Why so many of us struggle to keep our New Year's resolutions

Why do we always seem to fail at our new year resolutions [Photo: Getty]
Why do we always seem to fail at our new year resolutions [Photo: Getty]

As we emerge from our New Year’s Eve celebrations with thumping heads and a few regrets, many of us will have made a promise to improve ourselves slightly for the year ahead.

Sadly, though, research suggests that 80% of us who make New Year Resolutions end up falling off the wagon by the second week of February.

And it’s the same story every year.

Those set-in-stone vows to be healthier, more focused start to feel more like may-dos while the promises to hit the gym, get out of the red, quit the sugar quickly start tumbling down the to-do list.

But why exactly are New Year’s resolutions so tough to keep?

“The start of a new year is the ideal time to create a new habit, but while the majority of people will set resolutions, recent research has found that many people will quit only after two weeks,” says David Brudö, CEO and co-founder from mental health and personal-development app, Remente.

“There could be many reasons for this, such as the fact that the resolution is not measurable, that it focuses on quitting instead of starting, or that the goal unrealistic.

“One of the main reasons, though, is that we do not reflect on the reasons to why we have set the resolution in the first place, and therefore, as soon as we feel discouragement, we tend to quit. Discouragement can leave us with a sense of defeat and hopelessness, and can therefore cost us our resolution.”

And there are some other reasons our resolutions end up in a big, fat, fail every year…

All the good intentions but New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously hard to stick to [Photo: Getty]
All the good intentions but New Year’s Resolutions are notoriously hard to stick to [Photo: Getty]

The terminology is wrong

According to Jivan Dempsey, integrative hypnotherapist, life coach and occupational psychologist there are huge expectations at this time of year that we “must” or “should” make ourselves different.

“But using the word “should” is associated with shame and guilt,” he explains. “Equally using the word should do something gives us an excuse to not do it.”

The reasons are wrong

If you’re not making resolutions for the right reasons, you might as well not make them at all.

“We can get carried away, and understandably so, with the huge marketing effort that stokes up desires, at this time of year, that becoming different is somehow expected,” explains Jivan.

“But this isn’t a great reason to be setting NYRs and the reason we fail is that we don’t really believe we can do it or know the reasons for why we are doing them in the first place.”

We expect to fail

“For some of us new year resolutions are just a thing of fun and we don’t take them too seriously because we “know” we will fail them anyway!” explains Jivan.

“We can find ourselves justifying failure – ‘oh its just a new year resolution’ – but you may still be left with feelings of failure and thinking you’re not living up to your true potential and this impact how we feel about ourselves, our confidence levels and possibly self-worth.

“For some of us there maybe additional feelings of shame and guilt,” Jivan continues. “To be successful we need realistic and achievable goals and psychologically we need to want to be successful.”

We’re not realistic

“For example, setting a goal to go to the gym five times per week when you normally go only once or twice a month might be just too hard,” explains Jivan.

Fallen off the resolutions wagon already? [Photo: Getty]
Fallen off the resolutions wagon already? [Photo: Getty]

So how do we make sure we don’t fall at the first NYR hurdle?

Set realistic goals

Slow and steady folks, slow and steady. “One of the first things to do when it comes to setting a New Year’s resolution is to identify a realistic goal,” says David Brudo. “For this, you need to know your own strengths and abilities, as well as the limit to which you are willing to be pushed.”

David sites the example of novice runners who have never braved it before. “Your first goal shouldn’t be running a marathon within a month,” he explains.

“Instead, aim to run a set distance, such as 5K and increase your speed – once you’re comfortable, gradually increase the distance.” Setting a realistic goal will make it easier for you to achieve it, as resolutions which are too far outside of our possibilities cause us to become discouraged and give up.

Pack on the PMA

Part of conquering the fall-at-the-first-hurdle fences is believing in yourself, your goals and having a positive attitude. “To achieve any goal you need to have faith that you can do this,” explains Jivan.

Find a resolution buddy

Not only will it make it heaps more fun, but you’re more likely to stick to your goals if you’ve got someone to call you out.

“New Year resolutions don’t have to be completely solitary – if you have friends who share your aim of getting fitter, learning a new skill or going out more, motivate each other by sharing activities that can get you closer towards your end goal,” advises David.

“Alternatively, if your goal is something that you are doing on your own, you can still share your achievements and ambitions with friends and family – telling others about what you want to do can provide extra motivation and prevent you from giving up.”

Channel your inner pain and pleasure

Because pain or pleasure associations can help keep you motivated. “For example, every time you feel like giving up on your goal, imagine the disappointment you will feel at failing,” explains David Brudö.

“Alternatively, if you have a concrete goal at the end, like working towards a promotion for example, imagine how happy you will be once you receive it. Every time you lose steam or feel that you are about to give up, think of one of these associations and it should keep you going.”

Make your resolutions sticky

By saying them out loud. “This can give you some ownership and personal responsibility,” says Jivan. “They become more “sticky” than having them in your head or writing them down. Saying them out loud can make your NYRs harder to break.”

Be specific

“Once you’ve decided on a realistic resolution, think about how you will measure your success,” says David. “Provide yourself with tangible and measurable aims. Avoid using terms like ‘get better at’ or ‘be more…’ as these are too vague, instead try to use words like ‘increase’ and ‘develop’.

For example, if you would like to be more sociable, set yourself a goal of ‘seeing friends once a week’ or ‘getting better at asking strangers for directions’. Because the phrasing is more specific and you’ve set yourself smaller targets within the overall resolution, you will be much more likely to achieve your goal.”

Make your targets attractive

In order to be successful in your goals you need to make sure that your resolution is an attractive one and that you feel like you’ve achieved something at the end. “Adding a sense of fun, urgency or competition to your resolution will make you more invested in succeeding and the sense of reward will help you persevere,” David explains. Additionally, if you feel like you are having fun and enjoying yourself, overcoming any difficulties along the way won’t seem so hard.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep? [Photo: Getty]
Why are resolutions so hard to keep? [Photo: Getty]

Find your inner motivation

“Once you decided on your resolution and how you will measure your achievements, find a source of motivation,” advises David Brudö.

“This can be internal – if, for example, you feel passionate doing something that will bring you closer to your goal. Finding an inner source of motivation will bring with it a state of ‘flow’ in which you will concentrate on your goal and not get distracted with any obstacles. Alternatively, you could turn to external motivation, which is a reward or feeling of appreciation that you receive from others for achieving your goals.”

Schedule it in

David Brudö says we should think of our resolutions as an ongoing project and schedule blocks of time, which you can dedicate to progressing and tracking progress made. “For example, if you want to budget better, schedule a weekly budget review on a Sunday. If you want to get fitter, sign up to classes and add them to your calendar. Scheduling these events will make it easier for you to stick to your plan and to get back on track, in case you slip up.”

Give yourself a break

“Be kind to yourself and continually review your goals and check in how you can make them more achievable and successful, because as you build on your success you become even more successful,” Jivan says.

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