About 150 million Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year. That’s a lot of disappointed people.
A quarter of those people will abandon their resolutions in just a week. Fewer than half will still be on track by summer. Ultimately, only 8 percent will be successful.
But don’t think about the percentages. Think about all those individuals.
That means by this time next year about 138 million of us will still have the weight we wanted to shed, the debt we pledged to pay down, and the bad habits we hoped to put behind us.
Maybe you’ll be one of them.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’ve had my share of resolution letdowns. But I’ve also learned a lot over the years about how to set goals that stick. That’s what separates the successful 8 percent from the disappointed 92.
Peak fitness, meaningful relationships, financial health—they’re all attainable, but not if you set your resolutions the way most people do.
If you’re setting resolutions for 2016, there are at least ten ways you might be sabotaging your own success.
- Doubt success is possible. One of the most important aspects of success is believing it’s possible. But often we don’t, especially with resolutions.
How many times have we failed to lose weight, better our finances, or improve our most important relationships? Every time we fail, it’s as if we’re sure success is further away. And yet success is possible—and vital.
Our health, wealth, and relationships matter. We have to believe that improvement is possible. Once we get past our own doubts and truly believe that’s so, we can begin moving the right direction.
Learn nothing from the past. Sometimes the reason we’re trapped in doubts about what’s possible is that we haven’t really dealt with the past.
How do you feel about the last year? What went right? What went wrong? It’s only after we learn the lessons from the past year that we can begin to plan something better for the next.
Establish conflicting goals. Sometimes we have great goals, but they don’t really fit with our current reality.
Maybe it’s a career goal that doesn’t mesh with our family life, or a personal goal that interferes with our professional responsibilities. Regardless of what it is, the more friction the less momentum.
If we want to make progress, we have to make sure our goals align across the board.
Stay inside your comfort zone. Most of us like to play it safe. Who wouldn’t? But when we set unchallenging goals, we’re almost sure to fail.
First, unchallenging goals can’t energize and inspire us. If a goal doesn’t demand anything of you, it can’t drive anything in you.
Second, unchallenging goals don’t engage our creativity, resourcefulness, or persistence. And that means we don’t get far, no matter what goals we set.
Only goals that take us outside our comfort zone enable us to rise to the occasion. The rest just leave us standing still.
Avoid deadlines. This relates to No. 4. Nothing makes us more uncomfortable than a deadline.
Saying we’ll lose weight in the new year is different than saying we’ll lose a certain number of pounds by a certain date. That kind of specificity ups the ante.
And it works for start dates as well as end dates. Saying, for instance, you’ll hire a personal trainer by x date removes your wiggle room.
Whatever it is—quitting a job, joining a gym, writing a chapter—deadlines drive action.
Set uninspiring goals. Sometimes we make resolutions that lack any intrinsic drive. Getting fit is great, but what if that by itself doesn’t sustain the necessary discipline?
People do what they want. We have to want change and improvement in whatever area or we won’t do what’s necessary to get it. And the research shows external rewards are fleeting.
Without tapping into some deeper internal reward, we’re almost sure to flame out fast.
Stay squishy. Most people make New Year’s resolutions like this:
- Eat healthy
- Exercise more
- Spend more time with my spouse
- Pay down my debt
But here’s the problem. How do you know if you’re succeeding? Without any internal criteria to judge our progress, we’re less likely to make progress.
If we want a goal that stand a chance of success we have to preload it with criteria we can measure. What does eating healthy actually look like? Or exercising more?
How much more time are you planning on spending with your spouse and when? Same with debt. Or any other goal.
If we can’t measure it, we can’t judge our progress. And when we can’t see how far we’ve come or how far we have to go, it’s easy to lose interest and quit.
Go broad. The moment we get objective, we can feel boxed in. We sometimes like to leave things vague, don’t we? If we get clear on the target, we create the possibility of missing it.
But, per No. 7, that not only means we’ll be unable to judge our progress, it also means we’ll miss the spur that comes with specificity.
Which stands a better chance of completion: saying “I’ll exercise” or saying “I’ll go for a two mile walk every morning before breakfast”? “I’ll spend more time with my family” or “I’ll start preparing to leave the office each day at 4:45 p.m.”?
The more specific we get, the more likely we’ll know what to do and actually do it.
Don’t worry about your motivation. Other times we set our goals but don’t really think through why they’re important to us.
Sure, getting fit matters. But why? Getting out of debt is desirable. But why? Improving our relationships is good. But why? When we’re not clear on the why, it’s easy to lose our way.
If we want to make progress in the areas that matter most, we have to connect with what’s at stake. What do we gain if we meet our goals? Just as important, what do we lose if we don’t?
Stay satisfied with the status quo. A lot of people never make progress on their goals because they’re satisfied with where they are, despite what they say.
People can be very skilled at coping. We can manage even the worst of circumstances. That’s good and bad. The bad comes when we’re willing to endure negative circumstances we have the power to change.
Sometimes all that stands in our way is our own inaction. Making a list is different than making a change. The list is a necessary beginning, but it’s only a beginning.
If our goals matter, they matter enough to start scheduling. They matter enough to start breaking down into actionable steps. They matter enough share with friends who will keep us accountable.
And they also matter enough to celebrate when we make headway.
There’s a reason traditional New Year’s resolutions fail time and again. They’re based on a faulty system built on bad assumptions.
If you’ve failed at New Year’s resolutions in times past, welcome to the club. But what if you could cancel your membership to that club and join a new one?
What if 2016 was the year you joined the successful 8 percent? Even better, what if we could all help that number grow?
To succeed means we have to go from vague aspiration to intentional action.
Making meaningful progress toward the things that matter most is more than possible. It’s probable if you know how.