New Year's Resolutions: Why We Make Them, Fail & How to Succeed
It's not all about willpower
Now that the gift-giving of Christmas has ceased, it's time to begin focusing on you again: You've overeaten your last meal! You've smoked your last cigarette! You'll sulk and scowl no more! It's time to make that New Year's Resolution that you, well, according to a recent survey, likely won't keep.
The University of Scranton found that only 8 percent of people are successful in achieving their resolutions; 24 percent admittedly fail; and the majority, at 49 percent, have "infrequent" success.
"In reality, we make resolutions to live up to other people's expectations," said Luna. "They stem from a desire to impress others, and that's why it's so hard to stick to them. We want to lose those last 10 pounds, not because we are pained by the extra padding, but because we want to turn more heads and get more attention. But is our life over by not losing the weight? No, not really. It's not a question of willpower, it's a question of 'want' and 'why' power."
Lavinia Rodriguez, clinical psychologist and weight management expert, agrees that it has "little to do with willpower," and adds that it's our poor (and unrealistic) planning that has us feeling like failures.
"We fail because we set goals that are too big and it becomes overwhelming, so we don't even start," said Rodriguez. "And because we believe that setting the resolution alone is what will make it happen, instead of accepting that hard work is the main ingredient of success. And because we don't know where to start to make the change happen, we use ineffective methods, and we are expecting perfection instead of realizing that change happens one step at a time and there can be setbacks along the way."
According to the University of Scranton study, the top 10 New Year's resolutions this year were (in order): to lose weight, get organized, spend less and save more, "enjoy life to the fullest," stay fit and healthy, learn something exciting, quit smoking, help others in their dreams, fall in love, and spend more time with family.
The top pick however, making up 38 percent of resolutions, are weight-related and always seem to be the most difficult to fulfill. Maggie Reyes, life coach and relationship specialist, has an inkling as to why.
"All we do is say one sentence, 'I will lose weight,' without giving any additional thought or planning to the how and why to make that happen. Being healthy, while noble, is not a juicy goal by itself, but getting to play with your kids, go on a run with your husband, or hike a mountain on vacation is much more inspiring. Keep that on a Post-it as a reminder of why you are doing what you are doing every day."
Latasha Kennedy adds, "Take the idea of losing weight and break it down: How much weight do you want to lose overall? And this week? How often, and when, will you exercise? What, and when, will you eat? Will you go to a gym or workout at home? This way you can avoid joining a gym on January 1 and being off the wagon by Valentine's Day."
Indeed, while 64 percent of people maintained their resolution thorough the first week, that number dropped to 46 percent by the sixth month. Additionally, the survey reveals that those in their 20s were more likely to achieve their resolution each year (39 percent) than those over the age of 50 (14 percent).
So what can be done? Reyes advises you be smart about making resolutions—literally.
"By now, almost everyone has heard of 'SMART' goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound," said Reyes. "My favorite variation is for the 'M.' Is your goal both measurable—meaning you can quantify it as in, 'I ran 20 miles, I made $2,000, I left work an hour early'—and motivational as in, does the goal inspire or excite you? I would also add a 'W': write down your goals. It turns them into something tangible instead of a daydream. And it's easier to edit, adjust, and note your progress on them. You can define and re-define success at any time."
Additionally, experts have agreed that revealing your resolution to a trustworthy person will provide you a greater chance of achieving it because a personal cheerleader can hold you accountable, provide motivation, and even join you in your attempt.
Still, Luna maintains that aiming for success shouldn't happen once a year. "Most successful people don't bother to set 'New Year's resolutions' because they are consistently working on their goals," she said. "They may set new objectives, but there's nothing to 'resolve' because they are already in their game."