Why don’t New Year Resolutions work?

Welcome to another new year and another chance to make goals and succeed again. However, have you ever made a new year resolution only to give up before you get to the end of January? I know I have and I’m not alone, only around 16% of people who make resolutions succeed. The majority have given up even before they reach the middle of January!

What happens?

We start the year with such good intentions and lots of goals to get fitter, healthier, lose weight or whatever it might be. We might spend ages working on our Vision Board, collecting pictures of how we want our life to be and how we want to feel. We might join the gym – research says that 12% of all new gym members sign up in January as opposed to around 8% throughout the rest of the year, and yet a huge 90% of these new members will leave the gym within the first 3 months of the year! I think I’ve been one of those “tourist” members; full of enthusiasm that sadly never lasts but have you wondered why that is the case?
New Year Resolutions tend to fail because the focus is too narrow. For us to achieve a goal we need to change our behaviour and our actions which takes longer and needs more work. New Year Resolutions are very much focused on the end goal rather than the journey or the process of reaching the goal. We may say we want to lose 10lb in weight, which is great especially after the Christmas binge, but we don’t tend to think about why we want to weigh less or how we will do it.

Having a goal is important, there’s no doubt about that, but understanding why we have made the goal is even more important. For instance, let’s look at the goal to lose 10lb in weight, what causes us to fail here?

  • We’ve set an arbitrary number as our goal and that doesn’t really mean an awful lot without more thought.
  • We end up focusing on the number rather than the end-goal which is to lose weight.
  • We haven’t set ourselves a target on when we want to achieve the goal or given any thought to how we will achieve it.

How can we change that? For the goal to succeed, it needs to mean more to us than just a number. Why we want to achieve the goal is so much more important than the goal itself. Knowing why we want to do something will sustain us when we might start to falter. When we have a strong why we will focus on the what and the process. So how could our goal to lose 10lb in weight look like if we have a strong why?

  • I want to improve my health and wellbeing so that I can feel fit, strong, and healthy.
  • I want to improve my relationship with food so that I can stop the cycle of yoyo dieting.
  • I want to improve my health and wellbeing so that I can be healthier for longer and have more energy.

As you can see losing 10lb in weight becomes the process by which we will achieve our goal rather than the goal itself. We’re more likely to succeed when our goal is clear on why we want to do this because it focuses on a future long term outcome – when we falter and stumble as we surely will, it will be our why that keeps us going.

Why else might we give up?

When our goal is too narrow it stops us from making real behaviour change – it drives us down a short-term path rather than a long term one. If our goal is weight loss, for example, that needs a consistent lifestyle change to succeed.
Coupled with our narrow focus, we also start with the goal and the tasks we need to complete to reach that goal. You would think this was right, but in effect it is coming from a negative place. At this point we have almost sealed the fate of our goal as we become overwhelmed either by the goal or all we need to do to achieve it. We wouldn’t own up to saying we’d given up before we started, but this is the case sadly.
So how do we change that? Very simply. We use something called the Productivity Cycle which sounds daunting but is very straight forward. Before we set our goal and the tasks we need to do to achieve it, focus on what we have already done that we can celebrate. A big part of success is about celebrating the journey – remember the journey is as fun as the destination. What might this look like for our weight loss or healthy living goal?

  • I’ve exercised 3 times a week for the past month.
  • I’ve given up drinking alcohol for January.
  • I’ve made some positive changes to my diet already.
  • I walk consistently everyday and make sure I meet my step goal.

See what I mean? You will find that you’ve already made several positive steps in the past year towards achieving your goal but because you’ve focused on the number on the scales or this very narrow goal, you’ve overlooked your success to date. Celebrating what you’ve already done that contributes to your goal will help you to learn new lessons and take these new habits forward.
When we start in the acknowledging what we’ve already done space, we change our frame of mind. We start thinking about our goal and how we’ll achieve it in a more positive way – we all know that when we feel positive, we have a higher chance of success.

What do we do when we stumble?

If we think about those people who fail to achieve their New Year Resolution, we can see why that has happened. They’ve focused on a goal that is too narrow, they haven’t sent time thinking about why they want to achieve this goal, they haven’t thought about the process and the changes they need to make to succeed and most importantly they haven’t taken time celebrating what they already do that will contribute to their success. Plus I would suggest, they have no contingency for when things change.
Again, having a narrow goal doesn’t give us the scope to keep going – how many times do you think well I’ve been out for fish and chips so that’s my diet blown? Or perhaps we jump on the scales and the number’s gone up rather than down, so we give up completely. Or perhaps the number on the scales is stubbornly not moving or is moving very slowly that we just throw the towel in because we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t succeed.
The journey towards achieving any goal, regardless of how big or small it is, will always be filled with obstacles, potholes, and temptations. This is life and we need to learn what we can to move forward and not let these stop us in our tracks. Think again about the Productivity Cycle and our celebrations. At the same time give some thought to what didn’t go so well or what you could have done better – this helps us to learn some valuable lessons that we can take into our future goals so we don’t give up at the first hurdle. Acknowledging our lessons will help us to find new ways to overcome and keep us moving forward – the potential pitfalls will be open to us before we get going so when they do show up, we won’t be so surprised. Believe me this works.

What have we learnt?

In this one blog I’ve given you lots of ways to overcome the failure of New Year Resolutions. Let’s just recap on those.

  • Focus on the longer-term goal you want to achieve.
  • Have a clear understanding of why you want to achieve this goal and make it burn in your heart.
  • Take time to reflect and celebrate on what you’ve done already that will help you to achieve your goal.
  • Take time to reflect on what hasn’t gone so well when you’ve tried to succeed before and take these lessons into your new plans.
  • Have some clear contingencies for when you might stumble to help you keep moving forward positively.
  • Focus on the outcome and behaviour change rather than the ultimate goal.
  • Stop making New Year Resolutions – think about setting your goals at a different time of the year!

How can I learn more?

These are straight forward techniques that all coaches will use to support their clients. If you want to learn more and get the support you need to set your goals and keep focused on what you want to achieve, reach out to me and we can have a connection call about my new programme New Year, New You, New Life starting this month. In this you’ll learn even more techniques to ensure you succeed.