Why Do Our New Year’s Resolutions Often Fizzle?

It’s that time year again where with hearts full of inspiration and hope millions of people sit down and make a list of New Year’s Resolutions. We fire up the engines and charge head first into a fresh start, a clean slate, a New Year, and it will be different this time gosh darnnit! However, as usual there is a big ole deja vu sitting just around the bend waiting for us to slip up, fail, and give up once again. Then we try it all over again next year.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Does that mean each New Year’s we revisit our own little brush with insanity? I mean how many of you have started the next New Year with the same list? The pattern goes like this:

  1. Make list of resolutions with hope in heart and feelings of wild and reckless abandon filled success
  2. Work really hard for a few days or a few weeks knowing “this year will be different!”
  3. Slip up on our plans, miss commitments to ourselves
  4. Feel badly about #3 but find you can’t really get back on track
  5. Give up, feel bad, revert to old ways for another year
  6. Repeat

Let’s face it, this pattern doesn’t just happen to people who are low achievers or folks who are struggling.  This pattern is played out by millions of people just like you and me including some of the most successful folks out there.  So why do we fail?  Worse yet, why do we subject ourselves to the same dance over and over which is like a kind of torture?

Whether you want to get healthier, amp up your finances, change careers, or any goal you really want to realize in 2009, consider some of these tips from experts as to why resolutions fail and how you can turn that around into success for you this time around.

First, know that if you’ve let your New Year’s resolutions fizzle out in the past you have preconditioned yourself to do it again.  You have set an unconscious expectation for failure as explained in “Reaching Your Goals Why New year’s Resolutions Fall by the Wayside”:

If you’ve let New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside in the past, you have already established a storage bin – and a direct neurological pathway to it – for future resolutions to follow. If you set New Year’s resolutions this year, they are even more likely to follow the already established path to the same place your old resolutions ended up; and they’ll probably get there even quicker this time because the pathway is already well-worn. Many people address this problem by lowering their standards and expectations for themselves – setting smaller and smaller resolutions in hopes that they may be up to a lesser challenge. That may have worked initially; but each unmet resolution simply adds to the energy drain – and to the pile of excuses we can use to not take the necessary action needed to meet our goals. Each time we do this, we become more and more accustomed to, and conditioned for, failure; and forgetting our promises to ourselves becomes easier and easier to do. We become experts at self-betrayal and self-sabotage.

The good news is that you can get your mind and life out of these ruts created from past broken promises.  Two year’s ago I wrote a timeless piece “Why New Years Resolutions Don’t Work and What You Can Do About It”.  I narrowed it down to three reasons: Wrong Goal, Right Goal but Lack of Support, and Doing and Thinking the Same Things and Expecting Different Results.  There is a bigger inner shift that has to happen before you can see what you want to see in your external circumstances.  This is the missing piece most people either consciously or unconsciously choose to avoid:

The #1 thing you can do to be successful with goals in the new year is to change your mindset and your relationship with yourself.  I’m talking about an honest, truthful shift in how you view yourself and what choices you make.

One way to start shifting mindset is to scrap goals altogether. Instead of resolutions, consider creating a theme or mantra for the next year and choose to live that.  The Spiritual Eclectic shared this better than a New Year’s Resolution idea:

I asked them to consider a verb for the next year and a simple phrase or mantra.  These are, in effect, my themes for the next year, and usually go hand in hand. I have to pick the exact words, and that sometimes means digging out the thesaurus to make sure each word has exactly the connotation I’m looking for.   My themes for the past few years and for the coming year?

  • Manifest and Risk Everything
  • Enjoy and Allow Miracles
  • Thrive and  Celebrate Everything
  • Enchant and Be Delighted
  • Shed, Sift, Savor
  • Simplify
  • Simplify and Lighthearted Discovery

Now there is a theme, a quality of being that you can actually live out that isn’t tied to success or failure on a task by task basis.  And with the theme in place you can then focus on goals that align with the theme.

Ariane de Bonvoisin has a great list of “Ways to Succeed at New Year’s Resolutions”.  She too recommends the overall theme for the year approach as well as choosing a mantra word for the year.  Another great point she makes is about being willing to give yourself a clean slate when you need to.  A goal is not a “make or break” thing on any given day.  Unless you happen to be a professional athlete and your goal is a gold medal or winning a championship, one day does not make success or failure. So when you slip up, fall short, or find yourself headed in the wrong direction – reorient and give yourself a fresh start at any time:

9. Commit to always using the Change GPS.
A GPS navigation system in your car only cares about two questions. Where are you now, and where do you want to go? At any moment, any day, ask yourself these two questions: Where am I now? Where do I want to go? Resolutions and goals are daily commitments, not something you make once at the beginning of the year. Every day is another chance to get closer. Remember, a GPS doesn’t beat you up for mistakes you did yesterday. It gives you a clean slate every time.

Remember – be good to yourself and get the support you need to truly make the changes you desire because 1) You’re Worth It and 2) If Not Now, When?

Photo Credit: Eric Kolstad

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