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The New Year Resolution Frenzy: A 4,000 Year-Old Problem

Tamala Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ


Dedicated to helping you learn to use quality/process improvement methods and tools in all aspects of your life from work to your personal life.  

This week's example is focusing on a 4,000 year old problem - Reaching your New Year Resolution Goal!

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With a 4,000+ yearly tradition, only about 8% of Americans have figured out how to make a successful new year’s resolution out of the 45% who make them each year (Pruitt, 2020). Yet we keep going back, trying to create a new resolution the following year, only to fail again. I can’t help but think of Einstein’s quote:

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” ~Einstein

We apply the same thinking over and over again; why? What have the 8% figured out that the rest of us haven’t?


They studied what they wanted to achieve. They looked for the “root cause” of why the situation was happening and did something about it. Sometimes they were successful, and other times maybe not, but they made progress.
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First, Study the Problem!

1. History of the New Year Resolution

Let's look at the history of the New Year Resolution. According to Pruitt, she shares the following information:
  • The ancient Babylonians were the first people to make a New Year Resolution approximately 4000 years ago.
  • The Romans, around 46 BC, moved the new year to January 1 after the two-faced god Janus for symbolically looking backward and ahead.
  • In the 1740s, early Christians viewed the new year as a chance for self-improvement.
But even in the past 281 years, evidence still suggests that we continue to try again although we keep failing.

2. Explore what is happening externally that is impacting you in meeting your New Year Resolutions

Now let's better understand the current state. Due to COVID-19, our month of December, when we start to think about what our resolution will be for the upcoming year and ringing in the new year, probably looks and feels very different than past years. Instead of being out and about, visiting friends and relatives, and traveling, we will likely be staying home and with only a few people during this time. We also have Social Media with targeted marketing algorithms that may be impacting our mood, judgments, and sense of well-being. And, also worth mentioning is the pandemic impact has had on jobs, money, and our priorities:
  • People left their jobs, which has been referenced as the great resignation (see Cook, 2021).
  • People lost their jobs due to falling ill, reduction in working hours, businesses closing, and paid sick-leave schemes (see OECD, 2021).
  • People became unable to work due to taking care of ill family members, childcare situations, and vaccination issues (Legal Aid At Work, 2022).

3. Now take a look internally to see what barriers you are personally facing

Explore "why" new year resolutions fail.  Lets use the 5Whys:

Process Improvement Tool 1 Example: 5Whys 

Why did you not meet your new year resolution goal?    "Because of X"

-->Why did <insert X here>  keep you from reaching your goal?   "Because of Y"

---->Why was your <insert your Y here> not effective?  "Because of Z"

------>And keep asking "Why" until you get to your root cause. 
Another way to find the source of your resolution breakdown is to create categories and list reasons that present barriers to reaching your goal. Here are some groups and prompts to get you started using an Ishikawa Diagram.

Process Improvement Tool 2 Example: Ishikawa Diagram

Wow - we have looked at the history of the problem, current state, and used two tools to determine some root causes in why we have not our new year resolution.  There is a lot happening around us currently. If we feel we have enough information to narrow down to the root causes of the  problem, then we want to write our problem statement.

4. Summarize what you know about your problem in one sentence: Create your 'Problem Statement'

I use this framework when defining my problem (Bradham, 2021). A problem statement should be simple, easy to remember, and one sentence. Remember to state:
  • The problem
  • Who it is impacting
  • What the impact is

Once you answer these questions, insert them into either of the following sentence structures:
"[PROBLEM] is happening to a [WHO] cause them to a [IMPACT]."


"The current situation is a [PROBLEM and WHO] leading to a [UNDESIRABLE EVENT]."

In this example, I would define the problem to be:

“Not making my new resolution a priority is causing me to continue with my bad habit and making me feel bad about myself.”
“The current situation is that I have not involved my family in my goal, leading to me not meeting my new year resolution goal.”
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Identify Your Small Change

Now, you can define your new year's resolution. First, select one barrier you want to address this year - don’t tackle it all. Better yet, make it SMART:
  • S - Specific = Clearly define the item - the what!
  • M - Measurable = Define your point A to point B - the how!
  • A - Attainable = Within your reach - the can!
  • R - Realistic = Not a pipe dream - the do!
  • T - Timely = Identify your timeline for when you can accomplish this - the when!

For example, “By December 31, 2022 (T), I will meet my new year resolution (S, A, R) by decreasing/increasing from X to Y (M)."


"I will decrease my weight (S) from 145 pounds to 135 pounds (M) by December 31, 2022 (T) by tracking my food intake and exercise (A or R)."
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Now, Let's Do It! Create your plan to reach your New Year Resolution goal

Take your goal statement or resolution and make a plan. Check off items once you have completed them. After you have completed several items, evaluate the effectiveness of these tasks.  
  • Did they accomplish what you needed?
  • What did you learn?
  • Are you making any changes as a result of this information?

Repeat this process until you reach your goal or until the period is up. Don’t forget to assess your progress after completion.

Celebrate your wins. Learn from your disappointments. And always, always, continue to do better regardless of whether it is the beginning of a new year or the middle of the year. Einstein once again comes to mind:
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results.” ~ Einstein
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If you decide to set a new year resolution, the best thing you can do is to study the problem. Don’t jump to a solution without really understanding your why, barriers, or root causes.

Steps to accomplish your resolution:
  • Study the problem
  • Identify ways to address the issue
  • Select one solution
  • Make small changes to improve
  • Use checklists to help stay the course
  • Reflect and make adjustments accordingly
Let's increase the 8% and solve this 4000+ year-old problem!  Download your success guide here.  

Please share your goals and plans with us.  Together we can do better! 



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You CAN eliminate a 4,000 year old problem!

Based on science and used across the globe, you can now use this simple method and these tools to meet your New Year Resolution.  

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About the blogger

Tamala S. Bradham, Ph.D., DHA, CCC-A, CPPS, CPHQ

For 25 years, Dr. Bradham’s career has always centered on developing and implementing new, innovative service delivery models to improve care delivery.

 As a clinician, researcher, published author, and professor, she is a multi talented and multifaceted leader that inspires those around her to deliver best practices based on the current state of knowledge, explore opportunities to improve service delivery, and innovate solutions for the tomorrow.

As a partner with 3C Digital Media Network, Dr. Bradham will connect people with great talents and knowledge to the network, collaborate with others to improve and develop oneself, and communicate with genuine passion and transparency.

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