Why New Year’s "Resolutions" Don’t Work - And What Works Instead

Hooray! You made it through Christmas without killing anyone. Now with some of the festive cheer dipping, perhaps you’re looking ahead to the new year and getting sweaty palms thinking “what’s my new year’s resolution for 2019?” or rather, “do I really need to set a new year’s resolution?!”  

If nothing else, it’s a good way to check in with yourself and do a stock-take of where you’re at in life right now. If you never stop, reflect and learn from past experiences, how will you grow and evolve as a person?

Why New Year's "Resolutions" Don't Work - And What Works Instead

Why “Resolutions” aka Will Power Doesn’t Work

Do you make new year’s resolutions? Do you proceed to give up right around March and stop going to the gym/ stop that new diet/ stop that detox? You’re not the only one. Most new year’s resolutions don’t work. When you “resolve” to do something, it’s simply an empty statement driven by sheer will power alone. There’s no intrinsic driver of why/ how/ what behind it that will motivate you to keep at it when the going gets tough.

Don’t make resolutions - they don’t work if there’s no deeper meaning beyond that “resolve”. We all know what happens the moment life gets in the way or when we’re stressed or tired. All will power and resolve gets thrown out the window - it’s been proven by research.

Read this article on how will power is a limited resource by the American Psychological Association.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

To get beyond will power, it’s important to figure out what motivates you.

Extrinsic motivation occurs when you’re motivated to do something for a reward or to avoid punishment. Eg. “I want 6-pack abs so I’m going to the gym”, or “I don’t want to forfeit already paying all this money to my personal trainer so I’m going to the gym”.

Intrinsic motivation occurs when you’re motivated to do something because it is personally rewarding - you’re doing something for its own sake rather than for external reward. Eg. “I love the endorphin rush after working out, so I’m going to the gym.”

Usually, extrinsic drivers of behaviour tend to help you in the short-term, but if you’re looking to make long-lasting change, it’s probably also a good idea to determine what your intrinsic motivators are [1], [2]. You’re more likely to drag yourself out of that warm, cosy bed while it’s still dark out if you really enjoy or are looking forward to that < insert activity here >. So if you want to get fit, pick a workout you actually enjoy! Eg. Yoga, boxing, pilates, running, spinning, dancing, Zumba, HIIT, swimming, the list is endless…  

Simon Sinek’s Why-How-What Golden Circle

In Simon Sinek’s brilliant book, Start With Why, he talks about the Golden Circle of Why/ How/ What. Even though he’s using this in a business leadership context for how companies should be managed, it’s very easily applied to how you’d find your own intrinsic motivators to help change or improve your behaviours.

Adapting his work and totally interpreting this in the “personal health and wellness” context (my words not Sinek’s!), here goes:

Why: This is your internal motivator. Very few people can clearly articulate why they do what they do. This isn’t about just getting 6-pack abs — that’s a result.

Why is all about your purpose:

  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

  • Why do you care if you get 6-pack abs or not?

  • Why do you even want to go to the gym?

How: This could either be an external motivator, or simply a system or process you put into place to help drive your behavioural change. How’s are often given to explain how you’ll do something different or better, or how you’re going to get that thing done. Eg.:

  • Hire a personal trainer so someone else can hold you accountable.

  • Schedule workout/ meditation time in your diary everyday, so you block out that time and it’s staring you in the face when you look at your calendar.

  • Don’t buy junk food in the first place so there’s zero temptation at home.

What: This is your external motivator, or the result of your why. Eg. 6-PACK ABS!! ;)

Set Goals or Intentions

Once you’ve figured out your why-how-what, set yourself a goal or intention - a specific, measurable outcome - so that you have something to work towards, or some kind of yardstick to measure how far you’ve come.

Even though goals tend to be more externally motivated, I find them very helpful in keeping myself on track. When the going gets tough, at least you can track where you’re at now versus 3 months ago.

My 2019 Goal

In recent years, I’ve tended to give myself new year’s “intentions” - mindful themes that I want to incorporate more into my life, and some of them have revolved around the following:

  • Joyful Surrender - allowing myself to surrender to the moment or experience. Not wanting or willing to influence the outcome.

  • Gratitude - to bring more awareness to all the little moments in life I have so much to be grateful for.

  • Choose Love - in every moment, I have a choice. Choose fear and hide or shrink? Or choose love and expand through that fear.

This new year, I’m not working on any mindful themes as I have in past years, as I will have the same exact goal I set myself last year. Hahaha. On the surface, this seems to go against everything I just wrote about, but hear me out.

2019 Goal:

>>> Hold a freestanding handstand without a wall for at least 30 seconds <<<

It’s the same exact goal I had last year, because at the end of 2018, I’m still not there yet.


I have been working diligently on this goal the past year, and am close to consistently holding a freestanding handstand for at least 1 - 2 seconds.

Intrinsic Motivator: I just have an unexplainable need/ will/ want to do this. I always joke that some people run marathons, and I will never understand WHY they feel this need to as I will NEVER run one, but I get it because the 30-second freestanding handstand is my version of the marathon. Both are completely pointless challenges in that they have zero application in day-to-day life, but it’s that sense of personal achievement/ accomplishment of chipping away at something everyday, until one day you can say “I DID IT!”.

And - It’s not actually that pointless when you look at it from a mind-body challenge perspective, but that’s a different post for a different time.

Use Deliberate Practice

This was and had been the state of my handstands for at least a decade: Always against a wall, and always with a curved banana back… 10 years ago in the yoga world, that’s how everyone was teaching it. This was shot in Goa, India in 2015 - it hadn’t changed since 2008!

Handstand - banana back

I set myself that “30-second freestanding handstand” goal at the start of 2018, to finally move away from the wall. By March, three months later, nothing had changed.

So I decided to use Anders Ericsson’s advice based on his research on peak performers - I had to use deliberate practice. Hurling myself at the wall again wasn’t going to change anything, my handstands were still the same after 10 years. I needed a handstand coach.

Considering I follow loads of handstand practitioners on Instagram, this wasn’t difficult. I went for my first training with Yuval in May and got the basics down in Brussels. First things first: that banana back had to go. This was a game changer as it’s the gymnastics approach to handstands and went against everything I was taught in the yoga world.

Then I went to train with an old yoga friend, Nick in Ibiza. He’s always been a handstand nut, and Yuval’s also one of his teachers. He runs his own movement studio on the island now.

I checked in again with Yuval in October in Paris and I’m pleased to say I think I’m finally working my way out of that banana back.

In between all of these trainings, I also put in the almost daily practice: 10 - 30 minutes a day, depending on whether I’ve trained or done a yoga class before that.

ALL of that work, and I’m now only up to inconsistently holding a freestanding handstand for approximately 1 - 2 seconds (including a 6-week break I took due to a wrist injury from a boxing class). This s**t is HARD!

But I’ve got to say: it is immensely gratifying. I always knew 30 seconds was going to be a long shot within a year, but at least I’m crawling my way slowly towards it. Without any kind of goal or intention, I’d still be hurling myself at a wall with that banana back till today. I’m heading to Koh Phangan in Thailand to train with Yuval again for a week in February, 2019 - I’m curious to see what state my handstands will be at after that.

Deliberate and dedicated practice, people. It is possible. If nothing else, I’ve got some great holidays out of all these handstand trainings too. Win-Win!

What’s Your 2019 Plan?

So… WHAT is your new year intention or goal for 2019, but more importantly - WHY do you want this and HOW do you think you’re going to set yourself up for success? Please share here or let me know on Instagram!

In the meantime, you might also be interested in these previous blog posts:

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  1. Legault, L. (2016). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Available: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311692691_Intrinsic_and_Extrinsic_Motivation.

  2. Benabou R, Tirole J. (2003). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. Available: https://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/RES2003.pdf.