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Why Your New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Why do most resolutions fizzle before February?

Shortly after the last sugar cookie is polished off, people start buzzing about resolutions. Zeal, inspiration, and stalwart confidence is in the air. Diets. Journaling. Exercise. Change! Many people recycle resolutions and confidently declare, "This time will be different!" But will it?

Many people make New Years Resolutions, but their ambitions fade fast. January 1st goals become a distant memory come February. What makes some goals aspiration-only endeavors?

Too much, too fast.

Many people attempt to make too much change, too quickly. They take extreme measures to see results quickly, but those changes often aren't sustainable. Take dieting, for instance. Many people embark on very restrictive eating patterns that set them up physiologically and psychologically to overeat later on.

Miserable goals.

Some people set goals that they won't enjoy. In order to engage in a change long-term, a new behavior has to be something that you aren't going to dread. If your goals feel like punishment, at the first lapse of willpower you are going to find an easy excuse to quit. For instance, if you hate running - don't make waking up at 5 am every morning to run three miles the new thing you're doing to do. Find an activity that is enjoyable instead--you will greatly increase the odds of still doing it come next December.

If you absolutely can't come up with a healthy option that is palatable, pair it with something fantastic that you reserve only for that time or activity. This is a strategy researched and championed by behavioral scientist Katy Milkman. For instance, you may choose to reserve listening to your favorite podcast only when on your bike or treadmill.

Other people undercutting your success.

Sometimes the people in your orbit hurt more than help when you're attempting to make a life improvement. In a system (a group of any kind), when one person makes a change, it can disrupt equilibrium for everyone. Humans don't like when this happens. It's destabilizing and uncomfortable because it makes things unpredictable. When someone challenges status quo, individuals consciously and unconsciously act in ways that try to pull that person back into old, patterned roles. If someone attempts to make a change, the people around them can create friction. Other people may be jealous or threatened by a new, improved version of you. Your goals may highlight the discomfort a person has with their own situation or choices. Instead of doing the hard work of improving themselves, it's easier to undercut someone else.


Self-sabotage is sneaky and insidious. It takes on various forms. People engage in self-sabotage through the stories they tell themselves. They also design their own setbacks by being poor architects of their environments. Self-sabotage also rears its ugly head when you procrastinate or fail to plan ahead. The voices you surround ourselves with can be self-limiting when their refrain shakes our confidence and reinforces the notion of "can't."

Some people unwittingly undermine their own self-improvement efforts because, on some level, they don't believe they deserve something better. They may fear freedom, attention, or responsibility. At times, they are scared of various forms of success. In some cases, people fear how people may treat them in the future if they are different. When contemplating improvement, some people weigh what they might lose--there is often a cost to change.

All-or-nothing thinking.

Approaching resolutions with an all-or-nothing mindset often gets people in trouble because they quickly feel discouraged the first time they experience a lapse in willpower and "mess up." This line of thinking is a fast-track to shame and discouragement. These mental states do little to inspire or motivate. Instead, they zap energy and leave people stuck and cut off confidence.

Moralizing setbacks.

People often moralize the things they are trying to change, which comes through in the language they use. "I was bad." ss a phrase you sometimes hear when someone has deviated from their well-intentioned perfectionistic plan for change. This language is devoid of compassion and makes flexibility challenging because it can trigger shame. Moralistic language is used a lot in regard to food and eating behavior. It's embedded into our culture, and we can recognize it expressions such as "clean eating." Food isn't dirty unless it's fallen off the floor. Sadly, many people tell themselves that they are defective if they have some damn dessert. It can be easier to get back on track when we can talk about things with less emotional charge.

Not enough quick wins.

People struggle to persevere toward their goals when they don't have enough positive reinforcement early enough in the process. People need small wins fast, otherwise, it's easy to get discouraged.

Going it alone.

A lack of accountability - particularly for certain personality types - can inhibit people from achieving goals. If you are more likely to uphold a commitment to someone else than yourself, invite someone you trust into your process.

You're not ready.

Some people aren't ready to change. They think they are. They say they are. But, in reality, they aren't ready to do the work. Humans change in stages. When some people set New Years Resolutions, they are still in the stages of investigating, preparing, or contemplating the idea of something new. Change happens when an intellectual exercise becomes active. Sometimes people need a little more time to tip from thinking to doing. Be patient with the process.

The pain of change doesn't hurt more than the pain of staying stuck.

Change is hard. You have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired to do something about it.

If you're contemplating a new course of action in the days or weeks ahead, conduct a premortem now. You failed. Where did things it go off the rails? Why? You can reverse engineer success by anticipating potential vulnerabilities in your plan. Identifying ways that your intentions may collapse allows you to take preemptive actions that can help keep you on track.

The year ahead is presenting an invitation for transformation. Change is difficult, but personal growth is worth the work. You are worth the work.

Make choices your December self will thank you for. And please, for the love of all things well and good, skip the diet. Focus on your sleep instead

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