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Why New Year's Resolutions Fail and How You Can Achieve Yours

New Year Resolution

The New Year has started and so it seems that it is often the perfect time to turn a new page in your life, which is why so many people make their list of goals and other New Year's resolutions. This is a favorite time of year for me for that reason. But why do the majority of resolutions fail?

The Top 5 resolutions for going into the New Year of January, 2017 were:

  • Lose weight

  • Get fit

  • Eat healthy food

  • Save money

  • Manage stress

One cannot help but notice that the top three resolutions are all variations on the same general theme of improving one’s health, and usually are included in most people’s resolutions. That is of course if we count those who take the first step of being serious regarding their accomplishment -- writing them down.

Worth noticing is that losing weight and getting healthy in general also are some of the most easily and commonly broken resolutions, and goals in general. In fact, in considering all resolutions, one well-referenced study from the University of Scranton suggests that only 8% of us will actually achieve our resolution goals. That statistic, stated more candidly, also means that 92% will simple fail.

How could it be that people who are so intent about goals, and the accomplishment of such worthy resolutions are for the most part, not going to achieve them? Is it pure naïveté, or not being committed enough, or lack of follow through, or perhaps just lack of support? What is it that is responsible for most of us not hitting the targets we set for ourselves?

Yet year after year we list them. Lose weight. Eat healthy. Stop smoking. Eliminate debt. Start a real savings program. Finish that degree. Get a better job. Start the business. Over and over again we are resolute about new achievements and change, and for the most part our goals end up in a pile of the other things that add to the already endless list of evidence that invalidates us – and leaves us worse for it. What is that sabotage all about?

The actual clinical psychological term for this cycle of repeated failed attempts to change ourselves has become known by behavioral psychologists as the “False Hope Syndrome”. This has become a “Chinese finger trap” of the mind and can be a common snare of anyone who dares to dream about change and getting ahead.

Think about that for a moment - resolving to change, followed by trying and failing, followed by a new set of resolutions or other goals that starts the cycle over again. This behavior is now so epidemic and acknowledged that the National Institute of Health has defined it as a psychological condition. Congratulations, right?

For decades now researchers have looked at success rates of peoples' resolutions. Generally speaking, the first two weeks after committing to a goal usually go along well. We’re encouraged by our new three day a week workout or our better choices in eating or something else that confirms we’re on track. But by the 4th to 8th week, people are backsliding and by the following December, most people are back where they started, often even further behind. Why do so many people not keep their resolutions? Are people just weak-willed or lazy? No, and there is a better approach.

One well-known researcher, John Norcross and his colleagues, published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. They said that approximately 50% of the population makes resolutions each New Year, with the common being weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better money management and the elimination of debt.

A Resolution Can Be Defined as the Process of Trying to Find a Solution to a Conflict. We must first seek to understand this cycle better if we are going to change it. Breaking this self-inflicted harmful trend and establishing new patterns of wellness and achievement are one of the main practices of all psychologists and life coaches.

The conflict of which I speak is the space in between where you are regarding any point of interest, and where you feel like you should be, would like to be, or are otherwise conflicted about. The goal, or in the case of New Year’s goals, often referred to as resolutions, are the attempts that you and I might make to solve the problem of being absent the goal. The work in between, which probably and in many cases would almost certainly land our mark perfectly, is what gets in the way.

This false hope syndrome, often means the resolution is significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with the internal view of the person attempting to achieve the goal. When you make positive plans, details, affirmations and the like about yourself that you don't really believe, the efforts fail, and this can be very damaging to your self-esteem leaving you worse for it.

One of the most inescapable aspects of failed resolutions that I have studied and coached individuals through for decades, lies what is the cause and effect relationship that we are all familiar with. The masses think, and are lead to believe by all means of effective marketing and advertising, that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or drive a certain car, your entire life will change. Because of our current environment of excess television, reality shows, and the additional senseless pressures applied by social media expectations, it is unavoidable. The damage is done when the goal is abandoned, as you will inevitably get discouraged and then revert back to the old behaviors you were trying to escape.

The good news is that the achievement of resolutions can and does work all the time. But it is more complex than simply writing down a list of five or ten objectives you wish to accomplish at any time, including for the New Year.

To be successful, you must commit to essentially changing behaviors and in order to do that, you have to change your thinking and "rewire" your brain. Every professional has their list of structure and would advise you to put into place. Goals, like all serious and worthy objectives are not a one size fits all plan.

People Achieving Their Goals

10 Steps to Achievement In my own practice as a psychologist and coach, I generally begin with a plan that incorporates the following 10 Steps to Achievement at a minimum to support your success:

  1. You must absolutely set realistic goals

  2. You must have a very specific plan

  3. You must anticipate and list predictable obstacles, because they are coming

  4. You must know your strategy for the obstacles when they appear to defeat you

  5. You must have a support system, which may or may not include others

  6. You must have a game plan to refer back to in the form of a “display”

  7. You must have an exact “what by when” to measure your goals

  8. You must set, and acknowledge accomplishments along the way

  9. You must have an immediate way to declare a break down, and a plan to get back into action

  10. You must control your expectation level and be willing to adjust it as reality occurs

Regarding a work product, perhaps there is something more important than facilitating people a way to achieve worthy goals, but I for one, do not know what it is. Millions agree. This has given rise to not only books of all kinds, but courses, and is responsible for life-coaching being one of the fastest growing new careers in the nation. As a psychologist, let me assure you that even the Fortune 500 companies are spending millions of dollars on seminars from outside companies as well as hiring now for inside success coaches. Colleges from Ivy League to seminaries are now teaching and have advanced academic paths to become a coach.

Behavioral scientists and psychotherapists are now quite serious about documenting the changes that occur within the brain while processing certain thought patterns. They have proven through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories. Such thought behavior becomes the default basis for your behavior when you're faced with a choice or decision. So trying to change that default thinking by "not trying to do it," works against you and in effect just strengthens it. Real and lasting change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.

So, if you're one of the millions of people who are going to make New Year's resolutions, here is my best advice for Goal Achievement 101: Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment by moment, rather than living in the past or future.

And finally, don't take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip up, but don't let the slip hold you back from working at your goal. Happy New Year!

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