Avoiding New Year’s Resolutions Pitfalls

It’s that time again – time to start reflecting on 2017 and determining how 2018 will be that much better. As a long-time, fairly consistent gym attendee, I have witnessed New Year’s resolutions in action.

January in the gym is so nuts that I generally avoid it. All the treadmills are full and the pool is standing room only. February is better, but by March it’s finally back to normal and I can resume my regular routine without waiting in line for anything. But where did everyone go?

I went back to my usual routine, and they went back to theirs, doing whatever is was they did instead of going to the gym. That is not necessarily bad. Just because you’re not at the gym doesn’t mean you are vegging on the couch. Maybe it’s more time at work or with family. But whatever the substitute behavior is, the fact remains: a goal was left unmet.

Some surveys have shown that only 10% of New Year’s resolutions are successful. Why are the statistics so dismal? Here, I’ll offer a few theories and potential solutions to avoid turning the New Year’s hopes into the March crash and burn.

Problem #1: The resolution is a big goal without a plan

Many resolutions take the form of lofty goals – lose weight, improve your financial situation or strengthen relationships. If your resolution is phrased in a way that focuses on an endpoint rather than the process of reaching that point, success may be more difficult. End points take time to achieve, so discouragement, fatigue and loss of motivation have time to set in before the goal is met.

Creating resolutions that instead revolve around the smaller steps required can be effective in keeping motivation levels high. Focusing on the process allows daily successes – activities such as going to the gym regularly, saving $5 a day instead of buying a skinny mochachino or spending 30 minutes playing a board game with your family – to feel like victories. If there is a slip up, the next day is an opportunity to get back on track.

Centering on the big goal may also prevent you from addressing the root cause of the problem the resolution is designed to remedy.

Think about how you got to the place where a resolution is needed. Are you overweight because work stress prevents you from eating well and exercising? If so, the weight is not the main problem, it is just a symptom.

One strategy for creating successful resolutions is to frame them as SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. “Lose weight” is not specific, but “lose 20 pounds” is. “Saving $1000 in 2 months” is both measurable and time-bound, but may not be attainable depending on your financial situation.

Problem #2: Once the initial momentum runs out, it’s just work

In the early days, working towards change and self-improvement is pretty easy. When a task is still fresh and novel, it might actually be fun to put some time in. Eventually, though, that novelty wears off.  You may find that continuing on gets much harder. You might feel like giving up. This usually happens in February or March at the gym.

A well-known TED talk by Mel Robbins, “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over”, address just that issue. She states that any goal you want to achieve – any goal at all – has already been achieved by someone else. There is probably a book about it at the library with the clearly defined steps already lined out for you. The problem is not about the steps as much as your ability to actually follow them. This is where Robbins’ simple guideline comes into play: You have to force yourself.

Simple, maybe, but not easy. Forcing yourself certainly takes work. Ideally, over time, forcing becomes second nature and forms a habit, the gold standard of behavior change.

Problem #3: You told someone

In another TED talk – “Keep Your Goals to Yourself” – Derek Sivers presents several studies done over the past 100 years all supporting the idea that individuals who share their goals with others are much less likely to be successful at them. This goes against the conventional wisdom of enlisting support for accountability purposes. The psychological basis for the outcomes of these studies is compelling: sharing a goal with others gives individuals a false sense of actually having made progress on the goal. They are then less motivated to work harder on real action steps.

This New Year’s, plan for your eventual success.

Think deeply about your goals, make a step-wise plan, force yourself to follow it, and keep it a secret. Then surprise everyone around you in the end with your stellar will power and the new you.




This article was written by Sara Kennedy, a Nutritional Therapy Consultant & Certified 21-Day Sugar Detox Coach with plans to save lives and change the world.

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