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Goal Getting

7 Reasons Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Written by Tracy Kennedy
Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.
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Every year, millions of people take the opportunity to use January 1 as a fresh start.

After another challenging year, many eagerly anticipate the next year with the hope of change and new possibilities.

But change and opportunity don’t come by chance. Just look at 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.[1]
  • 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.[2]
  • One identified that 25% of people ditch their goals in the first week![3]

Regardless of which studies are right, we can all agree that the overwhelming conclusion is this: most people don’t follow through their new year’s resolutions.

So, why do new year’s resolutions fail?

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:

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


Maybe 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?

If you have a goal, commit to it and create a plan to make it happen, the probability of completing your goal is still only around 50%.However, The American Society of Training and Development found that people are 65 percent likely to meet a goal after committing to another person. Their chances of success increase to 95 percent when they build in ongoing meetings with their partners to check in on their progress.” [4]

Set Yourself up for Success:

Find an accountability partner.

Identify a positive and supportive friend to help keep you on track. Look for someone who’s trying to make the same changes and partner up with a weekly or monthly check-in. Hire a coach or trainer to keep you honest. Make a public announcement about your goal, or commit to a mentor or someone you don’t want to let down.

3. You Lose Focus

Did someone say “squirrel!?” Committing to having a new adventure each month is an excellent 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.


One statistic I read stated that 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. 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 also plays a part in motivating you to complete the tasks necessary for your success.[5]

Then, place them somewhere you can regularly see and review them. Perhaps you write in dry erase on your bathroom mirror, set up a daily reminder on your phone, or place a post-it on your computer. You can also use “fresh start” events, such as the beginning of a new week, month, or quarter as a prompt 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, doable actions. Make these daily rituals 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 rewires the brain to seek that experience repeatedly. You can also try “habit stacking,” where you create habits that fit into your everyday life on top of habits that already exist.

“Moments make up your days, days make up your year.”

4. Your Environment Is Not Conducive to Your Goals

As a coach, one of the biggest challenges my clients face is trying to change in an environment that is not in sync with the changes they’re trying to make.

For example, you commit to stop eating sugar, but your partner stocks the house full of sweet treats. You want to meditate daily, but every time you try, your family is disruptive or jests about how “woo-woo” you’ve become. Maybe your goal is to say no to things you don’t truly want to do, but your partner commits you to every invitation. Perhaps you want to walk three times a week, but it’s the winter in England and inevitably pouring rain.

I had one client who wanted to stop snacking in the evenings. However, every night when she watched TV, her partner grabbed a bag of potato chips or a pint of ice cream. Sure, she had willpower, but understandably this made it very difficult to achieve her goals.


Set Yourself up for Success:

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

First, aim to get your partner or family on board. Sound impossible? It’s not! It begins with an honest conversation. Explain what you hope to achieve, why you’re committed, and how they can be part of your success.

Set up your environment to make it easy to access what you need. Meditate when you’re home alone, stock the cupboard full of your favorite teas for when you watch TV. Join the local gym, get an exercise app, purchase a second-hand treadmill, so you don’t have to rely on mother nature having the same plan as you.

Still, find it challenging? Remove temptation.

Research has proven that our environment affects our choices. For example, one study at Cornell found that:

“Women who kept soft drinks on their counter weighed 24 to 26 pounds more than those who didn’t and those who kept a box of cereal on the counter weighed on average 20 more, pounds than those who didn’t… those who kept fruit on their counter weighed an average of 13 pounds less!”

If you want to eat better, put the junk foods out of sight. Better yet, don’t bring them into the house, office, car, or arms-length in the first place. If you want to finish that big project for work, secure a conference room, turn off instant messenger, close down notifications for social media and put your phone in the other room. If you work from home and are easily distracted, go somewhere else to focus – a library, café, or park.

Bottom Line: Your environment can be stronger than your willpower. Ensure it is conducive to the goals you’re trying to accomplish, and don’t put yourself in tempting or distracting situations.


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 desire to lose weight, quit smoking, save money. Not your parents. Not your spouse. Not society. Someone else can’t want it for you. In fact, as humans, we have a need for autonomy and freedom, which means if someone says 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. However, 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.

Ever notice when you’re excited about something, or have a significant or compelling goal you’re setting out to achieve, you don’t need discipline?

Leadership expert Simon Sinek talks about the power of why. Knowing your “why” provides a compelling intrinsic motivation. It fuels the fire, and you’re much likely to stay focused.

Learn more about the power of why in his TedTalk video.

6. You Underestimate What It’s Going to Take

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

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


Set Yourself up for Success:

Create a plan of action.

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

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? What might get in your way? Put pen to paper and figure it out.

Not sure where to start? Reach out to someone who has accomplished what you’re trying to do. This might be a friend or family member or a resource or expert online.

Keep it simple.

Identify the one thing that will have the most significant impact or make the biggest difference in 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. Take small actions towards your goals every day. Small changes eventually add up to tremendous 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 tells the story about a client, “Big Dan,” who came to him wanting to lose weight.

Big Dan had a goal to lose a fair amount of weight, but “Big Dan” was a large man who ran Big Dan’s Meat Shop. His entire identity revolved around his size. Every time he tried to lose weight, he didn’t. Because he still saw himself as Big Dan, as did others. In order to meet his goal, he needed to shift his entire identity.

Set Yourself up for Success:

The first way to shift your identity is to be aware of the internal dialogue and vision you have of yourself. What is the story you are repeating or envisioning inside your head?

If you see yourself as athletic and strong, the likelihood of you doing that triathlon is high. But if you have always seen yourself as nonathletic and clumsy, guess how that’s going to play out?


This is not easy to shift your identity. 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. You can start here to learn more about identifying who you are and how you see yourself.

Once you switch your perception of yourself, it’s incredible how easily (and quickly) things happen from there.

Additional Tips to Set Yourself Up for Success

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

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.”

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.

Check out this guide on self-reflection: How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

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

Everyone will tell you there’s a best way or one right way to do something. There are many different articles, pieces of advice, and strategies about setting your resolutions. But, here’s the one thing that is absolutely and always true:

You must find what 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:

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?

Did you have a compelling purpose and reason for the change or a clear picture of the end goal and clarity around the actions you needed to get there? Perhaps you had a thorough and detailed plan? Maybe you had a deadline and accountability partner, or maybe it was the unconditional support from your friends or loved ones that kept you going?

This reflection will provide insights into which strategy might be best for you.

Get to know yourself.

There are all sorts of great profiling tools that can help you develop self-awareness and discover what works for you. If you’re interested in learning more about yourself, you can take a variety of tests, free of charge, by creating a profile on one of my favorite tools for personal development: Cloverleaf .

Your Mindset and Beliefs Override Everything.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are right. — Tracy Kennedy

Following through on your resolutions is more about your mindset and beliefs than anything else. Our minds are very powerful. If you don’t wholeheartedly believe you can achieve something, it just won’t happen.

For example, everyone believed that it was physically impossible to run a 4-minute mile for many years. They said the human body was incapable and that your heart would explode.


In the 1940s, someone ran it in 4:01 – a record that stayed for nine years. Then, in May 1954, Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier, running the mile in 3:59.4. This didn’t happen solely by hard work, training, and passion. It happened because Roger believed that it was possible. He knew he could do it.

Every year after that, more and more people began accomplishing what was once thought impossible. Now, more than 1,400 people have run the 4-minute mile. Once Barrister broke the perception of what people believed was possible, it opened up others’ minds to believe the same thing.

That goal, vision, or intention do you have for this year; do you believe it’s possible? If so, you are well on your way to making it happen! However, if there’s doubt or skepticism flooding your mind, the likelihood of you achieving your goal is very low.

It’s time to look at your belief system. What belief is getting in the way of your success? What do you believe (or not believe) about yourself that might get in the way?

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 messed up and ate a donut with your kid. So what? Try again.


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

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

You Have the Power to Make it Happen

Who knows what this year will bring. But whatever it brings, and regardless of external circumstances, you have the power to make this year great. You have the power to create change and new possibilities. You have the power to achieve your goals.

Start with a healthy mindset, proven strategies, and a genuine belief that what you want is possible. Expect great things. Then, go after them with commitment, passion, and resilience. It will be hard work, but everything worth accomplishing always is.

You got this. Here’s to an incredible New Year!

Featured photo credit: Chinh Le Duc via unsplash.com


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