• Why New Year Resolutions Don’t Work: Take These Steps for Success

    Photo saying happy new year surrounded by a wreathe


    “Don’t make resolutions without an action plan…”

    • Allen Shaw

    It’s the new year again, and many people already have a list of things to change or embrace in this new year. New year resolutions are pretty commonplace.  In theory, they can help set goals, but it’s shown that they rarely stick.

    Sure, you’ve convinced yourself that this year will be different — the year you commit to your New Year dos and don’ts. And you really want to believe it.

    But three weeks later, you find yourself slipping out of your resolutions and back to your old habits. Yes, 23% of people quit their New Year resolutions after one week, and 64% abandon them within the first month. If you’re already thinking, “so what’s the point, why bother?” Hold on just a bit.

    Don’t go off thinking you lack the willpower to see your resolutions through. Understanding why they don’t last can help you set up a plan that works better instead.

    Why New Year Resolutions Don’t Work

    There are a few reasons why new year resolutions don’t work or can tell you why you ditch them so quickly. Let’s talk about them below:

    1. Your goals may not be realistic

    The end of an old year spiraling into the start of a new year signifies something meaningful for many people. This puts a lot of pressure on them to make significant life changes without setting realistic standards for themselves. If you’re not realistic about what you can achieve, you end up overestimating your capabilities (which no earthy human could achieve either), leaving you frustrated and eager to quit when you can’t meet your goals.

    1. Your resolution was a destination, not a journey

    Many people feel discouraged when various factors cause them to fail to meet their goals. This then leads them to quit instead of following through. Just because you face a challenge or hurdle as you work towards your resolution, doesn’t mean you should quit. Also, attaining your resolution goal does not mean that you should end the progress you’ve made thus far. For instance, if you set a goal to eat healthily and lose weight, getting to your desired weight doesn’t mean you can now binge on junk food. Instead of only thinking about the outcome, think more along the lines of process goals.  (Outcome goal:  I want to lose 20 lbs.  Process goal I want to make healthy food choices focusing on one week at a time.)

    1. You’re not truly ready for the change

    Setting New Year resolutions is the easy part. The real work is putting in the work until the change occurs, but not many people can stick around for that part. After one or two half-hearted attempts, they throw in the towel because “it’s not just for me.” If you’re not ready for the change, you won’t put in the efforts required for it to occur. I hear people say quite frequently (and I’ve said it myself at times), “I know what I need to do, I just can’t make myself do it.”  Being ready isn’t just about having the knowledge, it’s also finding the motivation to set your plan into action.

    1. You have zero planning

    To achieve your desired goal, you need a well-structured plan that is broken up into manageable pieces. Planning out what it takes to achieve your goal will give you a structure to follow that will show you how to avoid the hurdles along the way or identify possible problems you may have.  Your plan will show you what is working and what isn’t.  For example, setting the goal of wanting “to get into shape” is too overwhelming.  I first ask people what do they like to do as far as physical activity.  If you absolutely loathe going to the gym but you feel you need to go to the gym to get into shape, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  Your action shouldn’t feel like a punishment. And if you’re a night owl, or someone who begrudgingly slithers out of bed at the very last minute to avoid being late for work, school, or an appointment, give yourself a break and don’t set your goal to be, “I’ll get up at 4:30 am to get to the gym and shower before work.”  Plan what part of the day you would most likely get out there and move your body and how many days you can commit to (which initially should be conservative).

    1. You don’t keep track

    Having a structure to follow helps you determine if you’re still on track with your resolutions. By monitoring yourself, you can evaluate your progress by assessing your improvements and changes as time goes by. It might be mood tracking, or how many days you ate a healthy breakfast, or days you didn’t drink.  It’s not only an excellent motivation, but it brings you back in line if you find yourself derailing.

    Try SMART Goals Instead


    Now that you see why your New Year resolutions can sometimes be doomed after one or two weeks, you can decide how to follow a more strategic New Year plan that works. It’s a pretty common concept known as setting SMART goals.

    1. S – Specific: Set specific goals that detail exactly what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve. It should answer the questions WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY.
    2. M – Measurable: Measurable goals are goals where you can measure your progress. This will help you know how much farther it’ll take to reach your goal and how far you’ve come.
    3. A – Achievable: Your goal must be attainable. Do you have the capacity or resources to achieve the goal? Has anyone successfully achieved it before?
    4. R – Relevant: Will this proposed change connect to something meaningful in your life?  How will it affect you and improve your life?
    5. T – Time-bound: Goals are more achievable when you give them an estimated start and finish date. Otherwise, you’ll have no sense of urgency or need to complete the goal which may lead to dwindling motivation.

    Ask For Help From a Coach, Fitness Trainer, Therapist, or Program Director

    There are numerous experts available to help you achieve your SMART goals. You can contact a life coach, athletics coach, professional organizer, dietician, fitness trainer, physician, or therapist to give you the support you need to succeed. For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking, ask your physician or contact a smoking cessation program at your local hospital.

    Sometimes, you may need more help and motivation to help you achieve your goals. Please don’t feel bad about this. Recognizing that you need help is a sign of accountability and commitment to ensuring you meet your goal or make the changes you want in life.

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