Why your new years RESOLUTION will fail

Making list of New Year's resolutions

Welcome back!

As we welcome back our members after their winter travels, we hear the very familiar rumblings (as probably do all health clubs this time of year) of lofty health and fitness goals for 2018.  In fact, we are guilty of it ourselves.  How many of us overindulge throughout the festive period only to offset the consequent feelings of remorse with “It’s fine, come January 1st, everything is going to change” or “It’s time for a New Year, new me”?  The New Year is a fantastic time for reflection, taking stock, setting new goals and symbolically wiping the 2017 slate clean. 

So why is it that in the words of Tony Robbins “80% of people give up on their New Years resolution by the 2nd week of February”?  In fact, according to the statistics available, by the end of February 95% of people who set New Years resolutions only 8 weeks prior have abandoned their 2018 aspirations.  Here we are at the beginning of February, at the 11th hour of New Years resolution success – there’s still time.  The question is, do you really want to make lasting change this year?

For those of you clinging to your New Year’s resolution for dear life, here are some reasons you might be struggling…


1.     You should have started with why?

When setting our 2018 goals, so many of us select a goal based on an ideal, a desire.  We often start with what we want to change.  For instance, “I want to lose 10kg this year”.  Intelligently, we then start to break this down looking at how we are going to make this happen e.g. moderate exercise 3 times a week, cut out sugar and carbs etc.  Nothing wrong with this process.  However, leaning on the words of Simon Sinek and his wildly popular TED talk – we should have started with WHY?   

It's so easy for us to get lost in the what’s and how’s that we can forget to place emphasis on why we are doing something in the first place.  This ‘why’ is very closely tied with our ongoing motivation and without it, our goals very quickly become meaningless. 

Why did you want to lose the weight in the first place?  Is it because you want more energy to play with your kids? Is it because you want to be fit enough to climb a mountain? Or is it because you want to look fantastic on your wedding day? You need to be driven by something that means something to you.  Simply knowing that you ‘shouldn’t eat sugar’ isn’t enough to power you through those early mornings or help you resist that Crispy Crème Doughnut.  Have a think about your why.    


2.     You’ve already told everyone about it.

You reflected on your 2017, you designed your intentions for 2018, narrowed it down to be specific and then decided, you’re going to compete in a Triathlon.  Here’s where you went wrong – you then proceeded to tell everyone about it!  Most likely because you heard that telling people helps keep you accountable for your efforts, making success more likely. 

In the past this may have meant telling a friend, a colleague or a family member.  These days, in a world of social media, you have literally told everyone.  You have Instagrammed a picture of your new Tri suit with a motivational caption and you have received a heap of ‘likes’ supporting your 2018 efforts.  However, from a motivational perspective you may have just shot yourself in the foot and here’s why. 

According to more than 80 years of research in goal pursuit, psychologists have concluded that those who talk more about achieving a particular goal end up being less likely to put actual work into achieving that goal.  This happens for a number of reasons.  Firstly, you have already received the praise and validation (the ‘likes’) for your intention to achieve your goal rather than actually achieving it.  In short, you’ve received the reward without the hard work.  Secondly, our brains confuse talking about a goal for actual progress towards achieving that goal.  For those of you interested you can read more here but bottom line, if you keep your New Years resolution to yourself – you are more likely to achieve it!


3.    Your goal is too rigid.

Year after year, we are told pretty much the same thing with regards to how to achieve our New Year’s resolution, that is make it SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.  A good example seen here.  But what if the key to success for 2018 is actually making your goals more vague. 

A recent piece of research out of Standford University states that you are more likely to achieve your goal if it is ‘sketched out in vague terms than set in stone with a precise target’.  According to Professor Baba Shiv, if you want to lose weight in 2018, you have a better chance of achieving it if you tell yourself “I’d like to slim down and maybe lose somewhere between 5 and 15 pounds this year” instead of, “I’d like to lose 12 pounds by July 4.” 

The idea of using vague goals as a performance booster is a psychological tactic that allows us a little more room for failure and a little more opportunity for viewing our efforts through rose tinted glasses.  Ultimately, it helps us feel like we are succeeding in our efforts which in turns helps our motivation to keep going.  Have a think... is the goal you set yourself this year a little rigid? This brings us nicely onto the next point.


4.    You didn’t allow for failure.

It is very rare, if ever, that the route to success is linear.  Sometimes progress looks more like one step forward and two steps back in isolated moments but over time you are edging closer to your goal.  If we forget to leave ourselves a little room for setbacks and for failure, it is more likely that when obstacles occur we are going to be unforgiving with our efforts – instantly demotivated.  Have you beaten yourself up at the first hurdle?

This is where vague goals prove to be useful as when regression happens, you can acknowledge it and keep going.  You feel less of a need to abandon your goal altogether.  In a sort of ironic way, this may be a more realistic outlook than a SMART goal. 


5.     You’re tightening instead of loosening.

Once over, the word resolution meant to ‘loosen’ or ‘release’.  The word ‘resolution’ comes from the Latin re (again) and solvere (to loosen or release).  In recent years our New Year’s resolutions often take the form of restriction e.g.  “I am not going to eat chocolate”, “I am going to work out 3 times a week”, “I am going to cook at home more”.  The theme of each intention being tightening or controlling, not releasing. 

There are lots of ways this could be interpreted but in line with the points above, perhaps let’s just reflect on whether we are leaving enough room in our 2018 intentions for the natural ebb’s and flows of progress or are our expectations of success to rigid?