Willpower Isn't Enough: Why Resolutions Are Doomed to Fail
Disclaimer: This blog post contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission to fund our wine drinking habit if you use these links to make a purchase. You will not be charged extra, and you’ll keep us supplied in wine and ready to share more. It’s a win for everyone, really.
It’s the start of another new year. A time when just about everyone is doing some level of reflecting on the prior year and thinking about what they want in the new year. Many people make New Year’s Resolutions. Whether it’s losing weight, drinking less, or finally writing that book you have always dreamed about - IT DOESN’T WORK!
Until last year I had made one every year. I typically either forgot what they were or didn’t succeed. I am extremely goal oriented and obsessed with self-improvement as an INFJ. So why couldn’t I get it together?
Why Resolutions Don’t Work
While the intent is often there when the resolution is made, the fact is it just doesn’t work. Just look at any gym in America in January compared to March. It’s easy to get motivated when you are starting out and are optimistic about what you are doing. By the start of February those full yoga classes start trickling down and by March they are slim. People just can’t sustain the levels they did when they were so excited about their new goal.
So what’s going on? Why can’t we stick with the goals we make at the end of the year? According to PsychologyToday, there are four typical reasons we make, then fail at our New Year’s Resolutions.
Lame goals - You didn’t make a goal that was well thought out. It could be something like “I’m going to get fit this year” or “I want to change careers in 2019”. Um, OK, why? What’s your motivation? How will it change your life? Start by being more specific on what your end goal is.
Too big - Another reason people fail at the resolutions is by picking something that is way too big. “I want to lose 100 lbs in six months” is an example. That’s impossible if you want to do it in a healthy way without surgery. You could have an overall goal to increase the vegetables you eat everyday or start exercising once a week to start on the journey to weight-loss. While you may have a lofty end goal like quitting your 9-5 and working for yourself, you need to be realistic and set small goals to put you on the right path.
You Lose interest - If you don’t set small attainable goals, like most resolutions fail to do, chances are you are going to get dejected pretty easily. People like to be successful, so if we don’t see progress, we are likely to lose motivation quickly. A better idea is to start small and focus on creating new habits. Maybe you want to spend less money? Start by looking at your current spending habits and identify one thing you can start doing to improve just a little. Then review your spending to see any improvements you made compared to the month before.
You’re Lying to Yourself - Sometimes we know they are things we want to improve, but we aren’t necessarily ready to do so. It’s OK to not be ready on the first of the year. Maybe what you need to do instead of making a resolution you don’t want to do is think about why you don’t? If it is really something you want, what could you do today to get you closer to being ready?
Kaizen Self Improvement
So what do you do instead of making New Year’s Resolutions that are doomed to fail? You can use techniques that focus on small improvements over time. When I started thinking about this, I didn’t know there was actually a name for it!
What is Kaizen?
Kanbachi writes that Kaizen is a Japanese word that means Kai - change and zen - good and means continuous improvement in English. The term is used frequently in improvement methodologies like Lean Six Sigma, but you can use the idea in your life too.
The way I see it, is that to reach my long term goals I just need to keep working and if I improve at least 1% everyday, I will be so much closer to success at the end of the year. As James Lake points out, altogether that is a 37% increase in one year! That’s amazing!
Why Does It Work?
So how does a 1% change everyday help success when a resolution results in an 80% failure rate?
Attainability - 1% is small. It’s minuscule. Anyone can improve 1%! I am not a numbers person, so I am not doing any math here. I think about one action I can take each day to move me closer to my goals. For example, I want to be a full time entrepreneur one day. Ideally a writer and blogger. So one thing I am doing today to move that needle forward is committing to posting a new blog post every week. Long term I want more content, but for right now we need consistency. To get to two posts a week, we need to start with on and build from there.
Reduces Anxiety - I am an overachiever for sure. I always have a running list of long term goals and I want to literally do all the things. The issue with that is I have trouble focusing. With a 1% change focus, I know exactly what I need to do. It keeps me on track and stops me from obsessing about getting to my seriousness high level dreams. I know I am making progress everyday and I take the pressure off myself to get to where I ultimately want to be.
Builds Confidence - People love progress, we want to see that we are doing something right. Every time you meet that 1% improvement and recognize you are moving the needle forward, you are going to gain confidence. This is particularly true for people like me who love to procrastinate due to fear of failure. It helps me get out of the loop that tells me I am not at the level of other people. I don’t have to be, I only need to do something to be 1% better than I was yesterday.
So now that you know you should avoid the doom of the New Year’s Resolution and should instead focus your time and energy on small tasks to improve each day, where do you go from here? To help you think about that, we created a free checklist to help you identify some things to do in 2019 to get you closer to your goals. Sign up to our newsletter below to get your free download!