New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work: Part 1

By Darren Stehle

Did you make New Year’s resolutions last year? How did that turn out for you?

What are two of the most common resolutions you hear at this time of year?

  1. I will lose weight this year
  2. I will join a gym

As a health and fitness coach I hear these goals all the time, but now more than ever. If you workout at a gym you know what I’m talking about. I think gyms make their most money in January. People sign up because of health and fitness resolutions, or are given a membership as a gift, only to come a few times and then never show again for the remaining 12 months.

What is it about the the new year and making resolutions?

Does the passing of the old year into the new one feel like walking through a metaphorical door — something almost concrete, and for that reasooon the illusion helps us to believe that we can achieve our goal easier than at any other random point in time?

Wow! That was deep! But seriously, why do we think the new year is the time to make a resolution?

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

Tradition

Isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? Doesn’t nearly everyone ask you on your first day back at work or school after the holidays, “How were your holidays?” and, “Hey, Darren, what are your New Year’s resolutions?”

Marketing

‘A new year, a new you.’ I’m making that up, but I’m sure I’ve heard or seen something like that in various forms of advertising.

We are creatures of habit and tradition. Our lives are based on days of the week, the work week vs. the weekend, Spring vs Summer, and; last year vs. this year.

Resolutions are without power

A resolution is a decision or a determination to do something; an action or course of action. [Source: Dictionary.com]

‘I will lose weight this year’ is indeed a resolution. So why won’t this help you?

Let’s consider the commonly-used acronym for goal setting, ‘SMART’, in order to break down why resolutions on their own don’t work.

SMART goals are:

‘Specific’, ‘Measurable’, ‘Actionable’, ‘Real’, and based on ‘Time’.

Specific

The resolution, ‘I will lose weight this year,’ isn’t specific enough: how much weight do you want to lose? One pound or 30? Do you want to drop two pant or dress sizes? Or is it a quality of feeling?

Measurable

Success leaves clues and progress requires measurement. What will you measure to determine if you’re on track with your resolution if you don’t know how much weight you want to lose?

You need a destination when you get in your car to drive. Similarly you need a destination or an end-point when setting goals so you will know if you have achieved it, or if you are on track to your desired outcome.

Actionable

What is your plan? Your micro-goals for the year? How will you lose the weight? Will you eat differently? Will you exercise more, join a gym, play a sport, take up gardening, etc.

Real

Is the amount of weight you desire to lose realistic? Do you believe you can accomplish this goal?

Often when we go through the SMART list, someone will say, ‘I want to lose 30 pounds,’ or some other random amount, almost as a defensive reaction to prove they’re serious about their resolution.

Are you being realistic? Of course you should challenge yourself if you truly believe the outcome is possible, albeit with dedication and perseverance.

In some ways, the ‘Real’ part of SMART goal setting is the most important: the ‘Real’ is what truly matters, i.e. the current reality that we need to change to achieve the goal. More on this below.

Time

When do you want to achieve this goal? By what date? What success posts will you establish — a one month, three month, six month (or longer) goal post? Maybe time isn’t a factor, i.e. maybe this is a new habit you want to achieve. However, you can still measure the outcome for completion, frequency and regularity.

Applying the SMART goal setting system is much more intense than simply making up a random resolution. The resolution on it’s own has no power behind it. It is a place to start — it answers the question, ‘What do I want?’

How do you give ‘power’ to your goals?

If you want to accomplish or achieve a goal that’s truly meaningful and important to you, you need to take conscious and deliberate steps to achieving it.

I like to use the comparison of schooling (university, college, or taking a course). Let’s say it’s a management course for which you get a certification. With this certification you may potentially get paid more at your job, or get a promotion, because you now have more qualifications.

The goal in this case is to either earn more money,  get promoted, or both. But you had to do a lot of work. You had a structure to follow (a number of  classes, readings, assignments, etc.). You had measures in the form of a certain grade requirement to pass the course.

This example goal may be one that you pursued on your own or were required to do through work.

The most challenging goals are the ones we set for ourselves, because we are choosing to change, grow, improve, better our finances, our relationship, or lifestyle, our career choices, etc. And the only person who can push us forward is ourselves.

I think this is why many people associate goal setting with failure. I know I used to do that but I never knew why. Why was is so difficult to remain committed to achieving the goals I set for myself? Have you ever felt that way?

The way that we have been taught to understand the setting and achieving of goals is what makes the process daunting and potentially impersonal.

Is there a better way, an easier way to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions? Yes, there is, and the key is to get ‘real’ and ‘personal’.

The key element that’s missing from setting and achieving resolutions and most goal setting ‘systems’ is the feeling, the emotional intensity, a clearly defined reason, or a big enough ‘why’ for what you want.

Lastly, you need an action plan to achieve your outcome — the ‘how’ you are going to make your goals happen.

You need to know with absolute clarity what you want, why you want it (your emotional reasons), and how you plan to achieve your goals.

To be continued…

In next week’s post (part 2 of this article) we will examine the emotional connection to setting ‘true’ goals and actually achieving them.

Until next week, have a very Happy Christmas and be well.
~Darren

© 2013 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved.