• Darin Vilano

Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Work | The Small Business BIG IDEA Show

The scene is all too familiar.  It’s January 1st, and we have our New Year’s resolutions ready to go.  We’ve been thinking about them for weeks.  And, we’re pumped, because this is the year that we’re actually going to do it.  Real change is coming at last!  Giddy with excitement we start the year off gung-ho and ready for action.  Then, just a few days or weeks later (maybe even a month or more, if we’re really good) it happens.  We take our eye off the ball for just a second, and we stumble.  Our resolutions are broken.  Frustrated, we easily slide back to what we were doing before the New Year.  And, then, we quietly justify our lack of achievement by telling ourselves that we can always try again next year.

Why do we repeat this cycle every year?  What is it about New Year’s resolutions that entice us to make them even though we seem to always come up short in the end?  Here are 5 reasons why New Year’s resolutions don’t work:

1.  They are tied to an artificial date.  There is nothing magical about January 1st.  In fact, it feels an awful lot like December 31st.  Because we live and work according to a calendar year, we put a lot of stock into the beginning of one.  But, real change can and should happen at any time.  We don’t need to link our goals to a date on the calendar no matter how special that date is supposed to be.

2.  They are usually “desires” rather than “musts.”  New Year’s resolutions often fail because they are wishes, desires, and nice-to-haves.  They’re the things we want but haven’t truly committed to yet.  Because, if we really committed to them, if we were serious about them, we’d start right now.  That’s how you treat something that’s a must.  When it’s so important that it has to happen, you begin.  You don't wait.  And, you especially don’t wait for a date on the calendar just because it has ceremonial value.

3.  It’s too easy to lose momentum once you stumble.  Whenever you attempt change or take on goals of any significance, you’re going to encounter roadblocks. New Year’s resolutions have the added expectation and pressure of starting the year with a clean slate.  So, falling off track has the tendency to make the whole effort feel spoiled or lost, which makes it even easier to give up entirely.

4.  Lack of follow-through reinforces itself.  Almost all of us have the experience of setting some of the same resolutions year after year, only to fail again and again.  This creates a negative reinforcement loop, and it actually conditions us to be more likely to repeat the process the next time around.  It becomes easier to repeat that which we consistently do.

5.  There is no plan or strategy.  A resolution without a plan is simply a wish or desire.  Our intentions may be good, but the lack of a strategy or actions steps dramatically reduces our ability to be successful.

Now, if it’s real and lasting change that you’re after, thankfully there is a better way.  The good news is that we can achieve our goals, if we are thoughtful and purposeful about how we go about it.  So, ditch the New Year’s resolutions and follow these 5 steps instead:

1.  Decide what is a must for you, and know your why.  When you get clarity about what has to change in your life and you understand why, things start to shift in a big way.  This is a powerful method for separating the wishes and wants from the things that must happen for you.

2.  Realize that you can start right now.  The date doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to wait for the New Year to get started.  As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t wait at all.  Waiting is the first sign that it’s not critical or important.  Because, if it’s absolutely necessary, you will start now.  Empower yourself with the notion that you can enact change any time during the year that you choose to.

3.  Have a plan for action.  Know what steps you need to follow to get going.  By creating a plan with action steps, you vastly increase the likelihood that you will actually follow through.  Detail your plan and take steps each day to build momentum and confidence.  Be preemptive, and add in a contingency for when you encounter obstacles and challenges.  By thinking ahead, you make it easier to get back on track if you falter.

4.  If you stumble, you can start again.  You don’t need to wait for a magic date.  Real change is hard, and resistance is inevitable.  This is why you must factor it in as part of your plan.  When you encounter an obstacle or deal with a challenge or struggle in any way, pick yourself back up and get back on track.  Don’t beat yourself up over it; don’t overanalyze it; and don’t stew about it.  Just get right back to what you were doing before, and recognize that this is part of the process.

5.  Repetition with intention leads to new habits.  Just like you get better at a sport or activity with repetition, you build mental muscle with repetition too.  Whatever it is you’re trying to change or do, reps will be a key to your success.  But, just doing reps isn’t enough.  You need to do them with intention, otherwise you risk just going through the motions.  Be aware and conscious of your purpose while steadily chipping away at your goals.  Combining mindfulness and feeling with consistent action creates and strengthens new habits.

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