It’s January 14. People are filtering into the cycle room at the YMCA. I’m adjusting the seat on my stationary bicycle when I realize the class is almost full twenty minutes before it even starts (which is unusual). The woman next to me, who regularly attends the class, grumbles, “I hate this time of year when all the resies take over the gym.”

Since I’m also a regular, I know her term “resies” is referring to all the people who newly signed up for a gym membership in hopes of fulfilling their New Year’s resolution of working out. Every January for the past 15 years that I’ve been a member of the gym, I’ve witnessed this phenomenon. I turn to her and say, “Don’t worry; they will all be gone by March.”

She laughs and says, “That is so true.”

Even though I made light of the situation, I feel sad knowing all of these people will not achieve a goal they created. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence. Richard Wiseman studied 3,000 people who created different New Year’s resolutions. At the end of the year, he found that only 12% of the people achieved their intended goal.

Despite the high number of failed goals, about 40% of Americans continue to create New Year’s resolutions. This tradition dates back to the Roman times as a way to honor the mythical god Janus. According to psychology professor Peter Herman, people usually don’t achieve their New Year’s resolution goals because they create unrealistic goals. People also tend to underestimate the difficulty in achieving these goals.

I wasn’t always a fitness fanatic. In fact, I would liken my former self to more of a couch potato who avoided all forms of exercise. My transformation was a long and slow process (over the course of several years) and it never involved a New Year’s resolution of working out. 

I think that to create a goal just because of the calendar (or because other people are telling you to) will only set you up for failure, which could result in decreased self-worth. Instead of setting a New Year’s resolution because it’s a new year, create goals throughout the year for areas in your life you want to change.

When creating goals it’s important to be realistic. For example, if you want to run in a marathon (26.2 miles), you would first need to train for it. This training usually involves running short distances and then building up to longer amounts of running. This technique could be applied to any goal you create. In relation to your goal being realistic, it might not be physically possible for you to run a marathon, so to create this as a goal without first understanding your own physical limitations would result in not completing it. 

Instead of creating New Year’s resolutions, take some time to assess your accomplishments and other areas of your life over the past year. Here are some questions to consider to help you with this process:

1. What did you accomplish this past year? 

2. How could you build upon those accomplishments next year?

3. What are some things you could have done differently this past year?

4. List some people who were supportive of you this past year.

5. How could you support other people next year?

6. When you think about this past year, what do you feel happy to remember?

7. When you think about this past year, what do you feel sad to remember?

8. What are some new skills or information you learned this year?

9. What are some new skills you would like to learn in the future?

10. What steps do you need to take to achieve new skills or accomplishments?

After reflecting on these questions, consider how you would like to move forward in the new year. If you do decide to create goals, make sure they are realistic for both your expectations and the reality of achieving them.