It’s not too late to get back on track with your broken resolution—or start a new one
Think back to December 31. Remember all those big promises you made yourself? Less vodka, more veggies. Fewer carbs, more cardio. Less Facebook, more face-to-face.
Oh, the guilt.
If you’ve had trouble sticking to your New Year’s Resolution, you’re not alone. While nearly 75% of Americans who make resolutions feel they will achieve their goal, research shows about 30% of “resoluters” don’t even make it to the two-week point.
The six most common New Year’s resolution categories are health, self-improvement, money, family, love and career—all worthwhile areas. So how do we go from having the best of intentions on January 1 to having nothing to show for it by February?
Why New Year’s resolutions fail
A Finder survey reported the most-cited reason for failed New Year’s resolutions is, “don’t have the willpower.”
Some experts think we might be too hard on ourselves, though. It’s about more than just willpower.
Having unrealistic expectations, unclear goals, getting overwhelmed and not being ready to change are all common obstacles.
A broken resolution doesn’t mean you’re lazy or bad. It most likely means you need to fine-tune your goals and stop procrastinating. The more specific, positive and measurable your goals are, the higher your odds of success.
4 common roadblocks to resolution success:
- Making too many resolutions.
Making a laundry list of desired changes is admirable, but no one can handle 10 or 20 big changes all at once. Instead, focus your time and energy on one or two specific things you can realistically achieve.
- Fail to plan = plan to fail
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is credited with saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” If you made a New Year’s resolution but not a roadmap to get there, it’s time to start mapping.
If your goal is to travel more, what steps do you need to take to make that happen? If your resolution is to save more money, where can you trim your spending? Break up your goal into detailed steps and it will be easier to achieve, according to experts.
Charles Duhigg is the author of “The Power of Habit,” a book about the science of forming habits. Duhigg told the New York Times, “When you come up with a plan, you anticipate what the obstacles are going to be. When people change sustainably, it’s because they anticipated where they’ll fail and they’ve come up with some kind of recovery plan in advance.”
Set yourself up for success. Make a plan and create reminders to help you stick with it, whether a sticky note on the mirror or an alarm in your phone.
Celebrate small success checkpoints along the way to encourage yourself.
- Not accentuating the positive
A resolution that’s phrased negatively (No chips! No booze! No watching TV!) isn’t going to motivate you to break a bad habit.
Psychology tells us that our thoughts impact our actions. So, focus on the flip-side of those same resolutions with positive statements.
“Replace chips with fresh fruit,” “drink sparkling water in place of a cocktail,” or “read a book instead of turning on a screen” all focus on what you can do versus what you can’t. This increases your chances of sticking with the plan.
- Not getting specific enough
Instead of resolving to “work out more,” try this: “I will walk on the treadmill for 60 minutes three times a week.”
Rather than saying, “I want to spend more time with my kids,” set aside every Friday night as game night, or every other Sunday as family day. Pick something that works for your situation.
Is it too late to make a new New Year’s resolution?
It’s never too late to start a new habit, regardless of the date on the calendar. If you want to make a mid-March resolution, do it!
If picking a specific milestone (like the 1st of the month, or a Monday, or your birthday) helps motivate you, that’s great. Just don’t use that as an excuse to keep pushing things off.
Is it ever ok to just throw in the towel on a resolution?
Short answer: yes.
But rather than beat yourself up about it, look for the why.
Why wasn’t your goal attainable? For example, if you resolved to work out every morning but find yourself hitting snooze every time the alarm goes off, ask yourself what you can do differently. Go to bed earlier? Change your workout time to after work?
Reflect on why you picked that particular resolution. For instance, if you want to lose weight, is it for yourself (internal motivation) or to please your doctor or partner (external motivation, which is less likely to work)?
Revisiting your broken resolution can help you refocus on your goals and create a plan for success that might differ from what you originally resolved.
Deciding to let a resolution go—and let off some of the pressure associated with it—might help you reduce stress and refocus on a different goal.
Bottom line, use a “failed” resolution as fuel to help you learn how to set more attainable goals.
Alternatives to resolutions
Not everyone needs or wants to make a New Year’s resolution. You can still use the start of a new year as a time to refocus and grow.
- Reflect on all you have accomplished in the last year, last month or even last week. Write it down. Ask your friends and family for help if you get stuck. You’ve probably come farther than you think.
- Create a bucket list. Write down specific things you want to accomplish in the next month or year, whether it’s trying a new food, having a new experience or taking a trip.
- Try a 7-day or 30-day challenge. A limited timeframe gets you past the overwhelm of committing to 365 days.
- Pick a word. Pick a single meaningful word to guide you, whether for the year or a month. This lets you focus on a specific idea and can bring clarity of purpose. Some popular word ideas are: fun, happiness, simplify and movement.
However you decide to reboot your resolutions, set yourself up for success. Make sure your goals for the next year are specific, actionable and internally motivated.
To sum it up
- Focus on one or two resolutions
- Make sure your goals are realistic and attainable
- Celebrate small successes along the way
- Use broken resolutions as a chance for self-reflection and redirection
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- “New Year’s resolution statistics.” Finder.com. Accessed February 25, 2021. https://www.finder.com/new-years-resolution-statistics
- Norcross, John C et al. “Auld lang syne: success predictors, change processes, and self-reported outcomes of New Year’s resolvers and nonresolvers.” Journal of clinical psychology vol. 58,4 (2002): 397-405. doi:10.1002/jclp.1151
- Ali, Shainna. “Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” Psychology Today. Accessed February 25, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201812/why-new-years-resolutions-fail
- Caron, Christina. “This Year, Try Downsizing Your Resolutions.” New York Times. Accessed February 25, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/29/well/live/new-years-resolutions-2021.html
- “New Year’s Resolution Makeovers.” WebMD. Accessed February 25, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/new-years-resolution-makeovers#1