Why Most People Will Fail At Their New Years Resolutions

It’s been a week since we rang in 2013.  How many of you out there set a New Years Resolution? Raise your hands.

How many of you have already broken it?  Hopefully there weren’t any hands out there, though I’m sure it’s possible and if you haven’t, well there is still hope.

The fact is that most people will fail at meeting their New Years resolutions.  It’s not for a lack of good intention, because most resolutions involve increasing some level of health, whether it’s better physical health by losing weight or going to the gym, better financial health by getting your credit cards under control, or emotional health by getting rid of a bad habit or two.  I’ve never heard a destructive New Years resolution (though, let’s face it, they are a lot more fun and would probably be easier to keep….but let’s not do that, OK?)

Here are the main reasons that most people will fail at their New Years resolution:

They make them too big.  Setting a goal to lose 30 pounds is admirable.  For many people, it’s a goal that makes perfect sense.  The problem is that it takes a long time and a lot of effort to drop those pounds and people don’t really think of the effort and the bumps along the way that they’re going to face.

They don’t account for the inevitable motivation drop-off.  On the first day of a brand new year, everything seems possible, no matter what the goal, and everybody is sure that they can reach that goal.  A week later, a month later, six months later, there is an inevitable drop off in your motivation.  The energy that you had toward your goal on January 1st is simply not going to be there on July 1st.  Why do you think you only see TV advertisements for the gym for the first three weeks of the year when everybody is all pumped up to go, but the commercials disappear from the TV landscape for the remaining 49 weeks?  It’s because the companies that run the gym know that your motivation will drop off after that initial rush wears off.

Old habits die hard.  Most resolutions tie back to changing a bad behavior.  The truth, though, is that the bad behaviors you are attempting to change are habits that have been developed over a long period of time.  Months.  Years. Maybe some of these are things that you have been living with for your entire life.  It’s hard to break a routine and it’s difficult to break a bad habit.  It seems really easy to think that you can throw that bad habit out the window when you’re full of energy in those first days of the year, but habits are easy to go back to, and the longer you’ve been indulging in your bad habit, it’s going to be all that much harder to resist the temptation to return.

So, is all hope lost?  Should we just anticipate failure and give it up now?

Of course not! You can succeed at reaching your New Years resolutions, it just takes a different approach than most of us are used to taking, and it also takes re-defining success and failure.

Expand and break down your list.  Most people will set a really big goal at the beginning of the year that, should they reach it, will mean that you’ve made an amazing transformation in some aspect of your life.  Which is a great outlook to have as we set up the new year, but for the reasons I listed above, it’s unlikely you will reach that goal if you just have the singular goal.  You need to break your goal down into more manageable pieces, all of which can be acheived in a reasonable amount of time.  So, if you have a goal of losing 30 pounds, first ask is this a really big goal?  Yes.  Is it something you can do in a couple of months? Doubtful.  So, reset your goal to lose 10 pounds. This is something that’s likely within reach for many people, and you can often hit that first ten pound milestone in the first couple of months.

Celebrate your milestones. Once you’ve hit that first ten pound goal, celebrate.  Treat yourself to something that allows you to celebrate the milestone.

Follow up with another goal.  After you’ve reached that goal and taken time to celebrate, then it’s time to take stock and reset your goal for the next phase.  If you still have 30 pounds as your ultimate goal, keep going.  When you set your next goal, realize that many goals take longer as you progress, with weight loss being one of those things.  So, instead of focusing on the next ten pounds, maybe focus on seven pounds, since your progress will likely slow, and you now remember that your goal is hitting milestones that you can reach within reasonable amounts of time.

Re-assess success.  If you get to your first milestone and it’s one step to your original goal, take time to re-evaluate your original goals.  If you lost ten pounds of your original goal of thirty, you might actually be OK with that.  Those last twenty pounds might not be as crucial as they once were and you might find that you want to shift your priorities to other goals.

Re-assess failure.  If you don’t reach your goal or you find that you’ve drifted away, don’t give up.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people vow to go to the gym 3 times a week, then when they hit a two week stretch where they don’t go, they’re done.  There’s no reason you can’t pick back up.  I think often many people see success and failure as black and white, but the truth is that there is a ton of gray area in between.

Remind yourself of the reason for your goal.  Many times when people completely give up, it’s because they have let go of the motivation and the reason that they had for setting the goal in the first place.  If you want to lose weight, keep in mind that you’re losing weight so that you can be healthy or look better or…whatever the reason is.  If you find yourself willing to give up completely, re-visit the reason you wanted to do it in the first place, and this could spark renewed interest and renewed motivation.

Set unexpected reminders. That first day of the year when you set your new goal, you might think there’s no way to fail and that ‘you’ve got this’.  Chances are you won’t.  Set yourself some reminders for various points in the year in a fashion where you’re sure to see them.  If you have a smartphone, set up some calendar reminders a few months forward.  You’ll likely forget all about them, but they won’t forget about you.  If you get a reminder on April 3rd about the resolution that you long ago abandoned in February, it might motivate you into re-visiting that goal.   Oh, and when you set these up, set them up individually, because the truth of the matter is that if you get a reminder on a goal, you’ll likely delete it the first time you see it, and if you set it up as a series, you’ll of course delete the whole thing.  Setting up individual reminders will force you to see another one, and you might just get inspired the second or third time if the first time doesn’t work.

 Make every day New Years.  Why do we set New Years resolution goals?  There are many different answers that I expect we would all answer, but they likely boil down to one thing: To improve ourselves.  Every goal in some fashion that’s set on or around January 1st ties back to this same principle.  The realization that many people don’t have is that this principle is something that we should apply to our lives each and every day.  In fact, we never will improve ourselves without continued effort to do so.  This isn’t just a button we can press once and expect success, it’s a continual process.  Understanding this and finding a way to apply this to ourselves on the days between January 2 – December 31 is what will ultimately prove to be the deciding factor in whether we end up improving ourselves throughout the course of the year.

Readers, do you set New Years resolutions?  What has been your greatest success and your greatest failures for resolutions past?  What do you feel are the biggest barriers to success?

18 thoughts on “Why Most People Will Fail At Their New Years Resolutions”

  1. These are great tips and I think of more people had them in mind when setting their goals/resolutions they would be far more likely to succeed when setting them.

  2. Hah, it’s funny you bring it up cause I definitely fall to some of these. My goals are usually too big or I’m just too entrenched in the bad habits. I’ve been trying to quit smoking for years now. This time I’m not messing around, no exceptions, I’m done!

  3. I personally do not set resolutions and much for the reasons you listed. I think a lot of the reason why they fail is that no plans to actually accomplish said resolution are set and they’re too big. I personally set goals with an accompanying plan to reach it.

  4. I agree with most of these. I already had one broken goal, but that was because I got screwed by state law and they won’t let me invest in Prosper or Lending Club. Stupid state government.

  5. Love the unexpected reminders tip! I just posted my 2013 goals, and I know I have my work cut out for me. But I’m more motivated than ever after having such a great year in ’12.

    One big difference for me is that I treat them as goals instead of resolutions. Goals means concrete, realistic steps to get me where I want to be–and timelines to make sure I get there before 2014!

  6. Although New Year’s Resolutions are different from goals, staying focused on the goal is probably one of the most important things to do. Breaking the goal down to daily tasks helps to stay focused on your goals. I monitor my progress weekly/monthly to adjust my efforts.

  7. I prefer small goals as well, to gain momentum and feel super happy about achieving what would be 1/50th of a resolution. Fear is a big barrier of mine, and procrastination. I discard too many goals just because they are too scary.

    • I bet if you get past that and reach a goal that you might otherwise be afraid of, it’ll feel all the more sweet!

    • A resolution every day is a tall order but there’s no arguing it would lead to a lot of positive changes!

  8. This is great! So many great tips that are applicable in so many areas of our lives. I like that you mentioned that even if you fail, it’s not too late to get back up and start again.

  9. I’ve never agreed with new years resolutions but always agreed on the principle of change but that should be implicated on any day not just January the 1st. I changed my life around when I gave up alcohol and rubbish food two months before christmas. It was hard not to drink and socialise but now I live a healthy lifestyle and might even get a sponsor this year as I’ve taken to fitness modelling. If i’d done that in the new year when everyone else started I would have probably given up!

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