Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions

Note: Why People Fail New Year’s Resolutions is the first of a three part series on creating and sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions. Check back soon for Parts 2 and 3.

The start of the new year is now a month away, which means New Year’s Resolutions are just around the corner. Sadly, most Americans who make resolutions never actually keep them, and here’s why.

photo by karlchen

1. They have an all or nothing mentality.

The number one reason people fail their New Year’s Resolutions is that they have an all or nothing mentality. They believe they have to do everything  perfectly or there’s no point in doing it all.

If you’ve read my post on How to Stop Hitting Snooze and Wake Up Early, you’ll know I’ve had a long, arduous battle with the snooze button. Though I’ve certainly gotten this under control, I’m by no means perfect–there are still days I embrace the sweet embrace of the snooze. But I’m much better at returning to no snooze than I used to be.

I used to think “I hit snooze on Monday, I might as well do it the rest of the week,” or even “I hit snooze once already this morning, I might as well hit it 8 or 9 more times.” It was all or nothing, either I never hit snooze or I always did.

But now I realize it’s not about being perfect. It’s about getting back up. If I miss a step, it’s OK, as long as I start taking steps again. For your own goals, whether they are to exercise every day or never smoke again, remember the most important thing is to get back up if you happen to fall.

photo by g-point

2. They make too many resolutions.

Along the same lines of all or nothing, when people create New Year’s Resolutions, they try to make their lives “perfect.” It’s not that they just want to lose weight or get out of debt; it’s that they want to lose weight AND get out of debt AND find a different job AND get more organized AND find a significant other AND AND AND.

They try to change too many things all at once, rather than changing one or two things at a time and then moving to the next one after it’s a solidified habit. Let’s be honest, changing habits can be hard. To think that we can change every single bad habit we have at one time is unrealistic. Combine that with an all or nothing mentality and you’re almost guaranteed to fail, e.g. “well I didn’t lose as much weight as I wanted to so I might as well keep smoking and not date anyone.”

photo by rawkus

3. Their resolutions are not specific.

The goals I listed are intentional–they’re commonly among the most popular resolutions every year. The problem is that they’re all terrible. Not that getting more organized is a bad resolution, but how it’s phrased isn’t actionable. How do you know when you’ve succeeded?

Resolutions that are not specific are hard to achieve because you don’t know when you’ve achieved them. Even something like “lose weight” isn’t very helpful. Does lose weight mean 100 pounds? 10 pounds? .00001 pounds? And does it account for the fact that, depending on your exercise plan, you may put on muscle?

Better is to have specific, measurable goals that you can easily determine if you’ve accomplished. This past year I wanted to “eat better” but I know that’s far too generic to know if I actually succeeded. So instead my goal was to eat at least 2 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Is that the recommended amount? No, but I know it was a challenging but achievable goal that I could easily measure.

photo by mela

4. They don’t track how they are doing.

It amazes me how few people actually track their progress against their resolutions. They plan their goals at the beginning of the year and never really check in to see how they’re doing. Life is busy and very distracting, if you aren’t paying attention to how you’re doing, what are the chances you’re going to succeed?

As the business maxim goes, “what gets measured gets done.” At a minimum, you should review progress every month or even better, weekly. The absolute best? Daily. Daily tracking creates a habit that is much easier to sustain than once-a-week or once-a-month.

Also, it’s important to note when you’re successful and when you’re not. Not only does this keep the habit for tracking, it also gives you statistics that can help you understand when you’re successful and when you’re not. Again, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about getting back on the horse.

photo by branox

5. They don’t make adjustments.

Building off of the tracking, once you have an idea of when you’re succeeding and when you’re not, you can start to assess what works and what doesn’t. By tracking and assessing your progress, you can start to identify Motivators and Demotivators that can help improve your chances of success.

As an example, one of my goals this year has to work on at least one task for Humor That Works every single day. At the beginning of the year, I noticed I was failing this daily goal more often than I would have liked. I thought about the days I was successful and the days I wasn’t, and tried to find root cause for both. I learned that there were certain things that motivated me (e.g. looking through reader’s comments, checking Google Analytics) and things that demotivated me (thinking about all of the tasks I “had” to do or browsing ESPN.com in the morning).

Once I tweaked my behavior, I became much more successful at accomplishing this goal. Not every day was perfect, but again that’s not what’s important (sorry to beat a dead horse, but seriously, it’s the number one reason people fail).

So if these are reasons why people fail their New Year’s Resolutions, what can you do to be successful? That’s the topic of the next post, Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions Using Quality Days.

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drew tarvin

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first Humor Engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. He has worked with thousands of people at 250+ organizations, including P&G, GE, and Microsoft. He is a best-selling author, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and TEDx, and has delivered programs in 50 states, 20+ countries, and 6 continents. He loves the color orange and is obsessed with chocolate.

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