10 Reasons Resolutions Fail and Ways to Succeed

List of Resolutions

According to researcher Richard Weisman, 50% of people in the US create new year resolutions each year, and 88% of those resolutions fail. I’ve seen this in action in my gym. In the days and weeks following the holidays, there are so many people working out the huge venue actually seems crowded. By February 15, attendance settles back into the normal range and the crowd disappears.

Many people have good intentions and resolve to lose weight, improve their health, get six-pack abs and more as the old year ends and the new one begins. Unfortunately, most resolutions rarely last beyond the end of February. The following list shares the top reasons resolutions fail and also provides tips for achieving success in resolutions. If you would like more information about succeeding with new year resolutions, visit Revolving Not to Resolve: Success in New Year Resolutions.

Here are the top ten reasons many resolutions fail:

  1. Failing to Plan:  Many people make resolutions and set goals without really thinking about what is required to achieve and maintain their resolution. If you wish to change your behavior – which is essential to achieving any resolution – it is imperative to PLAN and create a strategy for success. Create a realistic plan (or find someone to help you create one) that will guide you to make the changes required to achieve your goals. Make sure your plan includes dates with specific milestone achievements. Also make sure each milestone is connected to a specific (non-food) reward. Celebrating your success should definitely be part of your plan! Having a detailed plan will help hold you accountable without overwhelming you and will also serve to motivate you. Trying to create change without having a road map to guide you is an exercise in futility. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap.
  2. Trying to Move Mountains Instead of Mole Hills:  It is my belief that the main reason people’s resolutions fail is that they resolve to make huge changes instead of trying to make several small changes. For example, if someone wishes to lose 50 pounds in a year, that is a realistic goal. However, making a new year resolution to “lose 50 pounds” is overwhelming and unrealistic. A more realistic goal would be to lose 4 pounds in January. The same standards apply to any change. Instead of stating your year’s goal in a single resolution, state January’s goal. Once you achieve January’s goal, celebrate your success and move on to February’s. People who set huge goals without breaking them into milestone achievements often become overwhelmed and quit. Avoid that by creating smaller goals that lead into your ultimate goal.
  3. Having Unrealistic Expectations:  Another of my firm beliefs is that unrealistic expectations are the largest cause of unhappiness in the world. The same applies to resolutions. Many people fail to achieve or maintain their resolution because they expect too much of themselves, expect to receive different benefits from the resolution than what they actually do, or because they expect the behavior of others to change as a result of their behavior change. Unrealistic expectations can often be avoided by creating a solid plan and by setting realistic goals, but it is also important to identify WHY you are making the resolution. Identify what you wish you achieve by making the resolution, and then very honestly think about whether or not those desires are realistic. Take time to do some soul searching and to identify if you are changing your own behavior because you hope it will change how people treat you or will change how they perceive you. You can only control your own behavior and cannot expect your change to affect how others treat you. Journaling can be very helpful as your begin any journey of change, but may be especially helpful as you make changes.
  4. Being Too Vague:  Many resolutions fail because they are not specific enough. Resolutions must be specific enough to motivate someone to create true change. For example, resolving to “Eat Better” is very noble, but if you don’t specify what that means, you are setting yourself up for failure. Resolutions need to be very specific and have specific, achievable outcomes in order to be successful.
  5. Making Too Many Resolutions:  Many people make multiple new year resolutions in an attempt to change many aspects of their life. This is usually unrealistic. Making even one change requires a lot of effort, discipline and dedication. Trying to make multiple changes is almost impossible to maintain long-term. If you have changes you wish to make, I recommend prioritizing them and focusing on them one at a time. As you focus on making one major change, be conscious of the other changes you wish to make and work to make better choices in those areas without distracting you from your focus goal.
  6. Trying to Do it Alone:  Changing habits is challenging. It is therefore very helpful to get help and seek accountability from others. You can join a support group, ask friends or family to hold you accountable, find a buddy who is trying to make the same change, or any other source of encouragement and accountability. If you are trying to make a significant change that requires guidance, hire a professional. The expense will be worth it when you achieve your goal (or to set more realistic goals) as a result of hiring someone who knows more about the subject than you do.
  7. Expecting Different Results from What You Receive: Another problem I see frequently is that people make new year resolutions, achieve them successfully, but do not receive the benefits they expected. I once had a client who broke down in tears while sharing that she had successfully stopped eating processed foods. She was depressed and angry because removing processed foods from her diet had not lowered her cholesterol. As we discussed things further, she shared that eliminating processed foods had resulted in higher energy levels, less PMS, weight loss, fewer breakouts and fewer mood swings. She had been focusing so narrowly on lowering her cholesterol that she failed to notice all the other benefits she gained. In addition, she had chosen the wrong solution to meet her goal. I created a plan for her to reduce her carbohydrate intake and exercise more. Her cholesterol dropped 100 points in three months. When making a resolution, be careful to specify a result that pertains to the change you made. Be ready to recognize unexpected benefits and celebrate them!
  8. Failing to Prepare:  Many resolutions fail because people create a resolution and plan for its success, but fail to make the necessary preparations to allow them to succeed. For example, resolving to stop eating ice cream would be very difficult if the freezer still overflows with it. Resolutions take effort, so begin preparing several weeks in advance to make things easier. If you are resolving to stop doing something, remove anything that will tempt you to do it. If you are resolving to start doing something, make sure you are surrounded by motivators. The pre-work should also include mental and emotional preparation. In the weeks preceding the change, take time to review your reasons for making the change, remind yourself of the benefits you wish you gain. If you find you are not excited by the change or that you wind up expecting to feel deprived, it may be wise to re-evaluate the change and to reconsider your reasons for making it. Being excited about making a change helps ensure success more than anything else.
  9. Setting a “Should” Goal instead of an “I Want to” Goal:  Many people make resolutions which they don’t really want to achieve. They resolve to start exercising or stop smoking simply because they think they should, not because they truly want to. It is very difficult to maintain change when you’re doing it because you should and not because you want to. Most “should” resolutions are valid and would have definite benefit, but maintaining the change will be impossible without identifying reasons that make you want to change. If you cannot turn a “should” goal into one you wish to achieve, leave it alone until you’re ready to achieve it.
  10. Making a Resolution for Someone Else:  Similar to the reasons shared in #9, it is difficult to achieve any resolution made simply because you know someone else wants you to. Maintaining change requires motivation fueled by desire. Doing something for someone else may not provide enough motivation, especially if you are making a change you don’t really want to make. Making a resolution for someone else also signals a failure to communicate in the relationship. If you feel you must change to please someone else, it may be time to openly discuss your feelings and theirs. Honesty is always the best policy. Discuss the situation openly and honestly, then try to reach a compromise that works for both of you.

 Here are my top seven ways to succeed when making a resolution:

  1. Resolve to make changes that are “bite sized” and realistic. After you achieve the first one, move on to the next stage.
  2. Reward yourself for success. Celebrate each milestone you achieve! Find rewards which are not food-based and which do not counteract the change you just made. 
  3. Make a list of why you want to make the change and how you will achieve it. Consider the emotional motivators that are driving your desire to change.Hope is not a Strategy for Resolutions
  4. Create a plan for starting and maintaining the change, and then complete any preparations needed to aid your success.
  5. Make a list of everything you hope to gain from making the change you resolve to, and honestly evaluate whether the benefits you listed are realistic. If you listed items that pertain to how people will treat you or view you after you make the change, recognize that you cannot expect to change the behavior or thoughts of others by changing your behavior. Make sure your list contains items that are measurable and which only pertain to yourself.
  6. Get help. Join or start a support group, ask friends and family to support and encourage you, or hire a professional. Do whatever it takes to ensure you won’t feel alone in making the change and that you will receive both accountability and encouragement along the way.
  7. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. No one is perfect. When (not if) you slip, take time to learn from it and move on without looking back. Try to identify why you failed, and then create a plan to circumvent the failure in the future. Beating yourself up, heaping shame yourself and feeling guilty gains nothing. Don’t let a minor slip become a huge negative. Turn it into a positive!

 Are you making a resolution this year? What tips can you share for succeeding with resolutions? 


 All graphics courtesy of One Way Stock.

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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2 Responses to 10 Reasons Resolutions Fail and Ways to Succeed

  1. […] I am a believer in careful planning. (For more information on making successful resolutions, see Ten Reasons Resolutions Fail and Ways to Succeed.) The following tips can be applied any time of year, but seem particularly appropriate right now. […]

  2. […] I am a believer in careful planning. (For more information on making successful resolutions, see Ten Reasons Resolutions Fail and Ways to Succeed.) The following tips can be applied any time of year, but seem particularly appropriate right now. […]

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