Have you started thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Do you want to lose weight in 2014, save more money or spend more time with family? I know I do. And research shows that roughly half of all Americans are hoping to do the same. Still, of those who resolve to make it happen, only a tiny percentage will keep their resolutions. Statistics from the University of Scranton suggest that just 8 percent actually achieve their New Year’s goals. Why do we fail so miserably? Better, how can we actually reach the goals we set?
This subject has become the focus of research among the psychology experts. Personally, I have made goals every year for the past few years. In the success rate, I fall in the middle of the pack — I have kept some goals and feel awesome about my success; but in reaching other goals, I have also failed pathetically. This year, I reassessed to understand why I succeed in some areas and fail in others. Then I went further to determine what I can do to make sure I succeed with my goals for 2014. I do not want to think of it as “failure,” actually. Instead, I want to figure out why and fix it. Reviewing the research, I compiled a list of possible reasons why I failed on my New Year’s resolutions and thought about how I can make them stick next year. See if it resonates with you.
Why Do We Fail?
One year, I didn’t reach the goals I set simply because I took on too many changes too fast. I felt revitalized by the New Year — but once that wore off, I just kept moving on with life. Just like with any fad diet, I couldn’t keep up with the drastic changes I put in place initially and so I just let it go. Setting ambitious goals isn’t the only reason people fail to keep their resolutions, however. Here are some more:
- Resolutions are too vague and spontaneous: Sometimes people make resolutions on a whim. Even a simple comment about our weight during a holiday party could prompt us to resolve to lose weight. If we cannot afford to buy a cool toy for ourselves while Christmas shopping, we may resolve to save more money. It’s easy to make quick decisions about goals, but giving thought to how to make specific goals is usually worth the effort.
- Preparing to fail: One of the goals I consistently fail at is losing weight. In the last ten years, I have put on an extra 40 pounds. It took me ten years to accumulate that weight, but I always make a goal of losing all of it in just one year. Is it impossible? No. Of course not, for someone who is health-disciplined. But I have a number of bad habits that got me here. What usually happens is I try for a few months, see that I am not making as much progress as I had hoped, and ultimately let myself off the hook. It’s like I was preparing myself to fail from the get-go. Instead, I should take a slow and steady approach if I want to succeed.
- Failing to plan: It would be nice to find the magic pill, wouldn’t it? If I make a New Year’s resolution but fail to make a plan to reach it, it’s very likely that I’ll never get to the goal. In the past, I would consider the first popular solution — like joining the gym to lose weight — and leave it at that. I didn’t consider taking a holistic approach to behavioral change. But making a plan works well for me because I have to think about the process to achieve the goal or whether it is even realistic.
- Breaking habits: Focusing solely on the end result without regard to the reason I need to make the resolution in the first place is also problematic. For example, making a resolution to save money may not come to fruition if you tend to spend impulsively. However, by addressing the underlying cause or habit, it may be easier to succeed.
Making New Year’s Resolutions Stick
The key to making your New Year’s resolutions a reality is to understand yourself and make behavioral changes that support the goal.
Set goals instead of resolutions: I have become a fan of setting smart goals instead of resolutions, because I seem to treat a goal differently. When I set a goal, I go through the planning process to make it a reality. I am a lot more specific and naturally break the larger goal into smaller chunks. Then I actually measure the progress throughout the year.
Consider the pros and cons: There are positives and negatives to every situation. So when I decide on goal, I think about what stands in the way of achieving the goal. That way I can also make a plan to deal with that.
Replace, don’t remove: I read about this in a book on making and breaking habits. It is much easier to break a bad habit if we don’t try to just stop doing it and instead do something else in its place. The reasoning is quite simple: If someone asks you not to think about a cookie, all you can think of is a cookie. The better route is to replace the cookie with a healthier snack instead. Studies show that, over time, the healthier snack will become the norm for us and we won’t need a cookie.
Repetition is key: How long does it take to change a habit? 66 days, according to researchers from University College, London. Every time you repeat an action, you are one step closer to achieving the goal.
Enjoy the journey, not just the destination: It is good to fantasize about the result of a goal. It motivates us. Oddly, daydreaming also gives us a taste of our eventual success, which is just enough success for us to stop doing the real hard work to actually achieve that success. Why do the work when we can dream and get just a little less satisfaction with no work? If we enjoy the journey and not just the end result, we are much more likely to keep going and achieve our goal.
For 2014, I have two major goals:
- Make $1,000 more every month during the first half of the year and make $2,000 more every month by the end of the year.
- Lose three to four pounds every month and start the habit of exercising at least 3 hours every week.
Are you a resolutions person? Have you made goals for 2014? What are you planning to achieve in 2014?