Why You Failed to Achieve Your New Years Resolution

Cory Mazure | 31 Dec, 2021

New Year, Same Mistakes 

Every year, around the start of the year, it is tradition to set “New Year Resolutions.” Around this time, people reflect on the last year and what they want to change in the months to come. These goals have gotten the common perception as ineffective as 80% of people fail to achieve their resolution. The question is, why do so many of us set goals in which we do not achieve? 

The Common Goal Trap

The most common reason why someone can not achieve their goals is because they are setting the incorrect type of goal. For example, a typical New Year Resolutions is to lose weight, but this is an ineffective goal because it is results-based. Result based goals focus on the end result and are too vague. People who set result based goals tend to lose motivation to achieve their goal as they did not give themselves enough direction to achieve said goal. Even if you specify the lose weight goal to be a specific amount of pounds, the goal will not be achieved if you do not further analyze this goal and define the actions required to get to this result. It is good to have a vision of what result you are shooting for, but it can not be the only step taken when setting goals. So, what is the right way of setting a goal and how do you do it effectively?      

The Action Oriented Approach

If you want your goal to stick, reflect on the problem you are trying to solve at a fundamental level. Depending on the goal, this might be difficult to define, but take your time. As Albert Einsten once said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” If you are having trouble defining the problem for yourself, try to talk it through with a close friend and family member as they might be able to help you as they can see the situation from a different perspective. 

If you have defined your problem properly, it is easier to set up the actions required to fix said problem. The benefits of action oriented goals is that they are under your control and lay out the exact road map on how to get the end results that everyone desires. Relating back to our previous example, the goal is not to lose 5 pounds, but to develop and consistently execute the lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss, such as exercise and intermittent fasting. When setting successful action oriented goals, there are 5 key concepts to consider. 

Set Specific Actions

Once you believe you have identified your problem, try to think about what new habits need to be added, and what current habits need to be changed/eliminated. Be very specific, the more specific you are the easier it will be to follow through on these actions. To ensure you have done this correctly, ask yourself,  “Does my goal state the specific actions I must follow through on?” 

Chunk it out

Now that you are aware of the specific actions that are required, define on a daily and weekly level what needs to be accomplished. For the example of losing weight, you may determine that you need to go to the gym 3 times a week, so at the start of the week pick the days and timeframes in which you want to execute these actions. Routine helps habits grow stronger, so trying to maintain a consistent schedule may help with cementing these actions. When setting up your weekly actions reflect and ask, “Did a specify a timeframe to accomplish my goals?” 

Challenge Yourself

A crucial concept to consider is the idea of challenging yourself. In the beginning, be honest with yourself on what you believe are realistic actions, and try to push yourself a little outside of your comfort zone by setting goals just above what you believe is your level of ability. If you want to be great, you will have to do challenging things. Through our modern day culture, we have been told that there are quick fixes and easy routes to get big results but this is simply not the case in reality. There is no magic weight loss pill or scheme to get rich quick, you have to work hard and push yourself to be better than you were previously. The best way to ease your way into this mindset shift is by increasing the difficulty of your goals gradually overtime in your weekly action reflection session. In weight lifting, this concept is called “progressive overload” and relates to the idea of gradually increasing the number of repitiations or weight over time. The same philosophy can be applied to your other action based goals in competitive areas like sports and will lead to you becoming better overtime. This concept may not apply to every goal, and there are most definitely limitations to how challenging you want to make your goals before reaching an unsustainable limit, but try to apply this to as many of your goals as you can. If you find yourself consistently setting goals and coming up short, it is okay to lower their level of difficulty and reflect on what is causing for you to come up short. Remember, if you are setting a challenging goal and failing to fully reach it, you are most likely still accomplishing as much as you would have with your original nonchallenging goal. The key here is to not get down on yourself and abandon ship on your goals because you are not living up to them, which relates to the concept. Before continuing, ask yourself, “Will my goal challenge me?”

Practice Positivity 

When setting your goals, make sure that you are staying positive. Try to avoid setting goals that have any sort of negative cognition to them, such as “I won’t” or “Don’t”. If you set goals with these phrases, it will cause for you to focus on what could go wrong. Instead of these phrases, try to incorporate a positive outlook. If you are having trouble seeing how to apply this, lets relate it back to the weight loss example. An example of what not to do is, “I won’t eat cookies” or “Don’t buy ice cream next time at the grocery store.” While these might have good intentions, they remind you of areas in which you can fail. Instead, try to set goals like “I will pursue the healthy options of a banana or an apple when I am hungry” or “I will only purchase what is on my shopping list next time I got to the grocery store.” Hopefully these examples helped with applying this strategy to your goals. Again, ask yourself “Is my goal stated positively?”

Feedback for Future Success   

The last concept to I recommend considering is to get feedback, as a combination of self reflection and from others. Feedback has a lot of benefits. For one, it allows for you to see where you may have made a mistep and how to correct it going forward. In my opinion, this is best done through journaling and reflection on the previous weekly while you set your action goals for the following week. Another benefit of feedback is that it increases your confidence and motivation. When you see the progress you have made through self reflection, or share your goals with others, you feel a sense of confidence that you are taking the steps required to make meaningful change and feel the motivation to continue. Sharing your experience and goals with others, especially close friends and family members who you have good relations with, is damn near a necessity in the journey to achieving your goals. If you are struggling, others can help bring you up. If you are flying high, others can put more wind in your sails by cheering you on. The last question to ask yourself in this goal setting journey is, “Do I have the process and people around me to get regular feedback on my progress?” 

Addressing the Skepticism and Self Insecurities 

Looking over these strategies for setting goals, it is understandable if you are skeptical and insecure about implementing, but I promise you that if you give it your all it will pay off. Sometime you need to see it to believe it and there is no better way of doing that then to try it out for yourself. Remember, it is okay, and in some cases beneficial, to hold the result based goal in mind as it can serve as a motivator, but this action oriented approach is required if you are serious about achieving your end goal. If you think that this process of goal setting is difficult and time consuming, try to think of it from the perspective of how much time you will be saving by planning accordingly. If you take these recommendations and invest the initial time to set goals, and the recurring weekly process of reflection, during the week you will be left to just act instead of wasting time each day thinking about how you will tackle your vague result based goal. If you have tried to implement this action oriented approach in the past and have failed, I encourage you to read this summary of the book, “Atomic Habits,” where I break down some key concepts from the book that should help with sticking with good habits and breaking bad ones. If you are the type of person who does not like structure, I urge you to read the book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” where the author, Jonathan Haidt, talks in depth about the idea that human beings are more productive under some constraints. I am a firm believer that everyone can benefit from some structure, even if its a small amount. You can identify as a spontaneous person but still set up the small structure required to carry out your goals. So, what are you waiting for! Give this strategy a try. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

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