Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail and Succeed

Originally Posted on the Fit 2 Excel Blog on December 26, 2017


It’s that time of year again. Time to take stock of everything that has happened in the last year and look ahead to the year to come. With this inventory, it is time to set your goals and resolutions. Did you accomplish the goals you set for yourself last year? If you didn’t, you’re not alone.

Why Resolutions Fail:

The most common reason new year’s goals fail is because people treat habits like a light switch, something that can be turned on and off. Habits take weeks or months to solidify, yet somehow, people think those lofty goals set on December 31 can be achieved with a simple flip of the switch. The goals set in a brief spawn of motivation, and without any other system.s in place, will undoubtedly. If you’re relying on will power and being able to “flip the switch” to achieve your goals, you might as well throw in the towel right now.

Why Resolutions Succeed:

  • Specificity

“I’m going to workout this year,” is a bad goal. It’s about as unspecific and generic as you can get. It’s the type of goal you would imagine that weird uncle proclaiming as he held up his New Year’s champagne.  “Every Thursday morning I’m going to attend Sandy’s Active Strength class from 8:30 to 9:30,” on the other hand, is specific. It’s clear, it has direction, there’s no ambiguity about it. Make your goal as specific as possible, and the actions steps will be much easier to follow.

  • They’re Failure-Proof

Humans respond to incentives. It’s in our nature. So, give yourself external incentives to achieve your goals. In particular, fear of loss has been shown as a greater motivator than potential gain. Intuitively, this makes sense. If you’re being chased by an angry dog, there’s no question you’re going to run as fast as you possibly can. In contrast, if there’s a positive reward at the end of the run, like money, you’re still going to run, but not nearly with as much desperation as the person being chased by the dog. So, one great strategy is to give something away to friend and don’t let them give it back to you unless you achieve your goal. Give your friend $200, and tell them not to give it back unless you go to the gym 3 times this week, and you’ll surely be less apt to skip out.

Another great way to use fear of loss as a motivator is using public accountability to your advantage. Have a goal to gain 10 lbs of muscle this year? Talk an absurd amount of trash to your friends. If you fail to follow up on all the talk, you’ll look really, really stupid, and be really, really embarrassed. Public accountability could also be as simple as having a workout partner. Are you really going to skip out on a session knowing somebody is waiting for you? Some friend you are.

These strategies are your insurance policy to achieving your goal. On the days where motivation is lacking, you need to have systems set in place to ensure you don’t skip on the goals you’ve set. The reality is that without incentives, humans break commitments on an embarrassingly regular basis. If you’re relying on willpower, you’re putting yourself in a difficult position to succeed.

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