7 reasons New Year's resolutions fail, and how to make yours stick

7 reasons New Year's resolutions fail, and how to make yours stick

Various research shows that by February, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fade away almost as quickly as they appeared.

With 2021 just around the corner, many of us have already made new resolutions and new goals. For example, going to the gym, starting a new diet, getting a new job, writing a book, prioritising more me-time. Have you made some for yourself already?

Whether you have or not, keep on reading this article as it is applicable not only for New Year’s resolutions but to all goal-setting practices.

Why do we fail in the first place?

So, if we have such good and strong intentions, why do we fail in the first place?

Reason #1 - Insight is not enough

Most of the new resolutions and goals are set based on insights, emotions and short-term motivation, and while it is great to start with these, they are not enough to make us stick to our resolutions for longer.

We need to realise then when we talk about a new goal or a New Year’s resolution, we talk about making an important and long-lasting change to our behaviour. Our behaviours are based on habits that were formed over years. That means that we do things on auto-pilot.

Research shows that changing a long-lasting habit is quite difficult and what is most needed is the formation of a new, more desired habit. Once our brain will have that new alternative, which has been practised over time, it will eventually trust and automate the desired new behaviour.

This process takes time, effort and, most important of all, discipline. The good news is that discipline can be trained. By doing short mindfulness exercises throughout the day, you teach your brain to focus.

So, the most important message to remember if you want to persevere and stick with your new goal: it takes 20 percent insight to get started, and 80 percent mental strength to see it through.

Reason #2 - You are not specific enough

Saying things like “I want to lose weight,” or “I want to be more fit” sounds cool but we do not know what exactly we mean by that. In order to really stick with a new goal, we need to know exactly what it means to us. You need to make your resolution specific.

If you want to be more fit, decide what it means to you, what is the desired outcome is, what type of exercises are you going to do, when and how often, etc. 

Reason #3 - The goal is outside your control

In order for our goals to work for us, they need to be within our reach. To do that, we first need to be specific and secondly, we have to decide whether they are within our reach. That doesn’t mean we cannot challenge ourselves, but we do need to stay realistic otherwise we will quickly feel overwhelmed, defeated and, eventually, stop. 

That also means that we can only set the goals for ourselves not for others. If for example, your New Year’s resolution is to have a better relationship with your partner, you can only set goals for your own actions and behaviour.

Reason #4 - You do not have a plan

So now that we have a specific goal that is within our control and reach, what we need next is a plan. A specific plan of action on how we are actually going to achieve it. Think of the goal “in July 2021 I want to run a marathon.” Even if you are fit enough already to do that, you still need a training plan to achieve the goal. How many days per week are you going to run, how many km per week, etc.

The second part of the plan that people often forget about is the progress check. You need to set up a system for yourself (outside your head) where you are going to note down the progress you are making on your goal. First of all, it shows where you stand, but secondly and more importantly, it can give you a confidence boost once you see you are sticking to your plan.

Reason #5 - You do not have "accountability buddies"

This point is actually one of the most important ones. Various research shows that once you have a specific accountability buddy or group with whom you have an appointment to work on your goal, your chances for successful goal completion skyrocket!

So, if you are thinking of running, run with a buddy. If you are thinking of going on a diet do it together with a partner or friend.

Reason #6 - You are not clear on your why

Although already knowing the what (the resolution) and the how (the plan) is crucial; having a clear why to motivate you is what makes it exciting and what will make it easier for you to stick with it when it gets tough.

If you want to lose weight, is it clear why you want to do it? Do you want to be healthier so you can enjoy life longer with your family? If you want to get a new job, do you know what the reason is behind it? Do you want to, for example, contribute to a better world, so you feel more purposeful and happier? 

Whatever your resolution is, dig deep for a true meaning behind it.

Reason #7 - You stop at the first sign of failure

We all fail all of the time when realising our goals. The most important thing you can do is to recognise that failure is not a disaster but a lesson that pushes you to continue and gives you the power to reconnect again and again with your resolution. It is not the matter how many healthy meals or training lessons you skipped, but how quickly you get back on your feet to do it again.

Make 2021 the year you fulfil your resolution

Now you know what you need to do to stick to your future goals and resolutions. Whatever it is you want to do or change, make 2021 your year!

Have you set for yourself a New Year’s resolution? Put in the comments below what it is and how do you plan to make it work for you. Good luck!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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