Why New Year Resolutions are a waste of time

In one year and out the other. Why New Year Resolutions are a waste of time.

At the risk of seeming heretical  at this time of the year, I’m not really a fan of New Year resolutions. To bring myself further into a tin-hat zone, I also wonder if the resolution process if for people who don’t make goals.

But never more so than in the middle of a global pandemic.

My experience is that if I vow  before Christmas to lose 5 pounds after the party season is over, by January 1st the weight loss requirement has hit double digits. Next week I can say with certainty that my gym will be so rammed there’ll be no space in the car park, but can also say with equal certainty that by mid February I’ll be able to slip into a space  right next to the door. We all make painfully superficial lists of  minor things to work on or let go at this time of the year, but in the full knowledge  that if we back slide it’s not that big of a deal.

History of New Year Resolutions

The Babylonians were early practitioners of SMART goal setting at new year to win favour with the gods, believing that failure to achieve their new year resolutions would  bring bad luck. They therefore chose wisely: something realistic and achievable. It was also the time they returned borrowed equipment  – thus making good old debts. They celebrated their new year on the first new moon after the Vernal (Spring ) equinox, which without appearing too reactionary, seems to make a lot more sense to me some 4000 years later, conjuring up as it does images of growth, re-birth and optimism.

Flexible Timing

The beginning of a new year has for thousands of years been a time when people have made commitments to review the past and make changes for the future. But historically the timing of this festival has been flexible and quite arbitrary, having been been moved around over the centuries, mainly for political  or religious convenience. The Chinese New Year  based on a  lunar calendar,  can be any time from mid January to mid February. The Romans originally celebrated New Year  on March 1st, moved it again to March 25th, but  in 46 BC Julius Caesar  then saw fit reform the calendar to better reflect the seasons, shifting it again to  January 1st.

At the same time he honoured the two-faced god Janus, the god of doors and entrances,  who could look backward into the old year and forward into the new, which has become the modern metaphor for endings and beginnings. There was no astrological or agricultural significance for this. During the Middle Ages, Christian powers attempted to remove pagan Roman traditions from the calendar and new year and  Christmas traditions became blurred until the sixteenth century, when Pope Gregory XIII revised the Julian calendar and the new year was once again celebrated on January 1st.How about Spring resolutions?


I’m tempted to think that our ancient ancestors who thought up the concept of  new year resolutions would have had a greater chance of success with spring resolutions, or even summer solstice resolutions. They’re just simply sunnier, brighter months. January for me is not actually a great time. In my part of the world it’s cold, dark and  faintly miserable, which is perhaps why celebrations  at this time have been associated with driving out  metaphoric demons (modern-day bad habits?) with fireworks and cymbals. Or perhaps I’m just a Babylonian or ancient Roman at heart.

Make it meaningful

But basically, whatever the time of the year, we all know that if a goal has any real meaning  it shouldn’t be postponed until some conveniently notional cut off point at the beginning of the year, only to  feel temporarily wracked with guilt before we predictably relapse into our comfort zone some time at the end of January.

No substitute for now

I never exhort anyone to implement any special job search or career strategies specifically to start on January 1st.  Why?  Goal setting should be ongoing. You wouldn’t need to start anything  on 01.01 because you probably shouldn’t have stopped in the first place!  If you need  to change those goals on February 1st (Chinese New Year 2022)  or the Spring equinox – it  is not going to make the slightest bit of difference. There  is no need  either to wait 11 months until 2023 to review the situation.  We all know that. We also know that the best time is not then, but now.

Positive focus

Yet to follow our ancestors  it’s always a good idea to generate some positive energy at any time, but with no built-in guilt trip for failing to implement, especially during the dark month of January, when there is not a cymbal in sight to ward off those demons. So here’s what I suggest:

The 3 “S” Formula

🎯 SMILE  in the spirit of Burn’s “cup of kindness”., at one total stranger, at least , a day  (without appearing weird and risking arrest of course). Do you ever notice when you’re walking down busy streets how few people  make eye contact, let alone smile.  Smiling makes us all feel good, especially in January.

🎯 SUCCESS  –  record your successes. Create a recognition record. We are very often our own harshest critics. So when you have achievements no matter how small – write  them down somewhere  in a  little “Success Book” and look at them from time to time. Appreciate yourself, the people around you and what you already have and do well. Instead of focusing on our demons ( bad habits) –  accentuate the positive.

🎯 SET and review your goals regularly. Give yourself a timeframe. Reflect on what has gone on.  Don’t worry about  special dates  – they don’t matter. What matters is they are ongoing and you are active in the process not tomorrow, next month or next week … but today.

As the old joke goes  “don’t let your new year be the new start for old habits”.

If you need help creating a career strategy – get in touch NOW

Originally published in 2010. Updated December 2021

17 thoughts on “Why New Year Resolutions are a waste of time

  1. quirkytraveller

    Love the 3 S idea and focusing on the positive – so much more likely to achieve when we do that. I’ll join you in the Babyonian or Roman ways anytime – tho will include all things Greek there too 🙂

  2. Sharon Eden

    Sound good sense, Dorothy. I never fail to be amazed by people who make huge resolutions and then wonder why they don’t achieve them.

    And I’m with you and @quirky traveller any time!


  3. Marion Chapsal

    Love that post!
    Honest, hilarious, tender, compassionate.
    Who would have thought of The babylonians?!!!
    You made me laugh and reflect, like usual.
    So precious!
    I join Zoe and Sharon to drink from your cup of Kindness!
    Merci, Dorothy 🙂

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Milles mercis Marion! Reflecting on the positive seems a much more satisfying process and with a stronger chance for success for the things that need tweaking! I wish you all good things for 2010.

  4. Matthew Dent

    Great post! I tend to operate using the 2’s (Set & Smile) although not as often as I should. I really like Success! Too often I get caught up on the things I have yet to complete rather than looking at the things I have accomplished. I guess although I like to think of the glass half full, in this case I am actually looking at it half empty. Thanks Dorthy!

  5. Laurent

    Hi Dorothy,
    I am not a big fan either of New year resolutions, it only helps people to think of their goals once a year but they forget them the remaining time..which is ridiculous.
    Well done and thanks for this entertaining post.

  6. LorenaHeletea

    Great Post Dorothy as always.
    New year resolutions??
    Understanding SELF(Self Image) can help us make better decisions and commit to Goals that we will achieve in 2010.

    There are reasons why we make a New Promise every year to loose weight,to be healthier,to start our own business or to improve our relationships etc. and it only lasts a few days…

    The reasons are HABITS,CONDITIONING,BELIEFS and the truth is that regardless of how many promises, amendments we make it will not make a difference if the same Law-Breaker is to keep them.

    We must treat the cause not the symptoms, we need to start at the core.


  7. Liz Strangways


    I do so agree with you that the Spring Equinox would be a much better time to start the new year – much more enthusiasm in the air!

    In my opinion, if a resolution is to survive beyond the end of January, it needs to focus on a goal that incites passion and excitment.

    I’ve just discovered that visual/aural stimulation is, for me, very powerful. I’ve created a vision board with words, images and music. Each time I view it, I find myself wearing a big smile, punching the air and saying ‘yes!’

    I particularly like your third ‘S’. It reminds me that “I am not a failure – I just haven’t succeeded…yet!” Each day is an opportunity to start over and try again.

    Thanks for a great post – informative, practical AND encouraging.

    Liz x

  8. Jan Arzooman

    Great post. I already pretty much practice the “smile” part, because it makes me feel good when I get a genuine smile from someone else (like you said, a not-creepy one). Last year my main resolution was to let go of unjustified guilt and to have a positive attitude about my body — to not let negative language creep in. I kept these pretty well and felt so much better as a result. This year I’m simply continuing my goals from the past and working on new ones. I already have a goal to write every day, so the New Year’s is a reminder to stick with that.

  9. Pingback: Why there’s only one new year’s resolution to make in job search | Dorothy Dalton

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