Why New Year’s Resolutions fail and what we can do about it

Welcome to 2023!

It’s that time of year when many people start to reconnect with their desires.

Some people avoid setting New Year’s Resolutions because they don’t believe they’ll successfully achieve them. Some people are super excited about setting New Year’s Resolutions and set out to achieve big things, or many things, throughout the coming year.

Here are some of the most common types of New Year’s Resolutions I’ve seen people choose:

  • Losing weight
  • Improving their health (e.g. exercising more often, reducing stress)
  • Saving more money
  • Improving, or starting, a relationship
  • Learning a new skill
  • Spending less time on social media
  • Progressing in their career

Unfortunately, many fail or give up on their resolutions well before the year ends.

One of the reasons why this happens is because a year can feel like a long time. When we look at the finish line, we think we still have lots of time to work on our goal.

This often leads us to forget about our goals, take counterproductive actions, and justify our procrastination.

And eventually, there comes the point in time where we start to think that there’s no point in continuing. It’s too late to reach the finish line, so what’s the point?

Now, sometimes we do get started working toward our resolutions. Or at least, we think we do.

We start to research. We look at what savings accounts will save us the most money. We read books on how to reduce stress and anxiety. We watch videos on how to acquire a new skill.

We start to plan. We plan out a weekly exercise routine. We make a regular meal plan. We list of things we will do to get that next promotion.

But even though it may feel otherwise, researching and planning are not progress.

A person who doesn’t exercise is just as far from their goal of exercising more often, regardless of whether or not they have a plan. (But the person who goes for a 1-minute walk after dinner is closer to their goal.)

Sometimes it’s hard to act on the knowledge we’ve acquired or a plan we’ve created.

It may be challenging because we need more motivation, discipline, self-confidence, or time management skills.

When we think we’re lacking one of these things, it prevents us from taking action toward our resolutions.

And then there are the things we sometimes do without thinking. Often, these things can move us farther away from the finish line.

Maybe you eat a box of cookies when you’re anxious. Perhaps you pick at your nails when you’re stressed. Or maybe you pick up your phone and start scrolling through your newsfeed when bored.

(*cough* I’m speaking from experience here. 😉)

These subconscious actions may seem small, and they may even feel good.

But they add up over time. And over a year, they can wreak havoc on your progress.

Another thing that can hold us back is thinking that there’s something special about January 1.

When we think January 1 is special, it becomes an unconscious constraint.

You may see something new that you want, but this belief may have you postpone pursuing it until next year.

Or you may give up on a goal and forget about it until you set your New Year’s Resolutions the following year.

But there’s nothing special about January 1.

For annual goals, there are many common start dates. In British Columbia, the school year starts the day after Labor Day (in September). For many companies, their fiscal year ends on March 31. And we all get one year older on our birthdays.

But you don’t need an annual goal to get closer to what you want.

And you can choose any day to start. That makes that date unique in itself.

So now that we’ve talked about some things that can go wrong with New Year’s Resolutions, what can we do about making progress?

Here’s one thing we can do: choose three actions that will bring you closer to your goal each week.

Schedule these actions onto your calendar. This will ensure you remember to do them.

And this may feel weird, but it is essential: celebrate the progress you’ve made.

This may be a moment to reflect on what you’ve accomplished. It might be sharing your success with a friend. Or you could take a warm bath or let yourself sleep in one morning.

When you celebrate your progress, it feels good. You increase your self-confidence. And you will start to feel the momentum build up as you continue progressing toward the finish line.

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