Love ’em or hate ’em, there’s a certain attraction to setting New Year resolutions. In this blog, I explore why such resolutions often fail and what you can do instead.

The decs are down, the freezer is stuffed with turkey curry, and we’re into a new year. You’ve over-indulged your way through December (or in my case, since the start of the first lockdown) and you’re desperate to make this year the one where you lose weight, get fit, achieve a promotion at work, declutter the house, and generally transform yourself into the amazing person you’ve always wanted to be. What better time to start a journey of self-improvement than the start of a brand new year?

New year, new you

The idea of renewal and starting afresh has a strong allure, and post-festive motivation levels are usually pretty high.  So you make your list and swing into action, full of idealistic hope…only to fall flat on your face a few days later.  Congratulations if you do manage to keep going into February, but eventually you’ll be joining the rest of us in the pit of frustration and self-recrimination!  The failure rate for people who set New Year resolutions is said to run at more than 80%.

Why does this happen?

There are six key failure points when it comes to New Year resolutions:

  1. Setting lofty goals that are hard to sustain
  2. Failing to clearly define the “why?” behind your goals
  3. Lack of proper planning and tracking
  4. Self-doubt
  5. Absence of accountability
  6. The feeling that it’s like a punishment (January is miserable enough as it is)

But don’t despair, there are some things you can do to set yourself up for success and make changes that will actually stick.

Set a feeling goal

It’s a common tendency when setting a self-improvement goal to look at your life from an external perspective, often in comparison to ideals you may have that are rooted in your beliefs – that you should look a certain way, be a particular weight, live a different version of your life, and so on.

The problem with any kind of self-improvement work is that it’s often approached from a position of deficit, from a place of being broken and needing fixing.  But that’s the worst kind of motivation because it quickly becomes stressful and demotivating.

Forget the things you think you should be doing and instead explore how you would like to feel this year.  If you’re still thinking in terms of goals, it can help to drill down through some “whys” – why is it important to achieve that goal, and why is that important, what will that give you?  When you dig in to your motivation like this, you will eventually uncover what it is that you actually truly want, deep down.

Identify some actions

Now that you know how you want to feel, you can brainstorm a whole range of actions that will give you those feelings.  The more ideas you come up with, the more scope you’re giving yourself to work towards your feeling goals every day, week or month.  By having a variety of options like this, you’re making it easier to take some action, even when your energy levels or low or the resources you need aren’t available.

For example, let’s say you want to lose weight.  You explore what’s behind that goal and find that you want to feel fitter and healthier so you can enjoy going for long walks or playing with younger family members.  Rather than deciding to go on a diet and join a gym, you identify lots of smaller actions that together will improve your eating and activity levels, and you commit to do at least one thing each day – have protein for breakfast, go for a brisk ten-minute walk, drink more water, eat a rainbow of vegetables, etc.  All of these are much more doable than restrictive eating and making time for a full-on exercise regime.  Yes, it will probably take longer to lose the weight you originally identified, but the feelings of becoming fitter and healthier will already be happening.  Plus, the process will feel much more enjoyable and less of a punishment so you will be far likelier to keep going.

Plan to succeed

You’ve got your feeling goal and a list of actions to help get you there, so now how are you going to ensure you make it happen?

The following questions are designed to guide you towards a plan that will work for you.

  • Why do you want to make this change in your life?
  • How much do you want to achieve it?
  • What will be different for you?
  • What will you gain?
  • What will you lose?
  • How will it fit with the different parts of your life – work, home, family, friends, hobbies, finances?
  • How much time and energy will you need to pursue this outcome and how much do you have available to you?
  • What’s likely to get in the way?
  • What resources do you need?
  • How will you manage any setbacks?
  • How will you maintain your motivation?
  • How will you know when you’ve achieved your outcome?
  • What would be a realistic time frame?

Decide what you’re going to do and when, then make it visible.  Put reminders and inspirational quotes around the house, maybe create a vision board, track and reward your progress in some way – star charts aren’t just for children, you know!  Little and often is usually the best way to make changes that stick.

Make yourself accountable to someone else, ask them to support and encourage you.  Ask yourself each day, “What one thing can I do today to move me towards my goal?”  Remember you’re human and forgive yourself when things don’t quite go as intended – see any slip-ups as just that and get right back on track immediately, don’t wait for the start of a new day or a new week.

You’ve got this!

Any kind of self-improvement is a journey – slow and steady wins the race.  Try new things, learn as you go, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, commit to the long term, and know that you have all the resources you need within you, including the ability to ask for help when you need it.  Good luck!

If you are interested in working with me to create lasting change for yourself in 2023, please visit my Coaching Page for more information.