4 Reasons Why Our New Years Resolutions Fail
January 8, 2019
They don’t always. Some people can set a goal in January that lasts until June. That’s great. If that’s you, keep up the good work. But what I tend to hear more about, is people that set goals about getting in shape or eating healthier, and then report that they stopped doing it in a month, or a week, or a day. I always make a point to say that each person is an individual, with completely different life circumstances, gifts and challenges, and that THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL SOLUTION. But, when I think multiple people could benefit from similar guidance, I still want to give it a shot.
So, why do New Years Resolutions tend to fail?
#1 Of course, there is no one reason for this. That’s the first reason New Years Resolutions can fail.
Some people put a lot of stock in suddenly being able to stick to goals they’ve tried to set over and over, in the back of their mind, already doubting that it’s going to stick, and then running the same program and confirming their belief that they aren’t capable of creating change in their lives. Consciously or unconsciously setting yourself up to fail is a powerful drug. Because when you do it unconsciously, you can easily blame yourself and go on thinking you’re a failure, a loser, or whatever your favorite self-insult is, and be none-the-wiser. When you do it consciously, however, your defenses kick in. You may even be thinking now, “wait, why would I even bother thinking of resolutions and declaring them if I wanted to fail?” If you’ve convinced yourself that any one simple thing is going to be a silver bullet to happiness…well, go see how that works out, come back and tell me about it. We all know that doing something we know is difficult for us, especially EVERY DAY, FOR. A. YEAR. isn’t going to be easy. So if you’re telling yourself it should be, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
#2 When we repeatedly experience ourselves as “failures,” we are less likely to succeed.
In my opinion, this one is the meatiest, and most likely, reason our resolutions fail. People tell me their goals for themselves (because it’s pretty much the first question I ask anyone when I meet them, right out of the gate…so what I’m saying is that I’ve collected a lot of data on this). Then I ask them, “WHY do you want to achieve that?” The WHY is absolutely critical. EVEN MORE THAN THE GOAL. Let me try and prove it to you. Let’s say your goal is to work out twice a week. Seems pretty reasonable on the surface, right? You think, ‘If I am a capable and functioning adult, I should be able to get myself to put on workout clothes and go move around in them until I sweat for about an hour. RIGHT?!’ “Okay, so why is it that you want to work out twice a week?” “Well, I’m tired of feeling like a fat piece of shit.” (I’ve overdramatized the response a tad. So in reality, it may sound more like, “I want to look good for my vacation in a month” or “I don’t feel healthy” or it may be because that’s just what everyone else’s goal is, so maybe I should do it, too!) If you haven’t noticed, all of these WHYs are basically just pointing out that we experience ourselves as failures.
They all originate from a negative self-concept. And we make the mistake of thinking that going to the gym twice a week is going to fix our negative self-concept. Nope. The self-concept, THE WHY, has to change first. Let’s run this first scenario, real quick. I set a goal of going to the gym twice a week. Monday morning rolls up and I’m like, ‘Ugh, okay, Morgan. Time to do what you said you have to do.’ Groan. ‘I GUESS I’ll put on my sneakers.’ I drag myself out of bed, maybe I’m even a little mad at myself for setting this goal. So I pepper in some “motivation:” ‘C’mon, you can do this. You ate a piece of cake last night, you HAVE to get up and work out or you’re going to gain weight.’ ‘You will feel terrible about yourself if you don’t do this.’ So whether or not we get up and work out after telling ourselves all of this, we are going to feel like failures. If we get up and go to the gym, we’ve only done so because we punished ourselves into doing it. If we don’t get up and go to the gym, ‘see? You feel terrible. It’s because you didn’t just go to the gym. You’re so lazy.”
IT’S INSANE THAT WE THINK SELF PUNISHMENT IS GOING TO LEAD TO HAPPINESS.
Yes, it may get us to the gym, once, or twice, or for a month. But eventually, the improvements we see are going to conflict with the negative self-concept that we’ve been feeding underneath. A supreme amount of cognitive dissonance is the only thing that can save us now. Because when we get ourselves to the gym with insults, and then when we get there, we actually feel better about ourselves and are more motivated to go again, that’s eventually going to conflict with the only method we know for getting ourselves there. That system just isn’t sustainable.
So what’s the other system? Well, trust me, it’s no silver bullet either. But I sure am insanely, beyond-belief happy with myself exactly as I am. And then, because I love myself, I take myself for walks, I do yoga, I eat well, I have sex…it’s a pretty great system ;) There are tons of resources that already exist on building and sustaining self-love (but, of course, I’ll write about mine on another day when I’m not totally spent from writing all of this out).
#3 We only create resolutions once a year.
I love the energy of the new year, as much as anyone. Why? Because there’s an easy in to talk to people about self-improvement, which I am dying to talk about every minute of every day of the year. Not to brag (trust me, it’s a blessing and a curse), but I set goals and intentions for myself multiple times a day. I constantly give myself opportunities to fail and to succeed. And if you only give yourself one opportunity a year to succeed…you guessed it…you gon’ fail. Treat each day like its own experiment. Sometimes, even the container of a day is too big for me. I’ll ask myself something like, “What can I do right now to feel like I’ve spent my time well?” When we set the container as a whole year, we start getting nervous about being able to do something for a whole year (as we should), and then we’re already waiting for ourselves to fail. Give yourself consistent, small opportunities to succeed. If that feels silly or unattainable or whatever negative adjective you’ve got cookin’, question your definition of “success.” Why does “success” have to be something that comes with such lofty expectations and such a high risk of “failure?” What is the value in it being unattainable? Other than perpetuating the reinforcement of the negative self-concept ;)
#4 We make resolutions together, and then try to implement them alone.
Everyone sits around the table or stands around at a party and decides or declares their resolutions. Everyone nods in mutual agreement, “Yeah, that’s a great goal!” We get to feel good about making our intentions known and getting the positive reinforcement that we are doing a good thing for ourselves. Then, when we’re in the trenches, struggling to keep up with those good things, we’re often too embarrassed or ashamed or not convinced it’s important enough to reach out for support. But actually, in many cases, it is in those moments where we feel less-than that we need each other. We are battling our negative self-concepts alone, when we don’t have to. The people that love and support us see through that bullshit. Let them tell you you are amazing, flaws and vulnerabilities and all. They don’t want you to feel like you have to be perfect, because they don’t want to believe that your love and support is contingent on perfection either. So the next time you can’t talk yourself out of feeling like a failure, give someone else a chance at bat. See what happens.
If you get anything from reading this, let it be to let yourself off the hook. If you do “fail” at keeping your resolutions, give yourself permission to at least understand WHY, and realize that it's not that you’re not trying hard enough, or that you’re a failure or a loser or a slob. You’ve been radically misled. And you are good.