Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail (and What You Can Do About It)
Dec 27, 2018 10:39AM
By Kristen Beckman
On January 1, about half of all Americans will embark on a familiar journey. Fresh from a month of gatherings with friends and family over decadent meals, spending (and often overspending) on gifts, and other excesses sanctioned by the specialness of the holiday season, many Americans will look to the upcoming new year as an opportunity to make changes in their lives. But studies show that most of these New Year’s resolutions will fail by the time February 1 rolls around, not because of a lack of earnestness or effort, but because lasting habit change is hard.
Why do New Year’s Resolutions largely fail? Experts have studied this phenomenon and offer a variety of reasons why our hopeful goals for ourselves tend not to survive until Spring. People often set too many resolutions, don’t have the necessary support system in place to achieve success, or have false expectations about how hard they will have to work to achieve their goals.
Dr. Jessica Walker, a family medicine physician at UCHealth Family Medicine Clinic in Longmont, said the two most common resolutions her patients discuss are weight loss and smoking cessation. She offered a few reasons why resolutions tend to fail and how you can approach goal-setting differently to maximize your likelihood of success.
Mistake #1: Setting Unattainable Goals
When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, millions of Americans will earnestly expect that they will wake up the next morning with the strength and motivation to make big changes. Those wanting to lose weight might envision themselves eating lean, healthy food at every meal and hitting the gym every single day. When they inevitably fail to keep those goals, they often feel like they have failed and give up completely.
“January 1st seems to be rather intimidating to many patients who want to make a change,” said Dr. Walker. She encourages patients to set more focused goals over smaller chunks of time, such as drinking more water in January, trying to sleep eight hours a night in February, cutting out processed sugars in March. “Over time, these changes make you feel better, so you are more inclined to adopt them as part of your lifestyle instead of something that is not sustainable like most diets are,” she said.
Mistake #2: Focusing on Quantity Rather than Quality
It’s only natural when setting goals to try to quantify what it means to be successful, whether it is saving a certain amount of money or losing a certain number of pounds by a certain date. But setting targets like this can create an all-or-nothing mindset that leads people to abandon their resolutions. Focusing instead on changing behaviors can lead to success.
“I always try to steer patients away from the ‘I want to lose 20 pounds by Spring Break’ mindset,” said Dr. Walker. “Resolutions like that are based solely on weight loss and often unattainable when they think about how much weight they would have to lose each month to meet that goal.”
Dr. Walker said exercise is another area where people tend to focus on quantity rather than quality, expecting themselves to work out daily at a gym, for example. But 10-minute walks three times a day can add up to just as much benefit as a daily gym workout.
“Those short spurts of exercise do add up when it comes to our health,” Dr. Walker said. “It is confidence-boosting for most patients to know that their exercise bank is cumulative.”
Mistake #3: Not Rewarding Yourself for Success
Often people focus on negatives, beating themselves up for small failures while ignoring small successes. When making habit changes, it is important not only to see the positive progress you have made but also to reward it.
“Behavioral research shows us that humans like rewards, not punishment,” said Dr. Walker, who noted smoking cessation campaigns that used to depict the negative health effects of smoking were not very effective. Anecdotal stories from many of her patients, however, suggest that those who successfully quit smoking were motivated by being able to save money they used to spend on cigarettes and instead buy something for themselves as a reward and motivation to keep going.
“I try to encourage patients to not beat themselves up about small slip ups or past failures,” said Dr. Walker. “Those who believe in themselves, have a plan for how they aim to accomplish their goal and reward their small successes along the way are often the most successful at changing their behavior long term.”
THE TOP NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR 2018:
1) Eat Healthier
2) Get more exercise
3) Save money
4) Focus on self-care
5) Read more
6) Make new friends
7) Learn a new skill
8) Get a new job
9) Take up a new hobby