Here’s why your New Year’s resolutions won’t work – and what you should do to succeed

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How are your resolutions coming along? Still on track? Good for you!

Did you know that studies show that 75% of resolutions are continued until the first week of January but only 46% make it past six months? Not to discourage you but most people start off strong then begin unravelling after two weeks. Here’s why this happens:

Problem 1: Making resolutions are too vague and too big

Does your list look like this?

  1. I will be healthier.
  2. I will be happier.
  3. I will be financially secure.

These goals are great but when you say healthier, does it mean lose weight? Or does it mean you’ll be illness-free? Happiness and financial security are also vague. For example, financial security can range from being debt-free to becoming a billionaire. You’re setting yourself up to fail when your goals are unclear.

Do this instead: Be very specific! Establish not only your goals but a list of tasks that will help you accomplish them. For example, instead of “I will be healthier”, write down “Lose 20 pounds in six months.” Then, write down specific actions like walking outside for 30 minutes and eating three servings of leafy vegetables or drinking 1-2 liters of water a day. Monitor your progress periodically (like say, every month) to see if you’re nearing your goal. Adjust your list depending on your progress.

Problem 2: Making negative resolutions

Resolutions that start with “I will not…” are almost impossible to accomplish. These place too much focus on the problem, instead of solutions. Plus, to change a bad habit, you essentially have to create a new one. So instead of “I will not”, you should make “I will” resolutions to be more effective. For example, “I will not be a couch potato” should be “I will get more exercise”.

Here are three steps to establish a new habit:

  1. Choose small actions – Break down the habit you want to cultivate into easily doable units. So “get more exercise” can be further developed into “take the stairs instead of the elevator at work” or “do 20 sit-ups in the morning”.
  2. Link the action to a previous habit – This will make it easier for you to remember and adapt the new habit. Using the examples above, you can start the habit of taking the stairs by attaching it to your daily work routine. Doing 20 sit-ups in the morning can be attached to waking up at a certain time every day.
  3. Make it easy to do – Practicing a new action three to seven days in a row will help establish it as a habit. To make sure that you won’t skip a day, plan ahead to make it easy for yourself. Again, using the example above this could mean wearing comfortable shoes to work so that it’ll be easier to take the stairs, or setting your alarm clock 15 minutes earlier and laying down your exercise mat the night before so that you’ll be encouraged to do sit-ups upon waking.

Problem 3: You’re not ready to change

Some people make resolutions just to get with the trend but they don’t really expect to see them through. Others want to change but don’t believe in themselves enough to do it. Half-hearted attempts will only lead to disappointment.

Do this instead: Realize that everything doesn’t have to start on January 1. Instead of pressuring yourself to commit to resolutions (and then failing after a week), conduct a self-evaluation. Make a truthful assessment of who you are and what you really want in life. Find genuine motivation that will push you to achieve change. Commit to goals only when you’re ready.

Sources: The science of why New Year’s resolutions don’t work, Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., Psychology Today; and 5 reasons why most New Year’s resolutions don’t stick, according to a psychotherapist, Amy Morin, Business Insider. Accessed January 7, 2021.

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