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Open Thread: Are New Year’s Resolutions a Waste of Time?

Is there a better way to change our bad habits?

It’s become an expected routine every December that we resolve to change our behavior, yet few stick to these new habits for the full 12 months. So are resolutions the best way to close out the year? Or is it time to get real and come up with an alternative?

Last week the 99U team began an email thread on the issue after floating the question on our Twitter account. Below is the result, and we welcome you to continue in the comments.

Kiana St. Louis, Assistant Editor:

Setting the resolution is a first step, and a great chance to get that “first push.” The problem lies not necessarily in this kind of goal-setting mindset but more so in the action part. A goal or resolution is only a waste if you do nothing with it. 

Matt McCue, Senior Writer:

Or, if you try to tackle too much. Resolutions always seem to fall apart in the action phase because many people set goals that are either unrealistic or narrowly-focused on a single number. @candumanohyeah wrote in response to the question on Twitter, “They are often made when one’s blood sugar is high and broken when it drops.” And he’s right that we make these resolutions assuming an ideal situation.

So rather than going on a juice diet to lose 20 pounds and then eventually gaining that weight all back when you start eating solid foods again, it could be more effective to lose weight by resolving to work out four times a week. The latter is more organic and more focused on making long term behavioral changes towards accomplishing a big picture goal.  

Sean Blanda, Editor-in-Chief:

Nice double food example! I agree though. There have been lots of studies on how telling people about your goals and making goals can actually HURT us when it comes time to accomplish them. That’s because we already get a bit of mental satisfaction from voicing them. Being known as the kind of person who wants to be more productive shares some social benefits with actually being more productive. Combine that with how damn hard it is to change habits, and no wonder most people don’t make it all year.

Instead of resolutions, I say we should “take inventory” around the holidays. Did last year work out the way I wanted? And am I a better person than this time last year? Is my career going the way I want it to? There’s a popular saying that the “years are short but the days are long.” Use the new year to take a step away from the routine and ask yourself candidly: Am I going in the right direction?


The approach of “taking inventory” would actually fuel the success of said resolutions. Most of the problem is the term we use. “Resolution” is a broad and now over-used word. People have lost respect for what it means to actually take action.

Detaching the word from the holiday season can make these personal goals less timely to what’s expected of each new year and more realistic to what a person actually wants to do differently in the year to come. I agreed with @stofmindstudio who answered our questions saying: “not one bit! They are only a waste of time if they are set too high. Starting with small goals that are easy to reach is the way to go”

As creatives, we have high expectations because we’re in a highly competitive market because everyone thinks they’re creative enough to change the world. But before people go after the world, they have to first go after themselves. Instead of general resolutions, maybe a small, but specific, goal-oriented timeline is in order?


@EPWohlfart and @love_lettrs felt that way, too. 

So we’d answer the original question by agreeing that no, resolutions are not a waste of time as long as goal-setters…   

  • Take inventory of your previous year and formulate your new goals around areas in your life that need a boost to keep you moving in the right direction.
  • Pursue challenging yet obtainable metrics that adhere to a specific timeline and follow a series of steps that increase in difficulty.
  • Make lifestyle-shifting changes in your behavior that align with your big picture goal.
  • Don’t limit your New Year’s resolution to January 1. Take stock of your goals throughout the year, such as once every quarter. This helps you hold yourself accountable and allows you to asses whether or not you need to adjust, or add to, your ongoing goals list.


Agreed! I’d emphasize that focusing on, and enjoying, the process is key. We have to enjoy practice, not just the games.

How about you?

Do you think New Year’s Resolutions are a waste of time?

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