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5 Things That Prevent You From Sticking to Your Resolutions (And How to Overcome Them)

By Jenny Smiechowski

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Article at a Glance:

  • Even though the odds aren’t in your favor, with the right approach and mindset, you can accomplish your New Year’s resolutions.
  • Set yourself up for success by creating resolutions that include specific actions you can take rather than vague goals.
  • Pick a resolution that really matters to you (and clearly identify why it matters to you), so you have enough internal motivation to achieve it.
  • When setting resolutions, visualize yourself meeting those goals, as well as how you’ll respond if something goes wrong along the way.
  • Don’t let the pursuit of perfection put you in a state of paralysis where you don’t make any progress toward your goal.

The new year is a great time to reflect, make goals, and get excited about what's ahead. But even if you have the best intentions in mind, the fact is, many of the goals we set this time of year don’t last.

Research shows that more than half of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned (most of them before we even hit Valentine’s Day). If you’ve set resolutions in the past that didn’t stick, you may have already decided that resolutions aren’t your thing. We totally respect that. There are plenty of other ways to make positive changes in your life.

But if you’re not ready to give up on setting resolutions quite yet, you should know that with the right approach and mindset, you can accomplish yours this year. Here are five common roadblocks that can prevent you from sticking to your resolutions—and how to overcome them:

#1- Not understanding your “how”

"I'm going to get healthier."

"I'm going to work out more."

"I'm going to eat better."

If you're making resolutions that sound like this, it's time for a change. You can’t accomplish something unless you know how you’re going to accomplish it.

Set yourself up for success by creating resolutions that include specific actions you can take (and that are easy to track, so you can monitor your progress along the way). For example: "I’m going to take a 20-minute walk three times per week to get more fit" or "I’m going to eat a serving of vegetables with every meal to feel healthier."

If you already set vague resolutions for the new year, go back and make them specific and actionable, so you’re crystal clear on how you’re going to achieve them.

#2- Not understanding your “why”

Changing habits is hard. Unless you pick a resolution that really matters to you (and clearly identify why it matters to you), chances are, you’re not going to have the internal motivation you need to achieve it.

If you don't have a compelling enough reason for doing 50 burpees twice per day, drinking an activated charcoal smoothie every morning for breakfast, or reading “Infinite Jest” before St. Patrick’s Day (other than the fact that your mom, your boss, or your favorite Instagram influencer thinks you should), then these resolutions won't feel important enough to keep doing. Pretty soon, a bad night’s sleep, a plate of French toast, or the latest season of “Succession” will break your resolve.

Ask yourself what you’ve always wanted to achieve in your life. Then ask yourself why you want to achieve it. Maybe you’ve always wanted to self-publish a novel and sell it on Amazon because you love the idea of creating a passive income stream that allows you to have more freedom in your life. When you sit down to work on your novel, think about what it will feel like when you have more freedom and you can head to the aquarium on a Tuesday morning with your kids. That will give you the motivation to keep writing.

#3- Letting setbacks derail you

When you’re working on a new resolution, it's important to remember that things don't always go according to plan. Setbacks are part of life, but they don't have to derail you, especially if you prepare yourself for them.

When setting resolutions (or any goals, for that matter) it’s important to visualize yourself meeting those goals, as well as how you’ll respond if something goes wrong along the way. Consider the following ways setbacks could impact your journey, and then how you could respond:

  • Setback: Your car breaks down and you can’t go to the gym.

Solution: Find a free workout video on YouTube and exercise in your living room.

  • Setback: You get the flu and are too sick to exercise.

Solution: Sign up for a fitness class that starts in the near future, so you know you’ll jump right back on the wagon when you feel better.

  • Setback: A stressful week at work triggers a bout of insomnia, so you’re too exhausted to exercise in the morning like you normally do.

Solution: Find a relaxing online or in-person yoga class you can take in the evening. (Not only will it keep you committed to your exercise goals, it will reduce stress and help you sleep!)

Take a few minutes to write down potential setbacks that could interfere with your resolution, as well as potential solutions. When the first setback arises, refer back to this list for motivation.

#4- Living in the past instead of the present

Remembering the mistakes you made in the past can help you grow as a person. But dwelling on the past too much can prevent you from moving forward and achieving your goals.

If you set resolutions in the past that you didn’t keep, it’s okay to think about what went wrong and what changes you can make to prevent that from happening again. But don’t let your mind dwell too long on your past slip-ups. Obsessing over past mistakes or failures can re-trigger the emotions you felt at the time, make you feel stressed, and trap you in a cycle of negativity. When you’re feeling stressed and negative, it’s harder to make positive changes in your life.

Here’s another important reminder: just because you didn’t stick to your resolution yesterday doesn’t mean you can’t start fresh today. Every day (heck, every moment) is a new opportunity to live the life you want. Don’t use your slip-ups as an excuse to give up on your goal.

I know the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” is a cliche. But it’s true! The biggest difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people keep trying.

#5- The pursuit of perfection

We all want our lives to be perfect — or close to it. But if we're not careful, this desire can lead us astray from what matters most. In an article for InStyle Magazine Psychologist Sasha Heinz shared an enlightening perspective on why perfectionism is such a roadblock for resolution setters, even if they’re not normally perfectionists:

"For most people, resolutions represent the fantasy of perfection — perfect body, perfect life, perfect feelings — without any of the reality."

Once reality sets in and it doesn’t match up with the perfect fantasy we’ve created in our heads about what our resolution will look and feel like, it’s easy to throw in the towel. Instead, we should remember that perfection doesn’t exist and focus on making small changes that will add up over time.

In other words: don’t let the pursuit of perfection put you in a state of paralysis where you don’t make any progress toward your goal. Remember that “best is the enemy of good” and keep taking those small, imperfect steps toward a better you.

Sources:

  1. How to Make (and Keep) a New Year's Resolution— The New York Times.
  2. Why Do We Keep Dwelling on Our Mistakes? Here's How to Stop— Inc.
  3. Your Brain Is Wired to Hate Resolutions — Here's What to Do Instead— InStyle.


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