Why Do We Fail at Keeping our Resolutions?

January 12, 2015

Each year at New Years, many people make resolutions; they resolve to change the things in their lives they are unhappy with.


It’s no secret that, more often than not, we fail at keeping our resolutions. Google “keeping resolutions,” and you’ll see an oft-cited statistic that only 8% of people are able to be successful with the resolutions each year. And you’ll find plenty of great advice on keeping your resolutions, such as having a clear, specific, and realistic goal, making things fun, and making yourself accountable to others.


You’ll also likely even find this article by Lucie Lincoln, which makes a great argument why you should ditch resolutions altogether. I particularly agree with Lincoln’s point about having the right motivation to change:


To succeed we need to stop the desperation, stop the guilt, and stop the shame and fear that we are not good enough. All of these thoughts and emotions only eradicate our positivity and dampen our energy, and we need both of these things to make successful change. When we try to make changes based on the idea that without the changes we aren't good enough, it directly sets us against ourselves. Instead we need to see any changes we make as cherries on the top of an already delicious cake. We have to stop needing the change, and instead adopt new habits because we deserve to feel great. This idea of deserving is a powerful way to stick to change as we start to live up to the expectations we hold for ourselves.


By creating resolutions based on feelings that we aren’t good enough validates those beliefs. Rather, I like to ask my clients, “What in your life is working for you? What isn’t?” Keep what is working for you, and let’s work on changing the behaviors that aren’t. Lincoln also points to focusing on shifting fundamental habits or behaviors rather than trying to keep lofty resolutions (I also write about changing habits here).


This past New Year’s Eve, rather than resolutions, my wife and I sat down and created some intentions for the next year. We felt the word “intentions” was a better fit for us because it seemed to acknowledge that we wanted to change behaviors, or habits, and it also better acknowledged that change is not always easy and often takes time and practice. But by keeping the intention, we wouldn’t lose sight of introducing new behaviors that we believe will increase the enjoyment in our lives.