Why 92% of New Year’s Resolutions Fail (And How to Make Sure Yours Don’t)
By Luke Jones. Connect with him on Twitter.
It’s that time of year again.
The Christmas holidays are drawing to a close, and 2015 is just around the corner. Many of you will be using this in-between period to reflect on the past year, and set goals for the next one.
Some will be looking to lose weight by exercising regularly and eating healthily. Others want to be more organised, spend less money, or quit smoking. They’re all great ideas, and everyone has big plans to transform their lives, but the harsh reality is that most people will be unsuccessful.
According to these stats, 92% of people who set New Year’s resolutions in 2014 failed to achieve them.
Ninety two percent! That’s a pretty big portion of people…
But why? Why do so many of us set out with good intentions, but come up short? Why are we unable to make the changes we want to make, and create the life we want to live?
I’m gonna explore those questions with you today. We’ll look at the main reasons I think people have trouble with New Year’s resolutions, and I’ll give you a few ideas that will help you be more successful this year.
So you can set goals that are sustainable, and form lasting healthy habits. It’s not an exhaustive list, but hopefully you’ll take some value from it.
Let’s get to it…
1. We don’t make changes for the right reasons.
Often when we set New Year’s resolutions, we do so for the wrong reasons.
It’s no wonder really. Celebrities with seemingly perfect bodies and perfect lives are thrust upon us at every opportunity by the media, and we’re told time after time that we should be more like them.
We put these people up on a pedestal. We compare our lives and our appearances to theirs, and we think that we need to be more like them. We’re not good enough as we are.
So when the new year comes around, we decide to make a load of changes so we can mimic the lifestyle or appearance of others, but we don’t really consider what we really want, and what’s important to us. We don’t have a solid reason as to why we’re doing what we’re doing, be it a diet, exercise plan – whatever. Our reasoning is built upon this false idea of perfection, and media messages that encourage us to be people we’re not.
After a few weeks of trying to keep up the façade, all too often we cave in and revert back to our old ways, largely because we don’t have a good reason to carry on. We don’t have the motivation to keep going when it gets tough.
What to do instead:
Let go of idea of perfection. It’s an illusion, a fictional story we’ve made up. That perfect celebrity body has probably been photo-shopped, and that apparently perfect lifestyle still houses some struggles, for sure. We see a warped view of what’s really going on. We get the neatly packaged narrative, as opposed to the rough edged reality.
Accept where you are right now, and embrace your little imperfections. They make you who you are. Sure, you can make a few changes and become a better version of you. But don’t waste your time trying to be a second rate version of someone else. It’s OK not to be perfect. It means you’re human.
2. Our goals are not aligned with our values
This is similar in a way to the last point I made, but repetition is a great way to learn stuff…
We all have values – things that are important to us. For some of us it’s health and family, for others it’s wealth and business ventures. No-one of us has the exact same value system as another, and our values can evolve and change throughout our lives.
Your personal values dictate the areas of your life where you have the most potential to succeed. When you set goals that are not aligned with your values, you’re probably gonna fail…
Let’s look at an example. Say you’re someone who values your family and friends above all. They always come first, even before you’re own needs. Recently, you’ve started to experience a few health problems, and you figure that you should probably make a few changes to your habits be a bit healthier. So you set the New Year’s resolution of exercising regularly.
A few days of regular exercise, and things are going well. But a week or so in, you start to struggle to find the time. You’re too busy looking after others, running errands and helping people out. You miss a day of exercise, which soon turns into four, and before you know it, you’re back to square one, wondering what happened.
What happened is you set a goal that wasn’t aligned with your values. Your family and friends are at the top of your priority list, whereas exercise and health is way down low. Life is busy, and you won’t ever find the time for things you’re not passionate about. They’ll always come second, third or fourth to the things you deem important.
Often times you’re left feeling a little helpless and frustrated, all because you expected yourself to do something you didn’t really want to do.
What to do instead:
Determine your values, and relate your goals to them.
Sometimes we get so disconnected from ourselves, we forget what we really care about. To determine your values, ask yourself a few questions: what do you spend most of your time doing, and thinking about? What do you fill your space with? Where in your life are you the most reliable, organised and inspired? What would you do if money was not an issue?
When you’re clear on what you stand for, you can then relate the changes you want to make to your values, and increase your chances of success. Again, let’s look at the example of the person who’s highest value is family, but they want to exercise regularly for their own health. Instead of setting the goal with the sole purpose of being healthier, they could link the goal to their values. They could think about how being healthier would allow them to do an even better job of looking after others. That’s their big reason why, their driving force that will keep them motivated.
3. We attempt to change too many things at once.
It’s easy to get carried away with habit changes, especially at the start of the New Year when everyone seems to be doing it. Very often we take on too many changes for us to deal with at once. There could be several reasons why.
Sometimes an inspirational story can get you excited to make a big transformation straight off. Or perhaps like I mentioned earlier, you’re a sucker for comparing yourself to that false idea of perfection. You panic, and think you have to change everything as fast as possible.
Whatever the reasons is, biting off more than we can chew seems to be a common trait amongst us humans when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. Whether we’re talking about changing eating habits, exercising more, quitting smoking or saving money, the more habits we try to change at one time, the less likely we are to succeed.
Some crazy people have a higher capacity for changing multiple habits, but that isn’t most of us. I know for me that any more than two, things start to get messy.
What to do instead:
Keep it simple. Start with one resolution, the one that’s the most important to you, and focus all your energy on that. Make the habit changing process as painless as possible. There’s no need to over complicate things and make life harder than it needs to be.
4. We make our resolutions too difficult
Sometimes we just want that magic wand or special pill that will take us from where we are right now to where we want to be. We want the quick fix, or the life hack. For better or worse, things rarely work like that. Lifelong habits don’t change overnight. For most of us they’ve been ingrained over years and years of repetition.
Most of the time we set the bar too high, and expect ourselves to reach it. This often happens if you have a little early success with a habit change. Maybe you’ve set the goal of running a 5k race, and you’ve managed to run a kilometre every day for a week or so. Feeling confident, you try upping it to 3k a day, but soon find that it’s not sustainable for you right now. You fail, take a confidence knock, and go back to square one, feeling a little worse for wear.
What to do instead:
Take it easy. Instead of looking for a quick fix and making big jumps in progress, be patient. This habit change business takes a little work. Rather than hacking your life, commit to the long haul, and build each habit gradually. And make sure you’re fully comfortable with where you’re at before you take the habit further. For most people it takes at least a month for the habit to stick. Then think of the next small step you can take that will bring you closer to your goal.
And don’t forget to enjoy the journey. Often we get fixated on the end goal, and lose sight of what’s in front of us. Have an idea of the general direction you want to head, but keep your focus on the present, and the smallest thing you can do right now.
5. We don’t build a support network
Human beings are naturally social beings. We evolved in tight-knit tribes where interaction, camaraderie and teamwork were a key part of survival. But a lot of that has been lost today. Community spirit has been replaced by social media, which although can be a useful tool, has ironically made us less social in real life.
Asking for support now has a stigma attached to it. Many people feel that it’s a sign of weakness, especially dudes. We don’t like to expose ourselves and feel vulnerable. But vulnerability goes hand in hand with authenticity, which goes hand in hand with living a healthy, happy life.
I used to close off from others and try and get things done solo, but I now realise that we can achieve way more as a team of interdependent individuals than we could on our own. The whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts, and all that.
What to do instead:
Get help. Build a network of people who will support your goals. Tell close friends and family members about what you’re doing, and ask them to hold you accountable. Maybe agree that you’ll give them a weekly update on your progress. Having the support of your loved ones can give you that extra push you need when temptations arise, and you’re feeling drawn to that big bag of doughnuts.
It works both ways too. You could help out a friend by holding them accountable and providing support. You may even be able to get a load of people together and form an accountability group, all helping each other achieve your goals.
6. We don’t use triggers
Triggers can be a really powerful habit changing tool, reminding us to take a certain action. For example, having my first glass of water in the morning reminds me to go through my routine of stretching and meditation. Sometimes if we’re trying to form a new habit, if we don’t have a trigger, we just plain forget about it and our old routine takes over. We go onto autopilot, and do the same things we’ve always done.
What to do instead:
Use triggers for your New Year’s resolutions. They can be as simple as setting your running clothes out the night before, putting a post it note next to your bed to remind you to meditate in the morning, or attaching a note to fridge reminding you to make good food choices. Having that subtle reminder everyday will help keep you on track, and reinforce the new behaviour pattern.
7. We don’t set effective consequences and rewards
For some of us, the reward of achieving our New Year’s resolutions just isn’t enough, and we need that little extra bit of motivation to help us succeed. This is especially true if you feel like the habit change is a pretty big deal, and requires a lot of effort. You want the reward to represent the amount of effort you feel you’ve put in. Sometimes by not having any form of extrinsic reward or punishments in place, it’s easy to drift away from your resolutions and pretend they never existed.
What to do instead:
Get a reward system in place. If you run everyday for the week, maybe reward yourself with that film you’ve been wanting to watch for ages. You’ve then got that little extra driving force to succeed. And on the flip-side, maybe set some consequences for not achieving your goals for the week. I’m 50/50 about whether punishments are a good thing, but I know they work for some people. You could argue that you run a lot faster if there’s a rabid dog chasing you than if you’re going after a prize… We just have to be careful not to build an unhealthy relationship with failure, which we’ll talk about next.
Having consequences can be linked back to building community around your New Year’s Resolutions. You could get a friend to hold you accountable for the week. If you don’t mange to achieve your targets, maybe you have to pay them some money, or do a dance in public. The sillier the consequence, the more likely you are to stick to the game plan.
8. We don’t use failure as a learning tool
Failure is something that a lot of us have learnt to fear. Again it goes back to being scared of showing weakness and being vulnerable. We don’t like that feeling, so a lot of us shun failure altogether. We think of winners and losers. When we lose and stray from our resolutions, we beat ourselves up, and repeat those same old negative stories in our heads. We’re the person who overeats. We’re lazy, stupid and unfit, and will never amount to anything, so there’s no point in trying.
What to do instead:
When you fall off the horse, get back on. Don’t beat yourself up, just learn from your mistakes and move forward. You probably made your New Year’s Resolution a little too difficult, so re-evaluate and see what tweaks you can make.
I’ve learnt that you get a lot more out of failure than success. What happens if you win? You get a pat on the back, a congratulations, and then you move on. When you fail, you get to learn so much. You get to make adjustments, and become a better version of yourself for next time.
So instead of shunning failure, start viewing it as a learning opportunity, and a necessary stepping stone to success.
Over to You…
That’s it for this week folks, hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re planning on making New Year’s resolutions this year, let me know in the comments below!
If you wanna find out more about how to form lasting, healthy habits – check out my post on the 50 Golden Rules of Forming Healthy Habits.
Also, I just wanted to say a quick thanks to all you readers who have supported me over the past year and a bit. It’s been a pleasure, and I’m really looking forward to the next one. Have a happy, healthy New Year!