With the new year comes the opportunity for a fresh start. That’s why about half of all Americans set New Year’s resolutions every January, according to a study from the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
But that same study found that only 8% of people actually achieve their resolutions. Perhaps that’s because most of set out to make unrealistic or unachievable changes.
“This is the time of year people like to hit the reset button,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humor Advantage.” “So many people consider New Year’s the Super Bowl of goal-setting. But ask any fitness club owner about their membership stats come February, and it’s clear that most people turn their Super Bowl-sized ambitions into ice cream bowls.”
He says there are a variety of reasons people set unrealistic expectations, “ranging from simply being overly optimistic, to peer and societal pressure, to a significant life event — such as a divorce or job loss — that triggers a desire to overreach,” Kerr explains.
He warns against putting all your goals into one big annual basket. “A far more successful strategy is trying to make small changes throughout the year.” He also suggests you focus on one or two priorities, rather than a long list of resolutions.
“But even if you just set one resolution, don’t set the bar too high. If you do, you’ll end up discouraged — so much so that you risk losing progress and sliding backwards in some cases. One of the reasons gym memberships die off come February is that many people don’t see enough progress by the end of January, so they lose all momentum.”
Here are nine signs you won’t be able to achieve your New Year’s resolution:
The first obvious red flag is when you simply dust off last year‘s list and replace the date at the top, says Kerr. “If it‘s a goal you‘ve had year in and year out, then you need to understand that you aren‘t likely to achieve it unless you change your approach — substantially.”
If you aren‘t changing the triggers, hiring a coach or support team, getting the tools or training you need to make the changes you want to make, then you need to ask yourself, “Why is this year going to be the year I finally do X?“
“How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change,” Kerr says. “It‘s an old joke that reminds us of the old adage that real change must come from within. So another sign your New Year‘s resolution may start with a bang but fizzle with a whimper is that you are trying to change for the wrong reasons.”
If you are setting a resolution based on some perception of what society expects of you, what your spouse wants, or because of that internal voice replaying your mother‘s voice from when you were a child, it will be very hard to achieve. “External motivational triggers can work in the short term, but for permanent, long lasting change, the evidence is clear: Intrinsic motivators such as pride are more powerful and more effective triggers.”
“When the resolutions are so vague that you have no way of measuring them or getting excited about them, you probably won’t achieve them” says Kerr. Vague goals lead to vague strategies.
“I‘m going to lose some weight“ or “I‘m going to stop working so hard“ are simply too wishy-washy, and thus too easy to abandon, he explains.
“Set specific, achievable, small targets that you know you can achieve and that will help you build momentum.”
If you‘re not willing to change any of the triggers or habits that accompany or lead to the behavior you want to change, it’s never going to happen.
“If you want to quit smoking, for example, but you still plan to hang out at a smoke-filled bar with your regular smoking pals, it‘s going to be extremely difficult to kick that habit in the butt without changing some accompanying behaviors.”
“Having no plan of attack means you may not even get started out of the gate,” Kerr warns. “It means you‘re relying on the Resolution Fairy to somehow magically make things happen for you.”
To have any hope of success, you need to put in the time to map out how you are getting from point A to point B, breaking it down into as many steps as necessary in order for you to move confidently forward and make progress, he says.
“Research supports the power of having an accountability partner, mentor, coach, or support team that can offer you encouragement, advice, and yes, real accountability,” Kerr explains. “Trying to do it all alone makes it that much easier to abandon ship when the seas get rough because no one even had to know what you were trying to achieve in the first place.”
This might sound counterintuitive, but successful goal-achievers often focus on the positive benefits — the end result of why they are making the changes they want to make — rather than the goal itself.
“So rather than focusing on the changes you‘ll need to make to shed those 20 pounds, focus instead on how much better you‘ll feel and look, and how much healthier you‘ll be, once you‘ve achieved your weight-loss goal.”
If you are dreading tackling the resolution and looking at it as a tedious “chore“ then chances are you‘re not going to get to where you want to be.
“Focus instead on ways that you can enjoy the journey and the entire process,” Kerr suggests. “Make it a team effort, celebrate the small milestones along the way, and look for ways to make every step of the journey fun.”
“Resolutions are about making permanent changes in your life — so it‘s far too easy to slip into old habits if you view it as a one-off goal that you can check off on your to-do list come the end of December,” he says.
You need to commit to making permanent changes in your life. “This actually relieves some of the pressure of unrealistic expectations because you don‘t have to try and bite off everything in the first few months of the year — instead you can commit to the small, incremental, realistic changes that will get you were you want to be forever more.”