Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail and What You Can Do About It

Every year right around now, we start thinking about our New Year’s Resolutions. We want to be happier, healthier, thinner, stronger, smarter, spend more time with loved ones… Such desires for betterment are part of human nature. They are in our DNA.

History.com tells us that “The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They were also the first to hold recorded celebrations in honor of the new year…” But I think it goes back further than that. Way further back. Look at the Palaeolithic cave paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet in France. Whether you believe that cave paintings were Paleo Man’s way of communicating with kin and kith, or if you believe that the paintings had some kind of religious or ceremonial purpose, both point to a desire for betterment. Paleo Man was saying either “Hey, there was great hunting over there, check it out,” or “In this ceremony, we find salvation.”

It’s not that big of a stretch to think that our ancient ancestors might have resolved to make things better each season. Better hunting, better harvest, stronger families stronger communities. Let’s agree that we still want to keep evolving. Our New Year’s Resolutions are our personal attempts at betterment. We’ve been trying to get better as a species for a while. Why are we so bad at it? Because trying to change a particular way thinking or being by “trying to not do it,” just reinforces that behavior.

In order to change, we must create new neural pathways, new habitual responses. Which is not easy. We tend to make our our goals are too high and our stakes too low (the stakes for Paleo Man were life itself). Here are three simple (bot not always easy) things you can do to improve yourNew Year’s Resolutions odds:

Make small, incremental changes: Think about sailing a course. If you change your compass heading by just One Degree, over time and distance, you will arrive at a very different destination. Think of it this way: if you eat one less cookie each day, that adds up to 365 less cookies each year, 1825 cookies every five years, which means about 365,000 calories.

Use your frustration as a tool of empowerment: If you get frustrated about your progress, let that feeling be proof that you care. Look at the flip side of this emotion: if you don’t get frustrated, maybe you don’t care?) Michele Solis writes in Scientific American: “Setbacks are inevitable…Research suggests that if you approach setbacks and your ensuing negative emotions with the right mind-set, you will be more likely to bounce back.” The mindset of persistence is a choice you can make. Choosing empowers you.

There’s an App for that: Paleo Man and the ancient Babylonians did not have is an iPhone. Use yours! The Google Calendar app (it’s free on iOS and Android). You can customize it according to what you want to accomplish. Google even offers quick tips to do this here. There are tons of other setting apps out there: MyFitnessPal offers calorie-counting data, Coach.Me is a social network of other fitness seekers that uses camaraderie and/or peer pressure to help you meet your goals, Fitnet offers motivational boosts. GymPact, a free App in iTunes, let’s you assign incentives. Find an App that works for you.