite you to check out the book, “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” by Arthur C. Brooks who has been a professor at Syracuse University and is the President of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.

      I offer this quote from his research: “Citizens are also more charitable when they oppose greater income redistribution and less charitable when they support it. . . They are also more likely to return change to a cashier, give food or money to a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, the blood supply would decline by about 30 percent if we were a nation of government aid advocates. ”

      Space constraints in a blog format didn’t allow for me to elaborate on what was not an opinion. My point, however, was not to critique those who favor socialistic policies, but to show it is not an issue of compassionate liberals versus selfish conservatives.

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