According to a recent article in Time Magazine, that’s the success rate of New Year’s resolutions.
Pretty dismal, huh?
Yet despite these odds, almost half of us will still make a resolution to change in some way for the better in this new year.
Two years ago I made a resolution to eat out less and cook more. I imagined myself happily cooking organic meals, with a pantry and refrigerator stocked full of delicious ingredients. I had plenty of time to cook these meals and I was dressed very stylishly, too 🙂
The idealized vision of my life actually happened during the first week of January. But midway into the second week, my real life crept back in again. I worked late, and missed a grocery store visit, which meant there were no delicious ingredients…..just an empty pantry and fridge.
So I caved and got carryout. And then I felt like a failure.
I felt as if I might as well give up on the whole resolution. After all, if I couldn’t even make it two weeks without a slip up, how could I make it the whole year?
I know from talking with others (and seeing the big ol’ 8% up there) that I am not alone in struggling to keep my resolutions.
While I love the concept of wiping the slate clean and starting anew in the new year, there are a number of things that block us from achieving our resolutions and living a life of awesomeness.
I have identified at least 6 barriers to success that blocked me from keeping my New Year’s resolution 2 years ago.
Here are the barriers along with concrete action items to help you become one of the 8% of people who actually succeed with their new year’s resolution.
6 Barriers To Success With Your New Year’s Resolutions (And What To Do About Them):
Barrier # 1: Your resolution is a should, rather than a want.
This may seem fairly obvious, but when you are making a resolution, the end result must be something you really, really want to happen. Too often, when we go about making changes in our lives, we pick things that other people tell us we “should” do, rather than something that is personally meaningful.
For me, my cooking resolution started as a should. I thought I really should cook more because it was healthier, more cost-effective, blah, blah, blah.
I found myself cheating a lot during the first few weeks because what I was planning to cook was way less exciting than a carryout meal.
I decided that I was going to need to spend a little more money on my groceries in order to make meals I actually wanted to eat. And I needed meals that could be completed in 30 minutes or less in order for them to compete in the “time efficient” category, too.
Implementing a new habit or behavior is hard. And if your resolution is not connected to something you really want, something that makes you feel really good, you are going to bail before MLK day comes around.
Suggested Exercise: Close your eyes and think about what you want to accomplish with your resolution. Do you love how you feel when you think about making your resolution happen?
If so, write a letter from your future self (who has accomplished the resolution) to the you who is just starting out to make the resolution happen. Write to your current self how you feel, how your life has changed, and how glad you are that you were persistent enough to make a change.
And if you don’t feel completely awesome when you think about accomplishing your resolution, then consider picking something else as your goal.
Barrier # 2: Your resolution is not well-defined.
My cooking resolution was not specific at all. “Eat out less and cook more at home” could have meant cook one more meal at home or it could heave meant cook all meals at home (not likely).
I have trouble getting specific with my goals when I either don’t exactly know what I want, or when I am afraid what I want might not happen.
Making a specific goal allows you to know exactly what you need to do in order to succeed. And when you know what to do to succeed, there is a much greater likelihood it will happen.
Suggested Exercise: The acronym “SMART” is an excellent tool for putting specific parameters around your goal. There are a several different possibilities for word-choice with this acronym…I have chosen the ones I like best, but a google search will yield other options as well.
S = Specific
State here exactly what you want, i.e. “I want a new job by May” or I want to lose 20 lbs.
M = Meaningful
As discussed in #1, this should be something that YOU REALLY WANT and changes your life in positive ways. Period.
A = Attainable
This one can be tricky. Because when most of us decide it’s time for a change, we want big change and we want it now. So we tend to make big goals like “I want to lose 50 lbs by next month” or “I want to double my income in 3 months.”
It is in our nature to be somewhat impatient. We tend to be put off by things that take a long time. And instead of settling in and doing them, we end up not doing anything at all. So in the interest of making progress, I suggest picking a goal that seems HIGHLY attainable, something that seems like an almost sure-thing. Because you can always pick another goal if you achieve this first one prior to December 2014.
This means something that is practical and helpful in your life right now, not 5 years from now. This should also be more of a “need” than a “nice to have”.
T= Time bound
Setting a time goal for your goal makes it more real. Tasks in your life are always more likely to get done when they have a deadline attached to them.
Barrier # 3: You don’t believe you can do it.
Belief is one of the most powerful forces around. It has transformed many “impossible” tasks into reality.
And I believe that the #1 reason most of us fail to achieve our goals is not because of the obstacles we faced were insurmountable…..it’s because we stopped believing it was possible to overcome the obstacles.
With my “cook more” resolution, I stopped believing I could do it after 3 or 4 weeks. So I told myself it wasn’t possible because I was too busy. And I quit.
A good example of how belief can positively transform behavior is the story of Southwest Airlines. When Southwest started out, the executive leadership believed that in order to make their airline successful, they had to “turn around” a plane (unload passengers from one flight and board passengers for the next flight) in 20 minutes. This was considered impossible, and many, many people told them it couldn’t be done, including some employees who didn’t end up staying with the company.
Ultimately, they found people who believed so strongly that the 20 minute time frame was possible, that they changed the way boarding was normally done to make it happen.
As my friend Mark Tate says, if you really want something, you will “find a way or make one.”
Suggested Exercise: Write down why you believe your resolution is possible on an index card. Post it so it is visible to you every day. When you are tempted to cave your resolution, re-read your “Belief Statement”.
Barrier # 4: You forget to “build an on ramp” to your goal.
New Year’s resolutions are most often statements about a new skill or habit we would like to develop. Unfortunately, most of us think about starting our resolutions from where we want to be (ie- getting up at 5:30 every morning to go to the gym) instead of where we are (ie- hitting snooze on the alarm until 7:00).
I made things much tougher on myself with my “cook more” resolution by failing to acknowledge where I was really starting from. I was eating out for 8-10 meals a week, and wanted to cut back to eating out for 4 meals a week immediately.
Starting to implement a resolution requires changing some part of our lives to accomplish our goal. The change in your life needs to occur first, before any additional behavior or habit is added. This is what some people call “building an on-ramp.”
For example, building an on-ramp for my cook more resolution could have been setting a specific time each week to go to the grocery store. Or it could have been gathering healthy and delicious recipes that only required 30 minutes of cooking time.
Building an on-ramp (or on-ramps) is one of the most simple but significant things you can do to make your resolution successful.
Suggested Exercise: Write down what your on-ramp is for your resolution. Then mark in your calendar when you will start implementing your on-ramp.
Barrier # 5: You believe that you only get one chance to get your resolution right.
As I mentioned with my cook more resolution, I often get a picture in my mind of how I think things are going to go when I make my yearly resolution. And most often times, the vision I conjure up is an idealized version of reality, where I follow through with my resolution with ease, because this idealized vision doesn’t have any of the usual problems and obstacles that created the need for the resolution in the first place.
What I have failed in the past to realize is that a resolution is a practice, not a one-strike-and-you’re-out type of proposition.
Resolutions should be important enough to continue with even if you slip up from time to time.
Suggested Exercise: Keep track of the days that go well, as well as the days when you falter with your resolution. Give yourself a reward on the weeks you succeed with your resolution on at least 5 out of 7 days.
Barrier # 6: You don’t have accountability.
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to tolerate a boring lecture, torturous spin class or other painful situation when you are with a friend?
In 2009, researchers from the University of Oxford’s Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology found that rowers from the Oxford Boat Race squat were able to handle about twice as much pain when they trained together vs. when they trained on their own.
Simply put, we push ourselves more with the presence and support of others than we do when we are by ourselves. I would have had a greater chance of success if I had asked a friend to check in with me about my “cook more” resolution and to hold me accountable to keeping it.
Navigating the ups and downs of a new resolution can be hard. Even painful at times. Finding someone who shares the same desire for change will significantly increase your chances of success.
Suggested Exercise: Pick an accountability partner, who will support you in the pursuit of your resolution. It doesn’t have to be someone with the same goal, but if it is, all the better.
To summarize, here are some of the more common barriers to achieving success with your new year’s resolution:
1. Your resolution is a should, rather than a want.
2. Your resolution is not well-defined.
3. You don’t believe you can do it.
4. You forget to “build an on-ramp” to your goal.
5. You believe you only get one chance to get your resolution right.
6. You don’t have accountability.
I would love to hear if you have made a resolution for this year. And if so, is there a specific barrier you will need to focus on busting through? Please share your thoughts below. And if you like this post, please pass it on to a friend!
PS- If you are inspired to start making awesome changes in your life this year, and you live in Austin, check out my talk on January 23rd entitled “Unstuck and Unstoppable: 7 Steps To Start Living Your Dreams in 2014!” Click here for all the details.