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Why most New Year's resolutions are doomed to fail

Most New Year's resolutions are, at best, valiant efforts doomed to fail. It's important to ask why so many efforts, repeated year after year, fail within months, if not weeks.

I believe that there are at least 4 reasons that most New Year's resolutions are ineffective and discarded long before achieving our goals:

  • Lack of clarity about our motivations
  • Poor understanding of hidden obstacles that have been keeping us from achieving our goals until now
  • Missing knowledge and/or skills
  • Underestimating the difficulty of establishing new habits

Lack of clarity about our motivation

Change is difficult, even when we are highly motivated. If we aren't highly motivated it is even more difficult, increasing the likelihood of giving up before achieving the goal. Furthermore, it helps to be clear about why we want to achieve the goal, and that we firmly believe why the goal is important to us. Even if the goal starts out as a suggestion or ultimatum from someone else, it is important to translate the goal into "what's in it for me". Without a strong sense of the personal, internal value of achieving the goal, it becomes difficult to stay motivated, when the going gets tough.

Poor understanding of hidden obstacles

Even when we are highly motivated, and understand why it is important to us to make progress, there are often hidden obstacles getting in our way. Here are some common examples:

  • Wanting to stop smoking, drinking, etc. while worrying about how we will cope with anxiety and stress once we stop
  • Wanting to cook healthier meals more often, while worrying that we are a bad cook and about how our family will react to what we cook
  • Wanting to lose weight, while worrying about how we will cope with the potential consequences (e.g., loss of an excuse to avoid dating, increased sexual attention from others)

When we have been highly motivated and failed to make progress, it is often because these obstacles, even if out of our awareness, have been at least as strong, if not stronger, that our motivation to move forward toward our goals. Until we can identify and deal with hidden obstacles such as these (the "overcoming immunity to change" method can be quite powerful for this), trying to achieve our goals can be like trying to open a door without the key.

Missing knowledge and/or skills

Most articles about New Year's resolutions present new skills and techniques to achieve New Year's resolutions, often tailored to the specific goal. While this might be helpful, a missing technique or skill is rarely the reason we have been unable to make progress toward an important goal. Until we have made sure that our motivation is sufficient, that we have dealt with internal obstacles getting in the way of progress and, as covered next, planned to overcome the inherent difficulty of establishing new habits, we are unlikely to make significant, lasting progress toward our goals.

New habits

Even if we have paved the way toward achieving our New Year's resolutions, it is often necessary to establish new habits or to get rid of old habits. If we fail to recognize how hard this can be, we may be more likely to give up prematurely, before we have reached our goals. To increase the likelihood of establishing new habits, it is helpful to plan, as concretely as possible, the details of when we will try our new behaviors and to account for possible distractions and external obstacles. For example, what cues will remind us to start a new behavior or to inhibit an old one? What might get in our way and how might we deal with it?

Understanding the way forward can be helpful, but it isn't always sufficient. If you find that you are insufficiently motivated, that you are unable to identify or overcome internal obstacles, or that you are getting stuck putting new habits into place, a good coach can make a significant difference. A good coach can help you find the path toward accomplishing your goals and can help you stay motivated along the way.

Click on the following link if you would like to discuss how coaching can help you to fulfill your New Year's resolutions this year.