Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Depositphotos_22836710_sWhy do we create resolutions and how successful are they?

According to recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology less than half of our New Year’s Resolutions are maintained past 6 months*.  An earlier article in the same journal described New Year’s Resolutions as ‘cultural procrastination’ and described WHY they fail.

But, as a transformative leadership coach, my focus is on why and how goals and resolutions succeed, and how to turn visions into realities.  After 10 years of coaching change agents, this is my BEST advice:

1) Make goal and intention-setting a year long process.  Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions or to set goals.  Make it a habit by adopting quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily practices to support your vision.

2) Ensure your visions, goals, intentions & actions are aligned.  Many people create visions or intentions but don’t link them to specific goals or actions.  Others are so focused on their to-do list that they never step back to ensure that their actions are aligned with deeper longings and desires.  Different parts of our psyche perform different valuable functions.  So when you’re feeling stuck or unmotivated ask whether you need to shift your operating ‘mode’ and enlist the help of your right brain (creative, intuitive) or left brain (planning).

3) Remember why your vision matters to future generations.  It can call you forth in moments of fear and doubt.

4) Focus and limit the number of goals and resolutions you chose.  Long to-do lists can create confusion and overwhelm.  Try limiting your focus to one or two new projects per quarter.  You can then break them down into smaller sub-steps.

5) Set realistic, specific goals.  Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 lbs in one week is not a safe or realistic goal.  Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be both specific and realistic (given proper dietary practices).

6) Take small, consistent steps over time to achieve big goals. Many people get discouraged and quit because the steps they attempt are too big. Ask ‘what’s the most important step I can do today, right now, towards my goal?’  Make that a priority – even devoting 5 or 15 minutes a day makes a big difference over time.

7) Always prioritize your own balance and self-care.  Change agents and healers are notorious for getting burned out because they try to give too much.  Sometimes the most potent step is to go for a massage or a nap.

8) Celebrate your successes between milestones. Don’t wait for the goal to be fully completed.  Celebrating helps give you a sense of accomplishment, momentum and helps rewire your neural pathways.

9) Expect, enjoy and learn from your failures.  Perfectionism (and the belief that achieving our dreams should always be easy) is one of the biggest obstacles many of us face.  And yet there are rich lessons and gifts in mistakes, challenges and distractions.  Think of working towards a goal as a kind of practice in ‘applied mindfulness’ practice.  As you drift off course and bring your mind gently back.  The only true failure is giving up on a cherished dream.

10) Prioritize creative practices, on trying new behaviors and challenging your beliefs.  Many limits are held in place by old personal or collective paradigms and unsupportive habits.  Art, music, opening to those who hold diverse views and experiences can help us break through our habitual ways of being and doing.

11) Focus on the gifts of the present.  Visions, goals and intentions are important.  But the more we focus on the gap between where we are and what we want to do or be, the more discouraged we can feel and the more we can tend to procrastinate.  Embracing mindfulness, becoming physically, emotionally and mentally aware of our inner states as each external event happens (rather than living in the past or future), helps us live more fulfilled lives.  Ironically, the more present we are, the better we are to move towards our dreams.

12) Create accountability structures.   Hire a coach, or make an agreement with an accountability buddy, someone close to you that you have to report to.  Ideally that person should be someone who will encourage you and help you to stay focused on your vision and successes, while learning and growing from your set-backs.

If you’d like personalized, individualized support in any of these areas, please check out options to coach with me.

P.S. *Here are the links to the Journal of Clinical Psychology articles I mentioned:
http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/  – describes the most common resolutions and their chance of success
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201012/why-new-years-resolutions-fail - describes why they fail.