Why you should not set New Year’s Resolutions

– The reason why setting goals are the enemy of progress

“Dream in the one hand and poop in the other hand, and see in which hand you have something.”This is one of the very infamous sayings of my not-so-cultured tenant farmer grandma. In her very uneducated way she knew something very few people understand.

I myself used to be a fanatical devotee to the New Year’s Resolution goal-setting phenomena. I had goals for everything that includes health, wealth, happiness, and the rest of the eight spokes of the life wheel. This was before I picked up the book Atomic Habits.

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, professes that goals are highly overrated. Clear gives us four reasons why focussing on your goals as opposed to crafting away at your systems, leads to massive problems.

Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.

Everyone wants to be a winner but most do not rise up to be a winner. A rugby team does not walk onto the field with the goal of losing. You do not propose a new solution to your boss with the aim of being rejected. Clear beliefs that it is a system of continuous small improvements that lead to the achievement of different outcomes.

Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change

I used to be a very messy person and more so with my admin. During our initial Covid Lockdown period I set a goal to get my office cleaned up and I did. But because of my sloppy personal admin habits, I was soon sitting with a messy unorganised office once again. The reality is that I am left chasing the same outcome because I never changed the system behind it.

Clear believes that achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem.

Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.

Problem #3: Goals restrict our happiness.

I will be happy when I drop 5kg before the end of January. 

I will be happy when I can run 10km at an average of 5:30km/min. 

I will be happy if I increase my net worth by 20%.

Sounds familiar? These are all fairly good examples of a SMART goal, but the problem is that we literally postpone our happiness to a future date that might possibly never come.

That’s just sad and super ridiculous, but we all do it. I know that I have fallen into this trap many times over.

Clear says that when you fall in love with the process rather than the result, you don’t have to postpone your happiness.

Problem #4: Goals hinder long-term progress

Ever heard of yo-yo dieting? Of course, you did! We have all fallen victim to yo-yo dieting at some point in time. You have a goal of losing x-amount of weight, which after an intense struggle you finally achieve just to lose your motivation. You did after all achieve your goal. Happiness? Possibly not. After achieving your goal the chance is high that you will lose motivation and fall back into your old habits.

Clear’s theory coincides with the message from Simon Sinek in his book The Infinite Game. The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. The game never ends. It is infinite and we will run out of steam if our focus is only on achieving one goal at one specific time in the near future.

Your progress is based on your commitment to the process.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Habits are the atoms of our systems and ultimately the number one driving factor that separates the winners from the losers. 

The Bamboo Effect

Nothing makes for a better story than someone’s overnight success. The world is filled with overnight success stories and we secretly all want our own overnight success story. The reality however is that there is no such thing as an overnight success. Never was and never will be.

As with a bamboo plant, the world seldom sees the hard work and dedication that has been done for years before someone becomes an overnight success. If you can work your mind around the frustration of not seeing progress, you are well on your way to that magical overnight success awaiting you somewhere in the near future.

Get yourself to fall in love with the process, rather than delaying your happiness until you reach your goal.


Christél Rosslee-Venter is a business coach, marketing consultant, content creator, author, and speaker with almost 30 years of experience in the marketing and advertising industry.

Skilled in strategic marketing planning & execution for entrepreneurs, nothing excites her more than seeing her clients get unstuck and start to grow (again).

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