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Published on December 20, 2018

Why New Year Resolutions Fail And How to Set Yourself up for Success

Why New Year Resolutions Fail And How to Set Yourself up for Success

Every year, millions of people take the opportunity to use January 1 as a fresh start.

The ancient Babylonians are recognized as the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago.[1] However, instead of setting goals for themselves, they made promises to the gods, hoping those gods would then ‘bestow favor’ on them for the coming year.

In our home, my husband and I sit down every New Year to set our goals and intentions for the year. When the kids became old enough to participate, they started joining us for this important ritual.

Setting goals is the ‘easy’ part; but we all know that the execution of our resolutions is often easier said than done.

In fact, check out these statistics:

  • One widely quoted statistic notes that 92% of people don’t follow through on their resolutions.
  • Another showed 80% of people give up on their resolutions by the second week in February.[2]
  • A third study identified that 88% of those who set New Year’s Resolutions fail, even though 52% were confident of success at the beginning.[3]
  • One identified that 25% of people ditch their goals in the first week![4]

Regardless of which of these studies is right, we can all agree that the overwhelming conclusion is this:

MOST people don’t follow through.

7 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Here are 7 reasons why so many New Year’s Resolutions fail and more importantly, how to set yourself up for success in the new year:

1. Your Goals Aren’t Specific Enough

“I want to get healthier”

is a great mission, but not a great goal. The universe responds to specificity and so does your brain.

When things aren’t specific enough, or you don’t have a clear enough vision of what you want, your mind doesn’t know what success looks like, and it’s easier to get distracted, demotivated and lose energy.

Set Yourself up for Success:

Get specific. Make sure you have a clear vision of what you want and what success looks like.

You want to get healthier? What does that mean? Do you want to exercise three times a week? Eat better? What does that look like? No more sugar, meatless Monday, eight fruits and vegetables a day?

You want to lose weight. How much? By when? Get specific on your goals so you know exactly what it would mean to achieve them.

Make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely.

2 No Accountability

How much more likely are you to follow through on something when you’ve committed to someone else – your boss, spouse, friends?

The founder at AllTopStartups, Thomas Oppong wrote is well in his article on Medium:[5]

“When you are accountable to someone or a group of people for doing what you said you would do, you can easily get stuff done because you engage the power of social expectations.”

Set Yourself up for Success:

Find an accountability partner. Hire a coach to keep you on track and honest. Make a commitment to someone else.

I have a good friend that joined a “Race for a Cure” team so she was accountable to both the team, the cause and the result.

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3. You Lose Focus

Did someone say ‘squirrel!?’ Committing to having a new adventure each month is a great resolution (one of my good friends had this one last year).

In January, you go skydiving,…Awesome! February, you head out on a kayak…Great work! But then things get busy, life gets away from you, and suddenly that exciting resolution finds its way to the back burner of your mind.

I read one statistic that said 23% of people forgot about their resolutions. Forgot!

Set Yourself up for Success:

Write down your resolutions.

Studies have proven that those who write down their goals accomplish significantly more than those who do not. In fact, you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down. Writing your goals down not only forces you to get clear on what is that you want to accomplish, but doing so plays a part in motivating you to complete the tasks necessary for your success.[6]

Then, place them somewhere you can see them and review them regularly. Place your goal somewhere you see it: your bathroom mirror, your calendar, a reminder on your phone.

My husband and I have date nights throughout the year to check in on our goals and see how we’re progressing. You can also use other ‘milestone events’ such as birthdays, anniversaries and holidays as a time to review your resolutions.

Create a daily ritual around your resolution. My good friend, and owner of HeySoul, Jessie Gardner, talks about making small, consistent, simple, doable actions. Build these into your normal life and make them something you look forward to doing. Your cup of tea in the morning, a comfy meditation pillow, your favorite app. This creates a positive experience and begins to rewire the brain to seek that experience again and again.

“Moments make up your days, days make up your year.” Jessie Gardner, Founder, HeySoul

4 Your Environment Is Not Conducive to Your Goals

In my work as a health coach, this shows up more than any other type of coaching work I do. One of the biggest challenges my clients face is trying to make a change in an environment that is not in sync with the changes they’re trying to make.

For example, you want to stop eating sugar, but your partner stocks the house full of yummy sweet treats. Or, you want to meditate daily, but every time you go to do so, your family laughs at how woo-woo you’ve become. Maybe you’re trying to take less on and learn to say no more often and your partner keeps committing you to every invitation you get. Perhaps you want to walk three times a week, but it’s the winter in England and it’s pouring rain every day.

I had one client who wanted to stop eating in the evenings. However, every night when she went to watch TV with her partner, her partner grabbed a big bag of potato chips or pint of ice cream. Sure, she had willpower, but understandably this was a real struggle and made it much harder to stay disciplined.

Set Yourself up for Success:

Short of ditching your partner, abandoning your family and moving to Hawaii, what can you do when your environment is not conducive to your goals?

First, aim to get your partner or family on board, even with small changes.

Not a chance? Set up systems that allow you to get what you need. Meditate when they’re not home, stock your cupboard full of your favorite teas for when you watch TV. Join the local gym, get an exercise app, purchase a second-hand treadmill.

It’s NOT easy, but there ARE always ways to make it work.

5. You Don’t Really Want It, or You Don’t Know Why It’s Important

We often make resolutions based on what others think we should do or perhaps what we think we should do. But if you don’t really want to do it, the likelihood of success becomes very low. YOU must want to lose the weight, quit smoking, save money. Someone else can’t want it for you. In fact, as humans we have a need for autonomy and freedom, which means if someone tells you should, the likelihood of you doing it becomes even less!

Performance expert and coach, Jay Henderson says this,

“If you set goals based on things that aren’t a priority for you, they’re just not going to happen. But here’s the deal. If you set your goals based on what IS important to you, you probably won’t even need to write them down. You’re going to think about them all the time and they’re just going to happen”

Set Yourself up for Success:

Identify what YOU want and WHY it’s important to you.

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Learn your why so you will always stay motivated! This article can help you:

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

6. You Underestimate What It’s Going to Take

Most people underestimate what it’s going to take to make their goals a reality. They get excited about an idea, but the more they see the reality of what it’s really going to take to get there, the more they lose steam.

What happens to your mind when it thinks something is too hard or believes it’s going to take too long? Exactly.

Set Yourself up for Success:

Identify what you need to do to achieve your goal. Goals without actions are just ideas.

Create a plan of action. Better yet, get someone else who has done exactly what you’re trying to do help you.

If you want to lose 10 lbs., how do you plan on losing it? How long might that take? What’s the step-by-step approach? Put pen to paper and figure it out.

Another tip: Keep it simple.

Identify the one thing that will have the most significant impact or make the biggest difference for your life. You don’t need to make eight resolutions. Make one. The one. And commit. Put your energy and focus into making it happen. Small changes eventually add up to huge results.

Take my client Robin. Due to her fibromyalgia, she had such terrible pain in her feet that she couldn’t tolerate anything on her feet other than fuzzy socks. But she had a goal to wear this pair of moccasin slippers out into the world. She started physical therapy, did desensitization work and slowly extended the amount of time in her slippers.

And then one day I got the best email from her:

“…this week is the first time I’ve worn the brown slippers out into the world! I literally started by just keeping my feet in them for 15 seconds, and building from there on days when I thought I could.”

See? Small changes, big results.

7. The Resolution Is out of Sync with Who You Are

Our identity – who we believe ourselves to be – is very powerful. A former colleague of mine tells the story about a client, “Big Dan,” who came to him wanting to lose weight.

Big Dan had a goal to lose 10 kilos, but “Big Dan” was a large man who ran Big Dan’s Meat Shop. His entire identify revolved around his size. Of course, every time he tried to lose weight he didn’t. He saw himself as Big Dan, as did others. In order to lose the weight, he needed to shift his entire identity.

Set Yourself up for Success:

Connect with your identity

– who you are – and how you see yourself.

If you see yourself as athletic and strong, the likelihood of you doing that triathlon are high.

But if you have always seen yourself as nonathletic and clumsy, guess how that’s going to play out? This is not an easy shift, to change your identify. It requires awareness, understanding and some deep work. Often this is work that needs to be done with the support of a good therapist or coach.

But once you switch your perception of yourself, it’s amazing how easily (and quickly) things will happen from there.

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5 Ways to Follow-Through on Your New Year’s Resolutions This Year

Serious about achieving your goals this year? Read on for 5 more ways to help you follow-through on your New Year’s resolutions and make this your best year yet.

1. Practice Self-Reflection

It’s important to spend time reflecting before you jump into setting your goals and resolutions. Self-reflection is about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior and beliefs. It’s a valuable and powerful practice. You may have heard the saying,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again but expecting different results.”

Yet, that is what so many of us do. This year, before your set your resolutions, take a step back and reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Identify what to keep and what needs to change. Seek to understand yourself at a deeper level and identify what might get in the way. Take some time to reflect on the last year.

To read more about self-reflection, get access to a step-by-step process; and valuable strategies to make your self-reflection time most productive, check out this guide:

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

2. Remember, There’s No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

Everyone will tell you the best way, or the right way for how to do something. There’s tons of different articles, pieces of advice and strategies about how to set your resolutions. Here’s the one thing that is absolutely and always true:

You must find a process that works for you.

While we have similar human needs (love, connection, significance), we also have different innate wiring, which means what works for someone else may not work for you.

Think about what you know about yourself as you think about strategies.

What works for you to keep your goals? Think about a goal, resolution or commitment you made that you DID keep.

Why did you keep it? What were the factors at play?

This will give you some great insights into which one of these might work for you.

3. This Is About the Inner Game

Your mindset and beliefs override everything. Yes, it doesn’t’ matter how SMART your goals are, if you write them down and who you’re accountable to if you haven’t looked from the inside out.

Most of our problems are internal, and so are the solutions. Following through on your resolutions is more about your mindset, beliefs and identity than anything else.

If you don’t wholeheartedly believe you can achieve something, it won’t happen. You’ve probably heard the saying from Henry Ford,

    Our minds are very powerful.

    In fact, there’s an amazing story of an orthopedic surgeon in England. Essentially, he performed surgery on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. But in some of his patients, he did NOT do surgery at all. He put them under, made the incision, spent the same amount of time in the operating room and then sewed them back up. They thought they had the surgery. And guess what, all his patients reported improvements and reduction in pain.(You can find out more about the story here.) Our minds are powerful, hence the placebo effect.

    That means with your resolutions, you must start with the belief that it’s possible. Look at your belief system.

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    What belief is getting in the way of your success? That goal you’ve been trying to achieve: do you believe you can? What do you believe (or not believe) about yourself that might be getting in the way?

    When you play the inner game right, then you’ll see progress, fast.

    4. Be Nice to Yourself

    Life is full of setbacks, obstacles and failures. There’s no reason why your New Year’s Resolutions should be any different.

    So, you wanted to eat healthier and you just messed up and had a donut with your kid. So what? Try again.

    Don’t use it as an excuse to completely abandon the goal you had set for yourself. Failure is all part of learning and when you’re trying to implement any new habit, you’re going to slip back at times.

    Be nice to yourself. You’re doing the best you can. Focus on moving forward. Acknowledge your wins and successes. And don’t lose sight of that goal.

    5. Finish Strong

    Part of setting yourself up for the new year is finishing this year strong.

    If you let go of everything, eat crap, stop exercising, drink too much, eat too much and pile on the stress, how are you going to feel?

    If you wake up January 1 hungover, 10 pounds overweight and exhausted, what impact will that have on your ‘fresh start’?

    Aim to finish this year strong. Take control. Be intentional with your goals.

    I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a glass of wine or a couple pigs in a blanket, but if you’re thoughtful about what you want in the New Year, you can start setting yourself up for success now.

    Like any athlete, they don’t wait until race day to eat well, meditate and get in the zone. They practice, train, and get ready for game day well before it happens.

    Get Ready for the New Year

    Now, let’s be real. Whatever you set out to achieve, it’s going to take commitment, effort and discipline. There’s no shortcut to success. Jim Rohn once said,

      Don’t let another year go by filled with regret of what you wish you had done.

      2019 is going to be awesome, because you are going to make it that way. I know you can do it.

      THIS is your year. This is your time.

      Start with a new attitude, some great strategies and a true belief that what you want is possible. It’s going to be hard work, but everything that’s worth accomplishing always is.

      You got this.

      Expect great things.

      Happy New Year!

      Featured photo credit: Chinh Le Duc via unsplash.com

      Reference

      More by this author

      Tracy Kennedy

      Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

      How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment What Am I Doing with My Life? Find Your Answer Here How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life 30 Self Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit How to Be More Confident: 10 Powerful Ways to Boost Confidence

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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