Why New Year’s Resolutions Set You Up for Failure

Thinking small has a greater potential for lasting

Here we are, settled nicely into the second week of 2021. Many people are plugging along in their newly established resolutions. Hitting the gym isn’t an option for some during this time of Covid, so many are swapping gyms for home workouts. Diets are in full swing. Many are cutting out alcohol in favor of “Dry January.” However, according to Forbes magazine, four out of five people will break their resolutions, and one-third of people will ditch their resolution within the first month.

Speaking from experience, the mounting pressure to adhere to resolutions is almost a guarantee that the newly intended lifestyle changes won’t stick. Setting unrealistic goals or having too many goals can cause you to feel overwhelmed and toss in the towel.

Habits seem like they form easily and quickly, but breaking them takes time. One day I decided that baking pre-made cookie dough was an easy way to add a bit of comfort to the week. Before I knew it, I was eating half a dozen cookies slathered in lemon-vanilla frosting every day for several weeks. I have a tendency towards repetitive behaviors and a very obvious sweet tooth. No one needs that much frosting, okay?

Most of us, especially in our world of constant information and technology, desire instant gratification. We want to see our reward quickly, and we want immediate proof that what we are doing is providing us value and pleasure. Yet, few things in life work this way. It takes time to see the results of our hard work. Losing weight isn’t instant, and feeling better from diet changes takes time. You won’t instantly reap the benefits of cutting out your matcha latte addiction.

Let’s break down why people set resolutions. Stemming from a desire for self-improvement, we adopt New Year’s resolutions because we want to make a change for the better. The most common being weight loss or health improvements, saving money and spending less, honing a skill, or developing a new one. But the best intentions can backfire on us. When we deny ourselves things (remember my frosting? let’s just say it didn’t end well), we can suddenly feel deprived and more likely to overindulge instead of cutting back.

All of this sounds bleak and discouraging, right? Well don’t fret, my friend, you can hack the standard approach to resolutions. Try these things instead:

  1. Set mini intentions: Instead of the overwhelming long-term template of NYE resolutions (that implies we have to stick to our convictions every day for an entire year) pick small attainable goals that you can commit to for a few days or a week. These relieve some of the pressure, and you will likely find that after a week of change, continuing on is all the easier!
  2. Choose realistic goals: Losing 50 pounds, running a marathon, becoming a freelance writer; all great goals, but most would find them a tad difficult. Instead, try smaller goals that you can reach in a shorter time, and then just keep on going! Try aiming to lose 10 pounds, begin walking every day, start writing for fun. The point is to build on smaller goals, instead of start off with large ones.
  3. Don’t consider a slip-up a reason to give up. Had a drink on your best friend’s birthday when you committed to dry January? No problem. Brush it off, get back in the saddle (or, on the wagon?), and keep your intention. Just because you had a blip, doesn’t mean you have to give up.
  4. Enlist a friend or family member to join you. Accountability partners are a great tool to utilize when it comes to adhering to personal goals. When we ask someone to join us in meeting our goals or to hold us accountable for them, we are less likely to fail. Whether it is because you are a naturally competitive person and you don’t want to “lose” or because you don’t want to let that person down, you are more likely to stay the course when you don’t go at it alone.

Importantly, don’t wait. The old adage “There’s no time like the present” rings true here. Setting dates is great for weddings and dental visits, but it doesn’t serve you in making lasting change. Quit or start dates just give you a sense of impending obligation, and most people find all sorts of ways to get out of obligation. If you want to get stronger, pick up heavy things today. Desire to eat better? Head to the store and stock up on veggies (I am currently obsessing over baby bok choy) and fruit. Reward yourself in healthy and positive ways, acknowledge your small achievements, and give yourself some credit.

Chewing bubble gum and writing. Normalizing death and grief. PNW living, coffee-addicted, dog snuggler. Mortician by trade.

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