Every year at this time, many of us get caught up in the same annual tradition: making new year's resolutions. While the new year always offers us a clean slate to improve our lives and become the people we want to be, most of us will give up on these resolutions before the month of January is over. This reality had me asking the question "why does this issue plague so many of us?"
The more I thought about it, the more I seemed to spiral into different reasons as to why I personally give up on my resolutions. And while I could probably go on at length as to the hundreds of excuses I have offered up over the years, I'm going to save you the time (and me the embarrassment), and cut right to the core reasons that I think are fairly universal. I'm going to list out the top 3 reasons why we quit on our resolutions, and hopefully give you some ways to get past them.
1. Complacency: "Things aren't that bad"... This is probably the biggest problem for me. Complacency, laziness, apathy, or whatever else you want to call it is a real struggle. As you start the hard journey of change, you realize that it might take longer or be more arduous than you originally thought. So in turn, you start rationalizing that you don't really need to change. You minimize your bad habits. You tell yourself that it will just get better over time. You give yourself excuses to stay where you are because you've been fine up until now right? This is hard to overcome if you start indulging these thoughts. I wrote a previous blog post about the importance of commitment, and I will re-emphasize that here. If you aren't willing to commit yourself each and every day to creating the new you, you probably aren't going to succeed. One method to help with intrinsic motivation is to imagine yourself as if you have accomplished all of your goals. Imagine what that feels like, what you look like, how proud of yourself you are. Then imagine what it would be like if you NEVER made any changes and all of your bad habits just get worse and worse. Use those 2 images to help motivate yourself to commit to changing. If you are more extrinsically motivated, create a reward and punishment system to help push you toward your goal. Figure out positive rewards to encourage you to change, but make sure to add punishments if you aren't following your steps to get there. Psychology studies have shown that people are more motivated by the fear of pain than the hope for pleasure. Find friends or family that will hold you accountable as well. The more effort you put into establishing your continued motivation, the more likely you are to succeed.
2. Failure to Plan- Ben Franklin said "Failure to plan is planning to fail." All of the motivation in the world won't help you if you don't create a plan to succeed. This is the saddest way people fail at their resolutions in my opinion because this is something so simple, yet often overlooked when people are trying to make significant changes in their lives. Plans and goals allow you to set a course and track yourself as you go to make sure you are actually making progress. The first thing you should do after deciding upon a resolution is to figure out how you are going to do it. The more specific you can get, the better. Going a step further, you should also create goals along the way to make sure you are tracking properly. For example, if you are looking to lose weight for the year, start with how much weight you want to lose. Then figure out a reasonable amount to lose per month. Break it down by week if you really like to keep close track of your progress. Creating a plan and setting goals to get there is vital for success. Also, don't be afraid to make changes and adjust your plan as needed, especially if you aren't sure on the best way to reach your goal. It's fine for you to adjust your plan or goals if you find a better way or realize you made some initial mistakes. Just don't keep changing goals to justify not taking proper action!
3. Bad or No Support- This is an often overlooked area that can make all the difference in success or failure. The difficulty of making changes can be made much easier if you surround yourself with people who are willing to help you get there. This plays back into the first point, but having others who know what you are trying to do can help keep you motivated. For some, having another person who will be asking you how you are doing may keep you motivated because you don't want to disappoint them. Maybe they are trying to make a similar change, and you can help motivate each other. The encouragement of those around you can help push you to achieve things you never thought you could. Positive support structures are vital, not just for succeeding on your new year's resolutions, but also for having a happy and healthy life. Now one caveat with this point: a bad support structure can be more detrimental than no support at all. If you are looking to lose weight, but your spouse insists on eating poorly all the time, it will be that much harder for you to succeed (this is pretty common among my clients). If you want to go to the gym more, but your "workout partner" wants to leave 10 minutes after getting there (or skip altogether regularly), odds are you will follow their lead. So identify the support structure in your life to help you reach your goals, and if you think there are some bad influences, try to remove them as much as possible (not as a friend or family member, just in the realm of the area you are trying to improve). If you can't remove them, try your best to limit their influence on you. And on top of that, try to find other positive influences you can rely on instead.
So as you enter into 2019, take some time to really evaluate what goals you want to achieve this year. Find a way to increase your commitment level. Create a plan and set reasonable goals to get there. Build a positive support structure of people who will help push you to improve. If you do these things, I promise you will see real results. And when 2020 rolls around, you won't be putting the same resolution you've had for years on your list. You'll be reflecting on how much better your life is now that you've made that change. So here's to 2019: may it be an amazing year full of health and happiness, and may your new year's resolutions be fulfilled!