Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail... And How You Can Beat the Odds

While nearly half of the American population makes New Year’s Resolutions, only 19 percent succeed in keeping them.1 In fact, by the end of January, the vast majority have not only given up on their goals, many are further behind than when they started! 2

Why is it so difficult to make and sustain changes in our behaviors? And what can you do to increase your success rate? Below are the most common challenges facing resolution-makers, with suggested solutions to help you achieve this year.

Challenge: Jan. 1 is an arbitrary date, and we get caught up in thinking “everyone is doing it now.” It’s what’s known in behavior modification circles as a “false start time” influenced by a group mindset. However, people have a greater chance of succeeding and sustaining a goal when they have properly prepared for it and carefully determined the best date to begin.

Solution: Collaborate with a friend or a coach and pick a start date that’s right for you. For example, if your goal is to increase your productivity, you may first want to an organizational app or a virtual assistant. Or, before you dive into that new project, you may want to prioritize your tasks and deliverables. Giving yourself planning and preparation time helps you set up for success from the start. And while resolutions are popular at the New Year, the best way to accomplish a long-term goal is to work toward it all year long.

Challenge: We set resolutions that are vague and/or unattainable. Resolutions are typically black and white; they describe absolutes: I will exercise more. I will get organized. I will get more work-life balance. Huge, vague, unrealistic goals like these set you up for failure before you even begin.

Solution: Define one or two specific goals. Don’t try to fix everything all at once. Focus on what is most important to you right now, for THIS year. For example, “I will get more organized” is not a specific goal; however, “I will create an inbox filing system using categories and rules” is. To make your goal even more credible, give yourself a reasonable timeframe for attaining and measuring it, and set small, weekly goals.

Challenge: It is difficult to stay motivated day after day, week after week. If we decide to give up or give in, who’s really going to call us on it? In order to make true change, we need to “retrain our brain,” create new habits and ensure accountability.

Solution: The No. 1 tip from experts is: Get support. In our example to “create an inbox filing system using categories and rules,” you could work with a productivity coach, ask a friend or colleague to be your “accountability partner,” or ask several people to join you in making this a team goal. Support increases your chances of success by more than 50 percent. Behavioral experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit; when you have a support system, you can share your successes and hardships along the way. Start with these tips to help you ring in the New Year and increase your resolution-making success.

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1 Based on the top three resolutions (accounting for 75% of all resolutions): Lose weight, quit smoking, exercise regularly.

2 Source: American Psychological Association; study conducted by University of Scranton psychology professor, John Norcross, Ph.D.

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