Why New Year’s resolutions fail (and how to reset)
It’s the third week of 2023 and I wonder how many people who enthusiastically made new year’s resolutions on the 31st of December 2022 are still sticking to them.
Here are some common new year’s resolutions:
- Lose weight or get in shape
- Exercise more
- Eat healthier
- Be more organised
- Learn a new skill
- Be happier
- Be more financially responsible
- Quit an unhealthy habit—usually drinking or smoking
- Spend more time with loved ones
- Read more
I think I’ve had most of these goals over the years, and usually, if it’s something that I can’t see the results of (like weight loss), I rarely stick to it.
Why do resolutions fail?
Very few people actually succeed with their resolutions. I can’t think of one person in my life who had new year’s resolutions that they actually achieved. It’s probably part of the human condition. Most people also give up within a month and a half of starting their resolution.1
But why do New Year’s resolutions fail? I investigated it. (Side note: I say ‘investigated’—I just Googled it). Also, if your New Year’s resolutions didn’t work out, how can you re-strategize and start again?
Unrealistic and unspecific resolutions
Some people set goals that are just too difficult and unreachable. You cannot expect to change the world in just a few months.1
Be honest with yourself about your goal and ask whether it’s achievable. How can you ensure that it’s achievable? Ask yourself: ‘Can I quantify this goal in some way?’ and ‘Can I break it up into manageable pieces?’1,2
Subsequently, make sure your goal is specific. Don’t say you want to ‘be healthier’–rather say, you’re going to eat two fruits and vegetables every day, or walk 5000 steps a day.2,3
When you’re more specific, it’s easier to quantify and break up your goal into more manageable tasks.
Having no reason
You should have a clear reason why you’re striving to succeed with your resolution. Do you want to be healthier so you can live longer and spend more time with your kids?1
The reason for the resolution will be your motivation to keep going and succeed, but if you don’t have a good reason, then you’re already losing. If you have a powerful reason or purpose in mind, you’re already halfway there and more likely to succeed.1,2,3
Failing to plan is planning to fail—as cheesy as it sounds.
If you have an achievable goal, you still needed to plan how to go about it. You need to allocate time for it, and break it down into pieces.1
Plan how you’re going to achieve your goal. Again, it should be reviewable, in some way. Also, if you plan it, you may see that it’s necessary to tweak how you approach your goal. Planning boosts your chances of succeeding with your resolution.1
Planning how you’re going to achieve your goal will help you see the hurdles you might face, and what sacrifices you may need to make to succeed. You may not have time to go to the gym every day—plan how you can spend a couple of minutes a day exercising. If you don’t have the money for a gym membership or it’s too far away, plan how and where you can exercise at home. Do you have the necessary tools? Do you need any tools? What exercises are looking to do? Cardio or resistance?4
In your planning, you should also include how you’re going to handle setbacks, either big or small.4
No mental preparation
Prepare yourself for what you need to give up to realise your goal. If you’re getting fit, it will mean less time for other hobbies or family. If you’re joining a gym or a club, know that it will also cost hard-earned money, and you’ll have less money to spend on other things that you might want.4
If you’re mentally prepared for these trade-offs, then they will be easier to make.4
If no one knows what your goal is, it’s easy to forget about it or put it off. If there’s someone in your life who knows what your goal is and knows what you have to do every day to accomplish it, they will be there to motivate and/or guilt trip you into doing what you need to do to succeed.1
I think most people don’t have that or choose not to have that because it would force them to do something.
So, if you want to accomplish something specific this year, get an accountability buddy.2
Not reviewing your resolutions
Keeping tabs on your progress helps you to succeed. This also helps you be consistent and makes the resolution a habit.1
Therefore, your goal needs to be quantifiable. It may be an amount of time you want to spend on this thing every day, or small goals you want to achieve. Also, it’s great to see how a little bit every day adds up over weeks and months. When you see your progress, it will motivate you to keep going. For example, there are great fitness and weight loss apps to track your progress.4
Being overly confident with no plan in place to monitor or review your progress leads to failure.4
It sounds counterintuitive, but if you imagine that your goal is a walk in the park, you won’t put in as much effort to plan and prepare yourself for what lies ahead.4
Also, if you then work towards your goal, and it’s much harder than you thought, that can be very unmotivating, and you’ll be more likely to abandon your goal.
Rather, be realistic and know that forming a new habit and changing is hard. If you prepare yourself mentally on how to deal with setbacks, because they will happen, you are more likely to succeed.4
Not believing in yourself
Then there’s the other side of the spectrum—not being confident enough.
Don’t let the failures of the past hinder your growth in the present. Also, don’t let minor setbacks throw you off the bandwagon completely—remember, tomorrow is another day to get back on track.1
Also, remember to be kind to yourself. It’s hard to build a better life and habits. Mistakes are bound to be made. Strive for progress, not perfection, and believe in yourself.1,2
Not focused on habits
Essentially, you need to create a new habit, and there are scientific ways of doing that.5
As mentioned, your resolution must be able to be broken into smaller, specific actions that you can do every day. For example, instead of having an undefined resolution like, “Exercise more” you can say you will do 5 minutes of jump rope every day or walk 500 meters further with the dog every day, or whatever is easily integrated into your routine.2,5
Also, try to attach the new habit to an existing habit. If you already walk the dog every day, now you just walk further. If the kids play in the afternoon, have them jump rope with you for five minutes as part of their routine. Then the old habit cues the new habit.3,5
Make these little new habits easy for yourself to do and remember, like putting reminders on your phone or having a partner remind you. Or if your goal is to lose weight, don’t have junk food in the house. Make it as easy and attainable as possible to reach your goal.3,5
Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Making minor changes over a long period of time will guarantee success.2,3
There could be plenty of reasons new year’s resolutions fail, but changing habits is hard. It’s even harder when you don’t plan how you’re going to go about it.
In the end, whether or not your resolution succeeds comes down to consistency. Much easier said than done.
I hope you can take these tips and rework your resolution into a new, healthy habit.
P.S. If you’d like to contact me, feel free to comment below, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @M_ClutterBox.
PPS: I used these sources:
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