Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail and How to Improve Your Odds

We know it’s only mid-December, but this is a great time to get ready for next year. Each year we strive to invent ourselves anew. We vow to eat better, exercise more, be more generous, waste less time on Social Media, spend more quality time with family.

Statisticbrain.com tells us that 46% of Americans regularly make New Year’s resolutions. 47% of our resolutions are self improvement and education related. 75% of our resolutions make it through the first week of the year, but only 46% of our resolutions make it to the halfway point – six months. (www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics)

We mean well, but our biggest problem is that we often make unrealistic, unattainable goals. We frame things in absolutes such as “I’ll never drink again,” and “I’ll work out five times a week.” Such absolutes set us up for failure and failure is not the greatest motivator. Guy Winch Ph.D. writes in Psychology Today that failure makes our goals seem tougher and our abilities weaker. It damages our motivation and makes us risk averse. Failure limits our creativity and makes us feel helpless. These factors compound one another and cause us to make incorrect and potentially damaging generalizations about ourselves and the future. In essence when we fail, we lose confidence. (www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201307/the-essential-guide-recovering-failure)

Ray Williams describes the problem this way:

Making resolutions work is essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and “rewire” your brain.  Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/why-new-years-resolutions-fail)

Here are a few steps you can take to avoid the f-word when you make a new year’s resolution:

  • Ask yourself if you are really ready to change an old pattern? If you are not ready, you’re success will probably elude you.
  • Realize that January 1 is just another day in the year. You can resolve to improve your life/outlook/health any day of the year. Start today, for example. No need to wait for the New Year’s rush!
  • You can excel at self-control if you recognize that it is a practice. You wouldn’t juggle fire without first practicing with unlit torches. Give your willpower the same care you’d give your self when learning a new skill.
  • Take small steps. Make one change at a time. Small goals are easier to achieve and success breeds success.
  • Be accountable to a friend.
  • Celebrate small successes.
  • Make positive associations. Connect good thoughts and memories with the change you are trying to make. This will help in the process of “rewiring” your brain.