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Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail (and What to Do Instead)

by in Goal Setting, Self Improvement January 16, 2017

The holidays are fading fast in our rearview mirror. As we make our way through January, everybody is diligently keeping to their New Year’s resolutions, right? If you are – great! I commend you. The truth is that almost a third of all New Year’s resolutions won’t make it past the first month of the new year. That’s probably not surprising to you – in fact, I was surprised it wasn’t higher. Let’s take a look at why New Year’s resolutions fail and a few alternatives to this annual tradition.

Bad Timing

Statistics show the majority of New Year’s resolution makers vow to improve their health – usually through eating better or exercising more. Meanwhile, there is leftover Christmas candy sitting in a bowl on the counter and a fruitcake in the fridge. Let’s not even get into the fact that January 1st falls the morning after what is considered the most alcoholic of holidays. I don’t know about you, but dieting or exercising is the last thing on my mind when I’m nursing a hangover.

Let’s say your resolution wasn’t about dieting or exercising, though. Maybe you promised to shop less or make better financial decisions. Well, what about those gift cards you have kicking around from Christmas? Or all the after-Christmas sales? And if you’re like me, your wallet is still recovering from the money you spent before Christmas, making it more difficult to make smart financial decisions – never mind set aside extra for savings.

Setting such lofty goals immediately after a season of decadence isn’t the only reason why most New Year’s resolutions fail, but it’s the biggest.

The Best Change is Gradual

Many times the goals themselves are why New Year’s resolutions fail. The idea that January 1 is the only time each year to make a change fosters the belief that it has to be a big change. Trying to improve your life in one fell swoop is a sure-fire way to not succeed. Think about what got you to where you are in regards to what you want to improve. Chances are it was a series of small decisions over time. The same will hold true for improving the situation.

The Pass or Fail Concept

When you set a goal tied to the beginning of the new year, then you’ve subconsciously committed to 365 days of perfect performance toward that goal. If you falter and miss a day or two part way in, your mind treats it as a “failure” to complete your objective. From there, it’s easy to see how you internally see yourself as having failed to keep the resolution – so why keep going, right?

Oftentimes a New Year’s resolution is an incredibly high bar to set for yourself with no room for stumbling along the way. It may not seem so on the surface, but the reality of the task, combined with your subconscious, interprets it as such.

What Should You Do Instead?

So you’ve read through the many reasons to not make a New Year’s resolution, but you’re still looking to improve. Good for you – after all, that’s what we’re about! How can you start off the year right while avoiding a “New Year’s Resolution Fail”? Let’s look at some things to keep in mind.

Take Small Steps

Don’t commit to big, life-altering changes all at once. Resolving to work out an hour a day when you’ve lived a generally sedentary life is pretty intense. You should start with something small, like 10 push-ups a day. Then, when you have mastered that, bump up the number, or add another exercise. By the end of the year, you’ll be doing that hour a day and feeling great!

Instead of vowing to quit smoking in the coming year, try cutting back at first – slowly lower the number of packs you smoke a week. Or, if you are resolving to reduce your frivolous spending, then maybe you could start by setting a weekly budget. Slowly lower the amount each week from there.

Some people can do things “cold turkey” and jump right into them. Those people are usually the exception, however. Treat your New Year’s Resolution not as a time to make a major change, but just as a time to decide to change – then start your slow transformation from there.

Make Change a Year-round Thing

You don’t need to wait for New Year’s to improve yourself. If everybody did that, then a 30-year-old would’ve had only 10-20 opportunities to improve in their life! Make self-improvement a year-round goal, and then you will reduce that feeling of failure if you stumble for a day or two. It becomes a marathon instead of a sprint.

Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals

Make sure your goals are S.M.A.R.T. I described how to do this in an earlier post, but the definition of what makes a goal S.M.A.R.T. is as follows:

  • Specific – You need to zero in on exactly what you want to accomplish. Don’t be vague.
  • Measurable – Set a target that allows you to definitively determine if the goal has been accomplished or not.
  • Attainable – We always advocate for dreaming big, but if your goal is too far-fetched, it will do nothing but discourage you as you attempt in vain to reach it.
  • Relevant – You should always make sure that your goals are something you actually want to attain. There are many people out there chasing goals that ultimately, aren’t what they want out of life.
  • Timely – Every goal should have a deadline. It’s okay to miss that deadline, but without having one you’ll never feel a sense of urgency to go after it.

Many New Year’s resolutions don’t follow one or more of these guidelines, and that makes it challenging to follow through or celebrate a victory when you’ve stuck to them.

Celebrate Milestones

If you only set goals for yourself once a year, then you only have cause to celebrate any successes towards those goals once a year. If you set a New Year’s resolution, give yourself milestones throughout the year to reach for. This will help to keep you motivated and will encourage you to keep going.

For instance, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds in the coming year, then you should set smaller milestone goals of 5 pounds every 3 months. Even better, round up and set a goal of 2 pounds every month. Now, when you reach your goal at the end of each month, you’re motivated to keep going for the next month.

You may also notice that by breaking a year-long goal down like this, we’re also supporting our earlier point that self-improvement should be something you pursue all year – not just in January.

New Year’s Resolutions are a Good Thing

Hopefully, you’ve taken away some good points from this. It’s not that we think New Year’s resolutions are a bad thing. On the contrary, the idea that so many people take the opportunity to try to improve themselves is fantastic. Our hope is that our advice helps to make fewer New Year’s resolutions fail and encourages you to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for the new year.

Are you making a New Year’s resolution this year? If so, let us know what it is in the comments! We’d love to hear what’s in store for you.

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