Why People Commonly Fail at New Year’s Resolutions
Written by Justin Wright

The ball has dropped to ring in the New Year and you are excited and motivated. “This will be the year I accomplish that goal,” you tell yourself, with all the determination you can muster. Fast forward two weeks and all of that motivation and drive seems like an afterthought. Progress has slowed, or stalled completely. You find yourself in the exact same position you were in last year: coming up with reasons why you can’t start that thing just yet, or can’t make forward progress right now.

The reality is, roughly 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. These odds are against you, and your likelihood of success is extremely low. That being said, it doesn’t have to be! What if you better understood why most resolutions fail, and were armed to combat these speed bumps along the way?

Why Most Resolutions Fail

There are a number of reasons that most individuals fail to follow through with their resolutions. If you have been reading this series of blogs for the last few weeks, chances are you could write this section just as well as I can. Failure often comes from not setting effective goals, not creating a support network, or not building accountability through repetition. Without these in place, your likelihood of long-term success plummets.

Set Effective Goals

We’ve talked about how to define and set effective goals following the SMART system. If you fail to utilize these categories to turn your abstract thoughts into concrete goals, how high do you think your chances of success will be?

If your goal is not specific, you won’t be able to accurately describe what you are trying to accomplish. This creates a lack of accountability and prevents you from properly recruiting your support network.

If the goal is not measurable then you will not have a means of monitoring your progress and being able to honestly assess whether you are moving forward or remaining stagnant.

If a goal is not actionable then it doesn’t matter how badly you want to achieve it at this point in time, you lack the resources or the means to make progress. You are doomed to fail from the start.

Creating a relevant goal is important to maintain motivation and, ultimately, discipline. If your goal doesn’t fit into your bigger vision for yourself then you have fewer reasons pushing you forward and inspiring you to make progress. Lastly, if a goal is not time-bound then you have no incentive to get to work on it now. There is a theory that activities take as long as the time we give ourselves to complete them; not setting strict parameters for timing on your goals will leave you making slow, or no, progress moving into the new year.

Create a Support Network

Many fail at following through on resolutions because they don’t want to involve their support network in the cause. Honestly ask yourself whether or not you are afraid of the judgement of others. This is important, because often the fear of failure, specifically the fear of others judging our failure, causes us to withhold our goals or aspirations from those around us.

Now I’m not saying you should go around and randomly yell out your goals to everyone you encounter, but you should absolutely involve those closest to you in your journey. If you have a daunting resolution, recruit your friends and family to hold you accountable and support you along the way. If you are trying to get healthy in the new year, your mom is less likely to bake you those cookies if you tell her about your weight loss goals. She will likely help in whatever capacity she is able, as will your other friends and family. As we already discussed with regard to support networks, if there are people close to you who refuse to help you or be a part of your journey, then move on and surround yourself with those who will.

Point being, your likelihood of success decreases dramatically if you try to go it alone. There will be times when it becomes challenging to press forward. If you don’t have people around you holding you accountable and pushing you to be better, it is much easier to listen to that voice in your head telling you to quit or saying, “it’s okay to push this resolution back one more year.” When you tell your goals to someone else they become real. This is precisely the reason that most people keep these things to themselves. Don’t be most people, be the 20 percent who succeed.

Build Accountability Through Repetition

Accountability comes from many sources, and lack of accountability can contribute greatly to failure in the new year. Even the most successful individuals universally agree that there were times along their journey when they felt discouraged, and when they wanted to give up. Many cite accountability from outside sources as being a major reason they didn’t quit. This accountability can come from a variety of places: pressure from friends, financial hardship, the need to provide for a spouse or family, the desire to prove someone wrong, the list goes on. While these are all important, I want to focus on the accountability which comes from repetition.

“We are what we repeatedly do,” as I am sure you have heard to the point of beating a dead horse. There is immense wisdom in this statement, however, and the fact that we have heard it so often causes many to ignore this message. If you want to be successful, you must repeatedly work towards that success. You reap what you sow, and if you are not consistently driving towards your goals then your resolutions will ultimately fail.

It is easy, in our psychology, to justify “days off” during the process. We push hard in the beginning as motivation fuels us. Then, when things get difficult in the middle as they inevitably do, our effort changes inversely with the increased difficulty of the new challenges we face. We start trying less because the work becomes hard. We make one small mistake and scrap the day as a loss, focusing on “starting again tomorrow” when higher effort can be put in. The reality is, some effort is always better than none. You will not be perfect in your pursuit of your resolutions. Perfection is not the goal, progress is. Every day that you work on building consistency is a successful day, regardless of how well or how poorly you executed.

People fail to achieve their resolutions and goals when they fail to execute at all, fail to put in the daily effort required. You can’t move forward without putting one foot in front of the other. Create accountability to yourself by being consistent, by putting in the work every day. Reach out to friends to check in with you daily and make sure you are on the path. Don’t let yourself get away with a “day off” when it comes to forward progress. Those who fail likely lack this accountability and this consistency. Taking care of these pieces will put you in a better position to succeed.

Set Realistic Expectations & Understand the Road Ahead

Lastly, and potentially most debilitating when it comes to setting New Year’s Resolutions, is a fundamental misunderstanding of the road ahead. There is an illusion presented to us in the modern world that things should be easy and that they should be comfortable. The goal is to chase pleasure and flee from pain. Life is built around simplicity and convenience. Achieving a goal, especially a large one, is anything but convenient.

Know this: as you read this post, there is hard work ahead of you. If you have a series of goals you want to accomplish this year, it will not be easy. There will be countless moments when you want to give up, when you want to quit, when it seems highly unlikely that you will ever accomplish what you set out to do. If you don’t understand this going in, and you are blindsided by this doubt, you will fail. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, and this applies equally when the failure comes from lack of understanding.

The road ahead will contain hurdles, detours, speed bumps, and everything in between. If you know this going in, you will learn to expect them and develop the resiliency and resolve to face them head on. Do your homework, look to the examples of those who have already achieved what you want to achieve. Follow their journeys to prepare yourself for what may arise on yours. If you can understand the enemy that is your doubt, uncertainty, strife, and hardship then your likelihood of success will increase accordingly.

Be Different – Pave the Way

There are countless reasons people fail to achieve their resolutions each and every year. Fortunately, you are now much better equipped to combat these obstacles when they pop up in your own life. Being aware is half the battle. If you understand how difficult it will be, and understand that the mountain is always worth the climb, you will very likely be successful.

Define your goals effectively, write them down, and reference them often. Surround yourself with those who will support you on your journey, call you out when you need it, and bolster your resolve during the challenging times. Hold yourself accountable through repetition, daily practice, and constant forward movement. Through it all, understand that the road is challenging yet rewarding. No one said achieving goals was easy, but everyone who has will say it was worth it.

Need help mapping out your goals? You can start by downloading our FREE Goal Setting Workbook! Please reach out to one of our coaches if you need help from there!

About the Author
Justin Wright is the Head Coach of Invictus Boston in Boston, MA. As an athlete, he competed at the CrossFit Games on Team Back Bay in 2016 and also played two years in the NPGL as a professional GRID athlete. Now, Justin spends his time coaching and teaching mindset and mental resilience strategies. Feel free to contact Justin with interest and questions – he loves to chat about this stuff!