5 Ways to Fail Your New Year’s Resolution

John Bailey
8 min readJan 31, 2021


It’s the end of January. Have you failed your New Year’s resolutions yet?

Because quality failure requires proper planning, it’s important to know why the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions FAIL.

Most people think a “lack of willpower” is enough to guarantee failure — and that’s one excuse. But the bad news is that’s the wrong answer.

The worse news is that your significant other and your friends are smarter than that — even if they don’t admit it to your face. The truth is the “lack of willpower” excuse is flaccid, pitiful, unoriginal — and totally obvious.

That’s because most people aren’t broken or “lacking willpower”. So, a quality New Year’s Resolution failure needs a truly bad strategy — not just bad genes or lame excuses. And, that strategy has to have decent stealth technology built-in, or it’ll be too obvious, and your significant other will hold you in contempt for even saying it.

So, pay attention and I’ll lay out the FIVE strategic ways to craft a guaranteed New Year’s Resolution FAIL — with enough stealth that you will get away with it. Here are five examples that look just fine on the surface, but conceal absolutely deadly fail-making technology:

  1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”
  2. “I will spend more time with my family.”
  3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”
  4. “I will make a million dollars.”
  5. “I will weigh 125 pounds.”

Pretty typical resolutions. They all meet one of the main recommendations for goals of every kind: They are all stated in positive terms. That’s what makes them ideal stealth-failure resolutions!

Let’s Check Them Out:

1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”

This goal is positive, and healthy, and that “end of February” deadline is the perfect kind of overly-specific booby-trap to trigger stress-eating — or just plain stressing — which causes the body to retain weight.

People who want to stay fat (or even gain weight) should try to do stress-eating. And, they need to avoid being active and getting outside. Going outside burns calories. It also exposes a person to sunshine — which helps their body synthesize serotonin. And, that totally ruins the seasonal affective depression that helps them binge on carbohydrates like pretzels, chips, and pasta.

Physical activity relieves stress — which interferes with stress eating and the hormone levels you want to maintain to insure you maintain or gain more fat.

January is the best time of year to make excuses for staying inside and being inactive. It’s cold, it’s snowing, it’s miserable, you get a cold, it’s flu season, you have to brush off the windshield, it gets dark early. And, if any of those fail, you can always misplace your gloves.

The more non-perfect performance days that tick off through January, the more weight you have to lose PER DAY to avoid failure.

At some point, even your significant other will forgive you for just surrendering — taking the couch-lounging path that ultimately gives you 11 months and 4 days of peace until you have to do it again. (If you don’t count your significant other totally checking out the hot-bodied so-and-so at the lake.)

If you really want to fail your New Year’s Resolution, make sure you put your goal on a deadline.

2. “I will spend more time with my family.”

This goal is positive, and a good idea, and just non-specific enough: There’s no method — and no metrics (tracking system). You can totally make easy excuses any time it comes up. No real action will happen, and by the time anyone notices — around the time you have that big fight in July or so — you’ll have “already failed” — and you can put it off again until next Christmas!

When you want to make a totally fail-destined resolution, making it seem positive, while structurally vague and without any way to track progress — is certain to be helpful. And, by that, I mean to insure failure.

3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”

There’s that good positive-sounding facade — behind it hiding one of the best resolution fail tricks in the book: You aren’t really in control of it. You can make a big production, and spend money and take a trip and hire a sky-writer. You can do all that with utter security that most jewelers will take the ring back when she says “no”. And, the refund will probably let you pay off the proposal vacation you maxed-out your credit card for.

One of the best ways to insure a resolution fail — and to build-in an escape from accountability — or even create a pity-wringing victim status — is to make sure someone else is in control of the main choice(s) or actions that produce the outcome.

Consistently focus on any part you don’t fully control– especially trivial ones. Do this especially if that part isn’t actually necessary. Find ways to say that others are in control of various trivial, but essential prerequisites to you taking meaningful action.

4. “I will make a million dollars.”

By now, you recognize the “positivity paint” on this baby, and you may already be noticing that a ridiculously-gigantic and very specific goal is just the thing to insure a quality resolution fail. The “lose 20 pounds by February” resolution used time pressure to help guarantee failure. This one does the same thing, just using gigantic size instead of a short time-frame.

No matter the degree of progress, make sure you never measure progress, and always focus on how huge the rest of the resolution is.

And, the result is the same: You get out of the effort much earlier by surrendering to how much harder it seems to make a $999,000 in only seven months.

When you want to fail a resolution, don’t make it big, or even challenging; make it ridiculously huge. Nobody will blame you for surrendering. And, in the meantime, everyone will say how “ambitious” you are.

5. “I will weigh XXX pounds.”

Positive. Controllable. Right-sized to your starting weight. How are you going to fail that one?

This is the stealthiest of the fails: The outcome-obsessed fail. This one requires some greed, but most people can supply that. You have to stay focused on the outcome — like Gollum with the ring.

You have to crave and obsess and struggle with it all the time. And, it’s best if you dramatize that with your family and friends — being so brave and “strong” whenever anyone is watching. Max-out that willpower in the most dramatic possible ways.

That allows you the flexibility to rationalize and justify and excuse and deny the “cheating” and binging you’ll do when nobody is around.

It’s OK: You totally deserve all those treats and rewards for the incredible shirt-popping will-power you’re profiling.

Nobody will blame you when you boomerang around Valentine’s day, gaining back nine of the five pounds you lost before then. They’ll believe the “big boned” thing — at least when you’re in the room.

Keep in mind that nobody likes a successful New Year’s Resolution winner-bully — and everyone loves the story of a dramatic failure.

Remember, your friends will feel bad if you outdo them. Remember that victory laps are short-lived and elitist, while martyrdom and pining for unrequited victory offers an endless source of conversation and attention. If you were to succeed, you would have to invent an entirely new line of conversation and basis for connecting to your friends.

BONUS: 21 things NOT to do in order to FAIL:

  1. DO NOT allow your focus to stray from your deadline or the acquisition of the goal as if it were a product you could purchase from Walmart.
  2. DO NOT allow yourself to ever consider your resolution as an organic process or an activity you could commit to just doing regularly as a reward.
  3. DO NOT allow yourself to feel good about the activity or process or adventure of moving toward the person you want to be.
  4. DO NOT allow your resolution to become part of a lifestyle that involves new friends and new fun activities and new locations.
  5. DO NOT associate with people who are successful at happily achieveing and maintaining the same kind of goal you have.
  6. DO NOT adopt the beliefs and attitudes and habits of successful people. Instead, make sure you hang out with lots of people who “share your struggle” (but never succeed). Believe and complain as they do.
  7. DO NOT make a specific and scheduled plan for taking manageable, bite-sized actions on a consistent basis.
  8. DO NOT schedule and prioritize your consistent bite-sized actions on your calendar.
  9. DO NOT write the personal deeply-held values that relate to your goal — and your bite-sized actions next to them on the calendar where you’ve prioritized those actions within your schedule.
  10. DO NOT feel good about keeping those values-affirming appointments.
  11. DO NOT congratulate yourself or memorialize in writing the progress you create.
  12. DO NOT imagine and design goals unless the final decision lies with someone else.
  13. DO NOT focus on the parts of your progress that you most control.
  14. DO NOT take consistent meaningful action any time you can find something that “has to be done first” — and especially if you can find a way that someone else has to do it.
  15. DO NOT ever make a resolution of a reasonably achievable size.
  16. DO NOT measure progress toward a goal. Instead, always measure how large the incomplete portion is.
  17. DO NOT allow your focus (or that of your friends) to wander from the goal — or how dramatic your struggle is.
  18. DO NOT lose sight of how much attention you can get by failing.
  19. DO NOT make yourself lonely by winning your goal — thereby losing your connection with your friends who are also struggling with the same Resolution.
  20. DO NOT feel worthy or deserving — or like investing in yourself, your happiness, or your health. Instead, make sure to live down to the lowest opinion of yourself or the lowest social standing you can remember having.
  21. NEVER BELIEVE that Resolutions are about the outcomes of consistent practices or lifestyles. Instead, always imagine that resolutions — like a new flat-screen from Walmart — are the results of massive temporary efforts. And, like that flat-screen, their value is in lording it over your friends — for as long as passively doing that can last.