Resolutions are wishful thinking

Let me be clear from the outset. I have no problem with resolutions. I think they can be extremely useful if approached correctly, but the research tells us that less than 10% of people who make them still have them a year later.

So why is that?

It’s not like we want to fail. We are all well intentioned to begin with, but somewhere through the rollercoaster years that seem to get more hectic as we go, we lose our way.

So, what are we doing wrong? Are we making the wrong resolutions? Are we setting poor goals? Are we not committed enough?

Let’s see if we can find out.

Resolutions are traditionally quite lofty goals that we set for ourselves. We often pick our ideal scenario, thinking that somehow the magic of a new year will help us to achieve it, but then when January comes, and the work actually has to begin, we encounter the same issues we’ve had all year (let’s face it, years plural!).

We don’t have time, we’re tired, it’s hard, we’d rather not. We’ve lost sight of the benefits our goals will bring us, and all we can see now is the pain that the work and sacrifice will cause us.

Sound familiar? Well you’ll be glad to know that you’re not alone. This is a phenomenon called temporal discounting, which is a form of time inconsistency, and it affects us all. This theory states that the further in the future our goal is, the less importance we place on it, so we are willing to sacrifice future benefits for immediate comfort, even if the future benefit is greater.

Think about it like this, you want to buy a pair of shoes that you don’t really need but would really like, but you’re saving as much money as you can for 1 of 3 scenarios.

  1. You’re going on holiday next week and want as much spending money as possible.
  2. You’re saving up to put a deposit on a house in 12 months.
  3. You want to put some money away for retirement, which will earn compound interest.

In which of these scenarios do you buy the shoes? If the answer was all three, you may have an impulse control problem! If the answer was none, you have incredible willpower and this article probably doesn’t relate to you.

But if, like most of us, your answer was some combination of scenarios 2 and 3, that’s your temporal discounting kicking in. This phenomenon is a powerful one and the effects are amplified the further in the future the benefit is. In fact, there is some pretty compelling research that tells us the further in the future we try to view ourselves, the less we identify with our future selves, and anything beyond 5 years is essentially a stranger!

This would certainly explain why it is so difficult to plan for retirement until it is almost upon us, and why so many people are left high and dry when it eventually comes around. To get around this, we need to put a plan in place. Not just a lofty ideal of where we would like to end up, but a solid, actionable plan to get us there.

This is an easier process than you may think, as long as we have the right structure and set out our plan effectively.

To find out exactly how to do it, check out our DIPMCS article here.

If you’ve found this article helpful or interesting or you think someone might benefit from a little more information, share it around!

It means so much to us to share this information and to reach as many people as we can, so leave us your comments, questions, support or rebukes in the comments section below and let’s start a conversation about this.


Bruce, J, Bruce, A, Catley, D, Lynch, S, Goggin, K, Reed, D, Lim, S, Strober, L, Glusman, M, Ness, A, Jarmolowicz, D, 2016, ‘Being Kind to Your Future Self: Probability Discounting of Health Decision-Making’, Annals of Behavioural Medicine, Vol 50, Issue 2, page 297-309.

Desteno, D, 2019, ‘Here’s how to crack your New Year’s resolutions’, The Guardian, 1st January, Available at:

Duhigg, C, 2012, ‘The power of habit: why we do what we do in life and business’, New York, Random House.

Ersner-Herschfield, H, Wimmer, G, Knutson, B, 2009, ‘Saving for the future self: Neural measures of future self-continuity predict temporal discounting’, Social Cognitive and Affected Neuroscience, Vol 4, Issue 1, 85-92.

Back to Health Hub