Why New Year Resolutions Fail

From what I see all around me, our success rate of following through on new year resolutions is not as great as we would like it to be.

Just the odd resolution or two lasts beyond the first few of weeks, and even then there’s no guarantee that it won’t fizzle out before the year is up.

But no matter how doomed new year resolutions appear right from the start, many of us can’t resist them. Since we seem to be stuck with these tricky annual visitors, the best thing we can do is improve our chances of keeping them. To do that we must analyze why we fail to do so year after year and then make adjustments accordingly.

New year resolutions often fail because:

You set drastic/unrealistic ones

You expect to wake up on the 1st of January and magically give up all your bad habits, make all your flaws disappear, and lead the life you imagine the best version of you should be leading. That’s not going to happen, because that kind of change is both drastic and unrealistic.

Even if you have just a single new year resolution and it happens to be a big one, chances are you will fail at it. That’s because the changes that stick happen in tiny installments, usually one day a time. Sometimes they even lead you down interesting paths you did not know existed.

The big and bold changes make you feel important and liberated for the first few hours or days after you make them. Then they proceed to make your life miserable by demanding that you rearrange everything to accommodate them.

I remember deciding that one of my goals for 2013 was to move to a different (and slower) city. The idea was to surround myself with people and places that would help me automatically slow down and live a quieter life.

As time went by, my thoughts, circumstances, and motivations shifted so dramatically that they rendered the move not just impossible, but also undesirable. The problem with that resolution was that it involved more change than was necessary to fix my life. As 2013 unfurled, I was able to achieve the slowing down I wanted through smaller, sensible, and more focused changes.

When extreme change is thrust upon you by external circumstances, you manage to cope with it surprisingly well because you don’t have a second option. But when such change is of your own making—as it is with a new year resolution—the temptation to revert it is high.

If you manage to stick to the change no matter how hard it is, you spend too much time mulling the pros and cons of going back on it. If you undo the change, you burden yourself with the guilt of failing at one more thing. Ultimately, both actions take up energy that could have been better used elsewhere.

Having said all that, I will add that sometimes grand new year resolutions do work out, especially if they happen to be irreversible.

You have too many of them

The most common resolutions involve waking up early, exercising, losing weight, spending more time with loved ones, being more organized and productive, getting out of debt, saving money, and traveling more.

All of these represent completely achievable goals. But the problem is that you want to achieve them (or others like them) all at once.

Right from day one, you push yourself to do whatever it takes to inch closer to these multiple goals. If you falter at any point, you’re quick to berate yourself for not getting things right. You become physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted within a few days. This is quite natural because you have been trying to keep multiple activity streams going simultaneously, without giving them the time and space to blend into your life.

Any activity becomes effortless only after it has turned into a habit, which is why it is a good idea to spread your resolutions to fill the year and then accomplish them in serial order.

You don’t account for snags

When you set a goal for the upcoming year, it is usually without making allowances for any roadblocks you might encounter, such as events beyond your control and the temptation to indulge in something. The reality is that there will always be something or the other to sidetrack you from your goal.

If you wish to stick to your resolutions till you come to a point where you don’t need to enforce them consciously:

Cut yourself some slack

By giving yourself permission to step beyond the boundaries of your resolution occasionally, you become more motivated to stay within them the rest of the time.

Allowing myself to skip my workout routine on Saturdays and Sundays has helped me stick to it for the rest of week. Telling myself that I’m free to eat non-vegetarian food like fish, chicken, and prawns when I’m highly tempted has helped me give it up somewhat easily. In the last two years, I have eaten only teeny-tiny portions of said items for a total of 5-6 times.

Plan monthly, take stock regularly

Change is a matter of trial and error more than anything else.

Two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. That’s how it works. Instead of aiming for the end result, target its children—those chunk-sized activities that are doable on a daily and weekly basis. Monitor your progress similarly and keep finetuning your strategy till it starts working for you.

You give up too easily

The new year symbolizes fresh starts in a big way and is no doubt a great time to begin working on a new project or enter a new phase of life. But that doesn’t mean it is the only good time to do so.

You can be fooled into thinking that if you don’t start acting on your resolution on the first day, or at least in the first week, of the new year, you have failed in your mission. You give up and turn to the calendar for the next ideal day to launch/start something.

I had this habit of waiting for Mondays or the 1st of a new month to execute new plans and projects. I still struggle with it on occasion, but mostly I’m over it.

You can implement all kinds of change quickly and effectively by not waiting for what you perceive to be the perfect day and time. Treat every single day as if it were the 1st of January. See it as a brand new opportunity to move ahead and then act upon it. In the words of Tyler Durden, let’s evolve, and let the chips fall where they may.

Keeping these four thoughts in mind, for 2014, I have come up with what I think are well-formed resolutions that have a better chance of succeeding than my previous ones. Read about those in my next post and work on giving your resolutions better odds of being fulfilled.

Undustrial Revolution - The Writings of Akshata
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