6 Reasons Your New Year’s Resolutions Fail

UPDATED: April 11, 2020
PUBLISHED: December 30, 2016
new year resolution

Exercise more. Eat healthier. Drink less alcohol. Drink more water. Quit smoking. Get more sleep. Get up earlier. Write a book. Be more grateful. Check email less. Plan a holiday.

If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution only to have it fall by the wayside by Valentine’s Day, you’re in good company. Many surveys have found that fewer than half of people who make resolutions actually stick with them.

It’s not that resolutions are useless. Far from it. In fact, research has found that people who set explicit goals are 10 times more likely to achieve them.

Related: 10 Tips for Setting Your Greatest Goals

The problem is the way we make them—both what we resolve to do and how we do it. There’s a hard science to success when it comes to achieving goals, making life changes and cultivating new habits—on January 1st or any other time of the year.

So rather than give you a long to-do list, here are the top six resolution mistakes—a don’t-do list of resolution killers. Avoiding them will set you up to move beyond old habits and finally make the changes and pursue the goals that set you on course to creating your best life.

Mistake #1: Your resolution lacks meaning.

For a resolution to stick, it has to be aligned with your core values and hold deep personal meaning that you connect with on a deep emotional level. Most people want to look better or be wealthier, but your resolutions have to go beyond superficial desires and connect with what truly matters most to you.

Solution #1: Clarify your big why. 

Whatever you resolve to do, get really clear about why it matters and the personal price you’ll pay if you put it off any longer. If your resolution doesn’t come with a big burning why, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to keep your resolve when temptation strikes.

Mistake #2: Your resolution is not specific.

Resolutions such as be happier, have more life balance or get in shape are doomed to fail because they lack specificity. If you’re currently a couch potato who eats a tub of ice cream every night after you deliver pizza, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but simply eating half a tub of ice cream and walking an extra 100 steps a day won’t do the trick.

Solution #2: Get specific.

Precisely what are you committed to? The more specific you are, the more likely you will be able to succeed. So describe your goals and resolutions in ways that allow you to track your progress and measure your success.

Related: 4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals

For example:

  • If you want to build a more intimate relationship with your partner, schedule at least one date night per month.
  • If you want to up your game on the fitness front, set a target body fat and schedule how many workouts you’ll do each week.
  • If you want more balance, decide exactly what needs to be added to or subtracted from your life to achieve it.

Mistake #3: You’re going it alone.

Change is hard. Achieving big goals is hard. Dealing with rejection and disappointment is hard. Staying motivated is hard. If it were easy, we’d all be kicking big goals and blazing new trails. Surround yourself with people who believe in your ability to succeed and are enrolled in helping you do what it takes. Even if that sometimes requires a gentle nudge or a little tough love.

Solution #3: Create an environment of accountability.

Create an environment of accountability that makes it hard for you not to do what you’re committed to.

For example:

  • Tell people what you’re up to; enlist their support to hold you accountable. Better still set up regular times to check in and give them permission to call you out when you’re falling back into old habits.
  • Go public: Post your resolution to Facebook; start writing a blog about your journey.
  • Hire a coach or trainer (and pay for six months upfront!).

Mistake #4: Your resolution gets lost in the clutter.

Just as your social environment impacts your resolve, so does your physical environment. Physical clutter = mental clutter = inability to focus.

Solution #4: Clean up your base camp before setting out.

If you want to make some changes, start by cleaning up your immediate environment. Get rid of anything that’s keeping you from being at the top of your game.

For example:

  • Empty your inbox and set up a better email filing system.
  • Pay your debts and clean up any broken promises.
  • Clean out your closet, your pantry, your office, your home and anywhere else where “stuff” is cluttering up your life. It will create mental and emotional space you need to focus on what you want most and provide a constant reminder that you’re serious about change.
  • If there are people in your life that clutter your mental and emotional space, address them directly and set whatever boundaries you know you will need up front.

Mistake #5: Your attention is scattered.

Setting big goals that excite the socks of you is important. As Richard Branson said to me last year on Necker Island, “If your goals aren’t scaring you, they’re too small.” That said, trying to do too many things at once can scatter your thinking and leave you bouncing around like Tigger on Red Bull, not quite sure which direction you’re going.

Related: Why ‘This’ Before ‘That’ Matters If You Want to Achieve Your Goals

Solution #5: Narrow your focus.

Start with one major undertaking come January 1st. Then break that goal down into small bite-size steps. Small steps, strong start, clear focus!

Mistake #6: You assume your motivation won’t wane. 

Not even Tony Robbins is on fire every single moment of every single day. It’s part and parcel of the human condition. So although it’s easy to get caught up in your initial wave of enthusiasm as you imagine yourself looking svelte on the beach next summer or banking that first million, it’s also easy to come crashing down when your initial efforts don’t produce immediate and spectacular results.

Solution #6: Plan ahead for low-mo days.

So you pressed the snooze button and didn’t get to the gym like you’d planned. How about five minutes of stretching? When it comes to slipping up and tripping up, you are in very good company (my own included!). Be a little kinder to yourself when your motivation wanes (because it will!). When it does, don’t beat yourself up, but embrace your humanness and then make a conscious choice to shift your focus back on to what you do want (not on what you don’t!). Channel your attention on the learning process itself and then pick yourself back up and declare, “Onward and upward.”

In the end, your greatest growth doesn’t come from keeping your resolutions and achieving your goals. It comes from who you need to become as you work toward being the person you aspire to be—more disciplined, brave, persistent, patient… the list is long.

Most of all, don’t make your failings mean more than they do. Reflect on the lessons they hold, adjust accordingly and then tap your inner John Wayne and get back in the saddle. As I wrote in Brave, growth and comfort can’t ride the same horse.

Choose growth in the new year… just be smart about it.

Related: 3 Ways to Set the Perfect New Year’s Resolution

Best-selling author and mother of four, Margie Warrell is on a mission to embolden people to live and lead more bravely. Margie’s gained hard-won wisdom on building courage since her childhood in rural Australia. Her insights have also been shaped by her work with trailblazing leaders from Richard Branson to Bill Marriott and organizations from NASA to Google. Founder of Global Courage, host of the Live Brave podcast and advisory board member of Forbes Business School, Margie’s just released her fifth book You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself. She’d love to support you at www.margiewarrell.com .