It’s about one month into the new year, which means many New Year’s Resolutions have already failed. New Year’s Resolutions have an 8% success rate, and yet, about 45% of people still made them this year (University of Stanford research).
Of those who have failed their resolution already, most will blame themselves, but this is a harmful and inaccurate conclusion.
Most of the time, a poor strategy is the reason for failure. If you are off the wagon already, here are the three reasons why New Year’s Resolutions so often fail (and what to do now).
1. Vague Goals Increase Your Internal Resistance
It is great to have an idea of your life goals and values, but when it comes to doing things, you don’t want to set the goal of “I’m really going to lose some weight this year.” In order to accomplish that goal, your brain has to convert it into something actionable like exercising 20 minutes a day or eating 3-4 servings of vegetables each day. It may seem insignificant, but changing yourself is a battle against your internal resistance to change, and that one extra step of calculation is enough to make you lose the battle.
It takes mental energy to convert a vague goal into something actionable, and when you know that conversion leads to more work, you might never bother to convert it. There’s a comforting feeling in not having a specific goal because it “lets you off the hook.” You can evade the feeling of failure with a vague goal, but when you set to specifically do something today and don’t, your success or failure will be evident.
2. Large Goals Ultimately Discourage You
Large goals are popular because they sound good: “I’m going to lose 100 pounds this year!” If successful, that would be a very exciting and fulfilling accomplishment. But large goals are also vague by nature. You can’t directly lose 100 pounds—it’s what happens as a result of the small choices you make on a daily basis. So once again, you’re forcing your brain to constantly convert your big goal into what it can understand (specific actions).
Secondly, large goals are a constant drain until they are accomplished. Say you have an excellent workout and eat two salads one day. How will it make you feel? Somewhat good and somewhat terrible. It will feel good to live a better lifestyle in alignment with your goal, but then you’ll realize how far away you still are. The successful day will seem insignificant compared to your massive goal (and it is!).
At the end of the year with a large goal, you can lose 50 pounds and feel as if you have failed, because technically, you did fail to reach your goal. It’s so important to encourage all progress, but large goals make your progress seem worthless. The larger your goal, the better chance you’ll get discouraged and quit early.
3. Unbalanced Goals Make You Want Your Old Life Back
Goals need to be balanced within your life. If your goal is very time-consuming, it might interfere with other important areas of your life, and this can cause a negative association with your goal (not good). Or if you set too many goals, they might cause you to burn out and lose the progress you made.
Another type of imbalance with goals is timing. It’s common to start off “guns blazing” because you’re super motivated to change. There are two problems with this. First, it’s not a pace that you’ll be able to keep up. Second, what happens when your motivation is low on another day? It’s far better to do less if it means you can do it consistently.
If your goal is anything but a balanced and stable addition to your life, your brain WILL reject it. Count on it. And don’t think that you can just “will” your way through it—that’s the kind of thinking that gives people an 8% success rate. Respect the power of your subconscious mind and work with it, and then you’ll have a chance to succeed.
What works? Specific, Small, & Balanced Goals
The resolution that can work is the opposite of the three blunders listed above. It will be specific, small, and balanced. Specific goals give you a clear indication of what constitutes success and failure. Small goals make you feel successful when you make any progress—they turn progress into success. Balanced goals keep you happy in life, and encourage you to continue with the change.
The best way to meet these criteria is with mini habits. These are very small positive behaviors you do every day that are too small to fail. Mini habits are the reason I’m in great shape, write daily, and read daily (for 125+ days straight). The corresponding goals that gave me great success sound embarrassing, yet give amazing results: do one push-up, write 50 words, and read two pages in a book.
If you’re discouraged about changing your life or have just failed your resolution, it’s time to take a hard look at the strategies you’ve been using. If you’ve been failing, it’s because your willpower and motivation are no match for the goals you’re throwing at them (and likely your execution strategy is poor as well).
Start small and build up into something bigger. But don’t take this as a sentence that you have to do insignificant things until you’re ready to do something that matters. Mini habits will actually have you reaching higher heights because of the positive encouragement spiral they create. Your small daily goals will be sparks with unlimited potential.
To learn more about the book, Mini Habits, check it out on Amazon. It is a strategy with a high success rate that will equip you to make lasting changes. I say that from my experience using this strategy (not just as the author). And if behavioral science and neuroscience interest you, sign up for Tuesday Messages at Deep Existence.
|Written on 1/29/2014 by Stephen Guise. Besides writing for his own blogs Stephen is a featured writer here at Dumb Little Man. Be sure to stop by Stephen’s ‘featured writer page‘ right here on Dumb Little Man to find links to more of his articles.|
Photo Credit: BazaarBizarreSF