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Do you find yourself committing to New Year’s resolutions year in, year out… with a 0% success rate? Some say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

And yet we remain ever the optimists. So why is the one consistent that our New Year’s resolutions will inevitably fail? And more to the point, what can we do about it?

According to a recent survey by Forbes, 61.7% of people say they feel pressured to set a New Year’s resolution, with 66.5% stating that they plan on making 3 or more resolutions for the coming year.

The survey also revealed the stark reality that 80% of resolutions will be given up on or else completely forgotten within 6 months.

Before you start to beat yourself up or despair entirely, I want you to know that I am a firm believer that change is possible. It’s just that by making New Year’s resolutions, you’re going about it in the wrong way!

In this article, I’ll explore the reasons why New Year’s resolutions are more than likely destined to fail from the start, as well as give you some actionable tips for how to build a sustainable life of intention for the long term. Let’s get started!

Making New Year's resolutions

7 Reasons You Struggle to Commit to Your New Year’s Resolutions

If you’ve ever set yourself a New Year’s resolution to get in shape and started with the best of intentions, then you’ll know the familiar feeling when, five weeks down the line, your gym membership is languishing on an expensive direct debit you can’t bring yourself to cancel.

But don’t worry! There are plenty of reasons why it’s harder to start new habits on January 1st than you’d think.

#1 You’re not ready

Let’s face it – the dawn of the New Year is a completely arbitrary date to change. Whilst seeing out the old year and welcoming the new is a seemingly natural pause for reflection, the harsh reality is this: if it wasn’t important enough to you yesterday, it’s probably not important enough to you today.

According to psychologists, the Stages of Change model represents the basic way in which people go through the process of change. It looks like this:

  • Precontemplation: You haven’t even acknowledged the need to change
  • Contemplation: You’re starting to acknowledge that you may need to change, but don’t know where to start
  • Preparation: You’re actively putting a plan together to make a change
  • Action: You make the change!
  • Maintenance: You maintain the behaviour change

If your resolution is something you’ve been thinking about for a long time, then the new year may just handily coincide with the kick you need to take meaningful action. But for the vast, vast majority of us, we make New Year’s resolutions more on a whim because it’s the day that we feel we should. We haven’t given our resolutions serious thought, put in the prep work, or cemented why they’re important to us.

In short, you’re making them because it’s the ‘right’ time of year to do so, rather than it being the right time for where you’re realistically at in the stages of change model.

#2 You’re coming from a place of lack

New Year's resolution to lose weight

The secret to all change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

Socrates

Aside from the timing being off, what do New Year’s resolutions have in common? Well, more often than not, they’re what you think you should do rather than what you actually want to do. A small but crucial distinction.

Whilst there are so many benefits to self-discipline, one thing to be mindful of is the language you use. Identify limiting or negative language when you’re talking about your resolutions, e.g.:

  • I should lose weight
  • I’ve got to start going to the gym
  • I need to eat healthier

If you’re not careful, you fail before you’ve even started. Because you’ll never stick with anything that doesn’t feel good. When we assess these statements, they all come from a place of lack, with the underlying subconscious message ‘I don’t like the way I look’.

Typically, our New Year’s resolutions aren’t framed in a way that we feel excited about them. They’re characterised by restriction, FOMO and harsh rules. But you’ll find that you have so much more willpower when the desire to change comes from a place of self-love.

#3 You’re expecting too much, too quickly

People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.

Bill Gates

It’s easy to be romanced by the idea of grand, swooping changes in our lives.

But just like the prince in shining armour who promises you the earth and drops the ‘l’ bomb within the first month, I’m sorry to say that you’re being sold the dream. 99% of the time, it’s too good to be true!

The rather less glamorous, unsexy truth is that – just like relationships – habit change requires consistent and mundane daily work to achieve real and lasting results.

Especially when you make the mistake of setting multiple resolutions in different areas of your life, it’s pretty much guaranteed not to work out like the vision in your head. So if you can wipe this idyllic notion of ‘new year, new you’ and instead commit to more realistic changes over a longer space of time, you’re going to find it a whole lot easier. Plus, you’ll take off so much pressure.

#4 You prioritise results over the journey

Eating a healthy, plant-based meal

I’ll just clarify quickly – I’m not saying that goals aren’t important. It’s much better to have a specific target (like losing 10 lbs, for instance) rather than a vague notion that ‘you want to lose weight’.

In his book The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek talks about the difference between finite and infinite games. Whilst he’s mostly focusing on a business context, we can apply the same theory to our daily lives.

The mistake many of us make is that we see things like our health as a final destination to be reached, i.e. a ‘finite’ game: ‘Once I’m X weight, I’ll be happy.’ But the reality is that staying healthy is a different matter entirely. You’ve got to put in daily work for the long term – and the work will never be complete. It’s why so many of us yo-yo diet and can’t sustain a healthy lifestyle. We’ve got to do things for the right reasons, and change our mindset in the process to set us up for the infinite game.

When you prioritise systems, you start to look less at the outcome (the goal) and start to enjoy the journey (the system). And really, this is the secret key to any long-term change. Once you learn to enjoy the ride, achieving the goal becomes the icing on the cake.

#5 You haven’t established your ‘why’

When you boil your New Year’s resolutions right down, can you truly say you’ve done the inner work? Or are you merely treating the symptom rather than the root cause?

For instance, when it comes to the resolution to exercise more, you may have underlying narratives like:

  • I know it’s the right thing to do
  • I want to look more attractive
  • I want to appear successful

But when you examine these motivations more closely, they’re all extrinsically motivated, i.e. they’re things that are coming from outside of yourself.

For instance, I spent years trying to convince myself to eat more healthily, bouncing between the latest fad diet trends. But it was only when I truly recognised why health was important to ME as an individual that I truly began to take accountability for my own decisions. I changed the narrative to:

  • I care about my long-term health, and
  • I want to feel at my best mentally and physically

And anything outside of this became an added bonus. Resolutions built on shaky ground – like outward appearance or keeping up with the Joneses – are destined to fail. Solid foundations of inner wellness may take some necessary internal investigation, but the results are worth it.

#6 You aren’t setting yourself up for success

Why New Year's resolutions fail - you don't set yourself up for success

Remember that unless you make intentional changes, you’re living in the same environment that was set up for your pre-change self. This means that the path of least resistance will always be to keep on doing the same old thing.

Many of us don’t take the time to proactively set ourselves up for success. And this means doing very simple but powerful acts, like getting your gym clothes out the night before or putting a piece of fruit out on the kitchen counter before bed. If reading more is something you want to make a concerted effort with, then it could be as simple as having your book on your nightstand rather than halfway across the room on a bookshelf.

It’s often the most deceptively simple of changes – putting things right under your nose so that you have no choice but to confront them – that makes all the difference to easing mental resistance.

#7 Change is uncomfortable

Leading on from the last point, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge that change is never a walk in the park, no matter how much we’d like it to be!

Whilst we’re all wildly optimistic that we can spontaneously self-combust into the kind of person we want to be and lead our best life, it’s just not that easy. Otherwise, everyone would be doing it.

According to the study of neuroscience, our adult brains start to solidify around the age of 25, meaning that much of our behaviour is habit-driven from this point onwards.

When we try to make changes on the surface of our lives, it’s like trying to run a new program on the front end of a computer when the hardware hasn’t been updated. It simply isn’t compatible. We’re going to run into error messages and, before long, slip back into our old, habitual systems.

Our brains are hardwired to keep us safe, predictable and comfortable. This is because, logically, our brain knows that what we’ve done up to this point has kept us alive (so in this sense, it has worked, however suboptimally).

Of course, merely existing isn’t what any of us want. So we’ve got to find ways to rewire the computer and build new habits. Which leads me on nicely to the methods you can use with a much better success rate.

5 Things You Should Do Instead of Setting New Year’s Resolutions

If New Year’s resolutions haven’t been working out all that well for you up to press, then I encourage you to explore the less talked-about approach below. Whilst it may force you to get a little bit uncomfortable with yourself, this is exactly the inner work required to build the foundations for lasting change.

#1 Identify your values

Your personal values are like a compass to guide you

I think it’s crazy that we’re not taught this at school. When we rush about on the surface of our lives, it’s no wonder we end up feeling burnt out and deeply unfulfilled, because we’ve never taken the time to make sure we’re moving in the right direction. We haven’t identified our personal values.

When you know your values, in truth, you don’t need New Year’s resolutions, because you have a clear understanding of what is important to you.

Values are more reliable (and sustainable) than resolutions, because they come from within you and inform your long-term daily behaviour – operating like a compass to guide you. Linking behaviour changes to your identity in this way is much more powerful.

The best thing you can do, whatever day of the year it happens to be, is to know yourself at a deep level. And this doesn’t have to involve hours of therapy! You only need to take half an hour out of your schedule to identify your core values. To guide you through the process, you can download my free workbook below to get you started.

For instance, one of my personal values is health. This means that I’m committed to eating meals based around plant-based whole foods, as well as getting a small but regular amount of exercise every day and 8 hours of sleep. I don’t overcomplicate it. And it isn’t about any kind of specific ‘outcome’. It’s a solid inner foundation that is an integral part of who I am.

#2 Know your self-limiting beliefs

Once you’ve identified your values, another crucial exercise to undertake is to understand your self-limiting beliefs.

We pick up all sorts of unconscious beliefs throughout our childhood and early teens – from family, friends, teachers, and the society we live in at large. For instance, here are some of the self-limiting beliefs I identified in myself that were running the show on a subconscious level:

  • I wasn’t very good at PE, therefore I’m just not cut out for exercise
  • I’ve never been able to get up early, so I’m just not a morning person
  • I’m not a good cook

All of these beliefs were problematic when you consider that many of the changes I wanted to make in my life were centred around:

I had to undergo the process of identifying these beliefs, questioning them, and taking action – repeatedly – to the contrary, to rewrite the narrative.

The great thing is, that as soon as you can identify even one limiting belief that you’ve been able to overcome or disprove in your life, you realise that you can do this about anything. But first, you need to understand what they are so that you can identify your pain points.

#3 Enter into the energetic state of your dream life

Create a vision board to manifest your dream life

I know this might sound a bit woo-woo, but hear me out.

Whilst SMART goals have their place, in my own experience, entering into the emotional state of your dream life is a much more powerful way to energetically manifest your desires.

Put your limiting beliefs, fear and doubt to one side for a moment and think about the person you’d like to be. The wilder and more ridiculously out-of-reach, the better. And create a vision board that brings this dream to life. The key here is to suspend disbelief and don’t even think for one moment about how you’re going to get there. Simply enjoy the creative process, allow yourself to feel excited, and revisit it often.

The truth is that many of us don’t dream big enough. We think we have to have all of the answers to our problems mapped out right now. But in truth, you can manifest anything you want.

Another one of my favourite exercises is from Ask and It Is Given:

Write headings for My Body, My Home, My Relationships and My Work on four pieces of paper. Start with ‘This is what I desire regarding my body…’ and write a short list. Then drill down into each statement and write the reasons you want those things.

Tapping into this creative energy sends your desires energetically to the universe and starts to bring about the people and situations required to materialise them.

#4 Focus on one thing at a time

What I’ve found from many experimentations with forming new habits is that I’m much more likely to succeed when I focus all of my attention on one thing at a time. There may be some people who can build a consistent gym routine alongside a journaling habit, but I’m just not one of them!

What do we know for sure? It takes an average of 66 days to build a habit, and change is hard. So one of the worst things you can do is overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once.

When trying to maintain any kind of change, it’s best to cement one habit before moving on to another. Otherwise, you’ll only get discouraged. I know from experience that if you fall off the wagon, it’s going to destabilise you in all areas.

Ironically, if you’d just stuck to one thing and done it really well, you’d have naturally built up momentum to make changes in other areas of your life later.

#5 Make it so small you can’t fail

Create microhabits to develop lasting habit change

What do I mean by this?

Well, the problem with most New Year’s resolutions is that they are typically too advanced for where you’re at right now. My key to success with habit change is to break things down into daily systems that you simply can’t fail at (thank you, James Clear!).

Think of it like training a dog to do a new trick. Expecting a dog to immediately roll over on command is a tall order. There are a lot of steps and training sessions required for this behaviour to become automatic on cue.

You should think about building your gym habit in much the same way. If you haven’t set foot in a gym for 6 months, then expecting to do an hour’s workout in your first session is wildly unrealistic. In fact, I’d make your first week as simple as just putting on your gym shoes and doing one minute’s worth of exercise at home. That’s it. Because at first, it’s just a case of building the habit into your day without getting overwhelmed.

Microhabits can grow into amazing things, but you’ve got to give yourself a fighting chance. Start with a daily activity that’s so small, it’s almost laughable. You cannot fail. And build this up over time as you start to gain confidence.

It’s also wise to get into the habit… of tracking your habits! Ticking them off on a daily habit tracker like the Streaks app is incredibly satisfying, and can help to motivate you when you see daily progress.

You Can Make Sustainable Changes for the Long Term

Whilst New Year’s resolutions may not have been working for you, the good news is that change is always possible – whatever stage of life you’re at! I hope this post has gone some way to reassure you that it’s not YOU that’s the problem. It’s something we all struggle with because it’s simply not the right method. And once you have better systems in place to make changes, you’ll be able to see them through.

For a more realistic take on how to be more intentional with your health, check out my in-depth guide here. I’ve also written more on how to reinvent yourself, as well as how to stop striving for more and cultivate lasting happiness.

Have you identified your personal values and self-limiting beliefs? What did you find? I’d love to hear from you!

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