6 reasons New Year’s resolutions fail – and what to do instead
Many people spend the last days of one year making great plans for the next – and then spend the first few weeks of the new year beating themselves up for failing again. But never fear! Here’s some of the science behind broken resolutions, along with better strategies for making positive, lasting changes – at any time.
1. You’re relying on willpower alone
One of the main reasons resolutions – or other change efforts – fail is because people often attempt to use willpower alone, and willpower is weak. It’s weak, and it’s limited, and it diminishes as ‘cognitive load’ increases – in other words, the more mental work you’re doing, the more your willpower gets drained1. This is why when you spend time wrestling with decisions (“Should I get up now and get to the gym before work, or would I better going tomorrow after work?” etc), you often end up doing nothing. Willpower is a finite resource, and not the best thing to rest your change efforts on.
2. Your resolutions are too vague
The vaguer a goal, the harder it is to achieve – goals like ‘lose weight’ or ‘find a new job’ don’t inspire you to take specific actions at specific times and get you moving.
3. Your goals are too big and/or too many
Now, this one’s a bit of a grey area. Often people take on too much at one time, in an effort to reinvent themselves or turn their life around, setting unrealistic goals for themselves about what they can achieve in a certain timeframe. Some gurus will tell you to focus on one or two goal at a time. BUT: history is full of people who set themselves goals that other people thought were unrealistic, or juggled multiple roles or projects for a time whilst other people shook their heads saying “I don’t know where you find the time”. What’s unrealistic for one person is totally achievable for another with a plan and with big motivation. How will you decide what’s achievable for you?
4. You’ve got poor or no social support
It’s hard to succeed if you’re not supported – or worse – are being sabotaged, by people around you. There are many reasons why people might not be supportive of your goals: jealousy, fear of being left behind, projected beliefs about what’s achievable or realistic, a desire to prevent you from being hurt or disappointed.
5. You can’t see yourself succeeding
In order to be successful at changing habits, you have to be able to see yourself succeeding. If you’re saying things like “I’m going to go to the gym three times a week and be more confident at work” but your self-image is of being lazy or a slob and being timid at work, there’s too much of a gap or conflict between the two for change to stick.
6. You give up too soon
For many people, the first failure is enough to make them give up. It’s become a popular belief that it takes 28 days to form a new habit, but in reality, it’s not so simple. A study by health researcher Philippa Lally and her team at University College London examined the habits of 96 volunteers over a 12-week period. They found that the time taken for habits to form ranged from 18 to 254 days, with participants taking on average 66 days to form a new habit2.
There are two habits I really recommend everyone make a part of their everyday life: Mindfulness meditation and daily gratitude exercises. Click the links for more info about the how-to and massive benefits of both.
Enjoy the process, and Happy New Year!
*If you would like to work with me to help you achieve your goals, book a free taster session.*
1Fedorikhin, & Shiv, B. (1999). Heart and mind in conflict: The interplay of affect and cognition in consumer decision making. Journal of Consumer Science, 26(3), 278-292.
2Lally, P. et al. (2009). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology.