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The Science Behind Failed New Year Resolutions

With the New Year approaching, many people will evaluate their goals for 2021, only to have those resolutions fail within a few months.   There may be more science behind the reasons of failure than just a lack of willpower. 

The Science Behind Failed New Year's Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions

Another New Year is fast approaching, and with the New Year comes many New Year’s resolutions, most of which have to do with healthier living and weight loss. But a few months into the year, most of the resolutions fail.  In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, nearly 88% of all New Year’s resolutions fail to be kept by the end of the year.  Many who set lofty New Year’s resolutions feel like a failure when they don’t stick to their resolutions and they just give up any attempt to improve their lives.  Instead of letting a failed resolution ruin a healthy weight loss plan, it can be helpful to look into the science behind why many resolutions fail.

The Science Behind Resolutions

According to, the field of Applied Behavior Analysis can lend some insight into what happens in the brain when a resolution is set.  “In behavior analysis, ‘temporal discounting’ is how we respond to consequences due to delay. For example, if we had a choice between $100 today or $100 in a month – the choice would be clear. We’d all take the cash today. But adjust the delay or the amount – the  ‘reinforcer’ – and our choice might look different. What if we had a choice between $100 today or $1,000 in a month? Likely, many would wait for the larger payout. Research shows animals are generally impulsive, while humans are better able to achieve long-term greater gain (such as that thousand bucks). This same research can explain failed New Year’s promises, too.  Many resolutions involve delayed gratification – selecting between a late-night ice cream habit now or a lower number on the scale in a month”.  

With the delayed gratification of weight loss or health benefits related to better choices in the New Year, it is easy to see how there could be roadblocks towards the long-term goal.  When faced with a temptation such as the late night ice cream, if a person gives in and eats the ice cream, there is a feeling of failure.  With that comes a defense mechanism response in the brain, in an attempt to explain the reason for the slip. These hypothetical constructs are generally what lead people to give up completely on their resolution instead of simply waking up the next morning and trying again.  An example of a hypothetical construct when it comes to dieting would be telling oneself, “I guess I’m just not the type of person who can be on a diet”.  [Retrieved from]

Psychology Today explains that a person’s self talk will direct their actions.  When setting goals it can be especially beneficial to change any negative self-talk about failure into positive affirmations.  For example, instead of thinking, “I’m not the type of person who can be on a diet”, having a practiced script of positive messages ready can help turn the brain around.  It can be helpful to think of each goal and prepare any obstacles ahead of time, being ready with positive sentences to speak to oneself.  [Retrieved from].

How to set a New Year’s Resolution

Instead of setting lofty, unattainable health or weight loss goals that would set someone up for failure, sitting down and analyzing why a goal is being set and writing out steps to succeed can help minimize chances that the goal will fail shortly into the New Year. In goal setting, the acronym S.M.A.R.T. can be extremely helpful:

Specific: Is the goal specific, well defined, clear and unambiguous?

Measurable: Set criteria to help measure progress towards the accomplishment of the goal

Achievable: Make sure the goal is attainable and not impossible to achieve

Realistic: The goal is within reach, realistic and relevant 

Timely: The goal needs to have a clearly defined timeline, including a start date and target end date.  [Retrieved from]


New Year’s Resolutions, like any goals, should be thought out ahead of time and with clear, concise steps to achieve them.  An understanding of the science behind potential failure can not only help overcome obstacles during the process but can also help people from becoming one of the 88% who fail to accomplish the goals they set.  It is also valuable to know that it’s not personal failure, there is a science to the brain and why it works the way it does. Resetting pathways and habits in weight loss can be hard but not impossible.  SureFiz technology is a valuable tool and program that can help in all areas of diet and weight loss goal setting.  The program takes a lot of guesswork out of weight loss and helps users set specific goals.  It truly is the secret sauce to weight loss!