Did you set a New Year’s resolution for this year? Did you make any progress?
If you’re like most people, the answer is no. Statistics around failure rates range. Some say that 80% of resolutions fail by February. Others claim that only 8% of individuals keep their resolution for the entire year.
The statistics vary across the board, but the takeaway is clear – most people don’t make it.
There are a lot of reasons for such a high failure rate. The idea of a clean slate, starting fresh on January 1st inspires many to overreach. Despite displaying zero interest in curbing sweets throughout the previous year, they’ll vow to give up sugar for 365 days straight – going cold turkey. Or, feeling inspired, they’ll join the masses hitting the gym six days during the first week of the year before landing back on the couch too sore to move.
We’re still in the early parts of December, but January 1st is right around the corner. Maybe you’ve already set a New Year’s resolution. Maybe not. Regardless of which side you fall on, the tactics behind setting successful resolutions don’t just apply to habits you build on January 1st. They apply to any scenario that requires building a new habit or breaking an old one.
Why Do Most Resolutions Fail?
Can we take a step back for a second and marvel at that 8% number? If it’s true that less than 10% of resolutioners make it to the finish line, that’s pretty incredible, and it’s a testament to the difficulty of making it 365 days with a new habit.
Why are resolutions so hard to stick to? Here’s a few of the big ones.
Reason #1: We aim too high.
We talked about this one above. Overreaching is real! Instead of setting a goal to run a 5k, we sign up for a marathon. When the January motivation dies off, we quickly realize that running 26.2 miles is no small feat. Plus, the couch is way more comfortable.
Reason #2: We focus on the outcome, not the behavior.
Most New Year’s resolutions are focused on the result, not the steps to get there. Our goal is to run a marathon, not “run three times every week throughout the year.” This is pretty natural. We want the work to result in something so we set our sights on that something instead neglecting to realize the behavior is what’s going to get us there.
Reason #3: We try to change everything all at once.
Let’s say a friend approaches you with the goal of being healthier in 2019. You want to be supportive so you tell them all the things they’ll want to start doing.
First, you’ll want to join CrossFit Undeniable (obviously!) and attend at least four classes per week. Second, you need to revamp your diet. I know you eat out a lot, but start cooking every meal at home. Oh, and make sure all meals are Paleo. Third, you need to cut out all alcohol and start drinking 80 oz of water per day instead. Fourth, sugar…it just has to go. Fifth…
You get the idea. I’m overwhelmed too!
We forget that our old habits were ingrained over years and years. We think we can just fix it all at one time. Not so!
Reason #4: We fail to change our environment and go it alone.
You don’t know a single runner. Literally, not one of your friends regularly laces up their shoes and heads out for a few miles in the morning. After watching the New York City Marathon in November though, you vowed to become a runner starting January 1st.
The chance of success is pretty low right? When your buddies are all hitting the bar after work when you want to head out for a run, peer pressure will eventually win over even the most dedicated individuals.
Again, we focus a lot on the outcome but not nearly enough on the environment necessary to get us there.
Setting a Successful Resolution
How can you be part of the successful minority – the group that makes a promise and follows through all year?
We’ve talked about the science of building habits before. We can expand on many of those same lessons to overcome the hurdles mentioned above and set a successful New Year’s resolution.
Step #1: Adopt a new identity.
I know…I know. This doesn’t sound like a small step right?
This is all about mindset, and the tip actually comes from James Clear, an expert in building successful habits (if this stuff is interesting to you, I’d highly recommend his new book Atomic Habits).
What you do now is a mirror image of the type of person you believe that you are (either consciously or subconsciously). To change your behavior for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself.James Clear
Usually, we set a New Year’s resolution based on what we want to achieve. Instead, we’re going to decide who we want to become. That then shapes our future behavior.
Let’s pick an easy one and say you want to start exercising. The desired result is you want to workout more, get stronger, and feel better.
The identity you could adopt: I’m the Dad that can keep up with his kids on the playground and sets a good example of taking care of your body.
All of your desired results are part of this new identity. The identity just ties it back to why this is important to you.
Step #2: Make small changes to your environment.
As mentioned above, your environment plays a critical role in your success. If your goal is to get fit, but you’re surrounded by fast food junkies that abhor exercise, chances of success are slim.
You don’t have to ditch all of your friends and family in the name of fitness. You just have to find a few small ways to tailor your environment to your new identity.
- If your family hasn’t traditionally embraced healthy food, offer to cook a meal once a week together from a healthy cookbook. Everyone gets to help out and pick what you want to cook. Then, you all can rate the dish afterwards.
- If your friends aren’t the fitness type, look for a club (or join CrossFit Undeniable) to add some new friends to your network. Then, make a promise to get drinks after work with your current buddies every Thursday.
- If you eat too much fast food during lunch, cook an additional helping during dinner the night before. Then, pack it up in a tupperware to bring to work. Now, you have meal to turn to when hunger hits.
You’ve probably heard the idea of laying your workout clothes out the night before. Same idea – take small steps to build an environment that supports your new identity.
Step #3: Start small.
Most of the obstacles we discussed above center around doing too much all at once. We cut out fried food, ditch sugar, start working out, and cook all our meals at home – all in the same week.
We fail to understand two things:
- Small changes add up to big results over the course of a year.
- Small changes you can stick with are immensely more valuable than large changes you ditch a month in.
Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day.Jim Rohn
If your goal is to revamp your diet, start with a small habit you can nail every single day. Instead of changing everything at once, you’re going to drink one big glass of water at every meal. This reinforces your new healthy identity (since healthy people drink water), has a specific cue (when you eat), and cuts out calories (assuming you switch out soda).
Next week, you’re going to add another small change on top.
Step #4: Focus on sustainability.
Working out five days a week during the first week of the year is great. It’s not so great if you’re so sore you can’t move for the next two weeks.
Because of Step #3, we’re already starting small. Our goal now is to focus on sustainability. What can you keep doing for an entire year? To quote author Leo Babauta:
Make it so easy you can’t say no.Leo Babauta, author Zen Habits
Our small changes create big results, but only if we can stick with them over time. When adding a new habit, your first thought should be, “Is this so easy I can do it all year long?”
Step #5: When you inevitably fall down, get back up as soon as possible.
When we’re crushing new habits, we feel like a new person. We’re so on top of it!
Then, when life inevitably hits and we get sidetracked, we disregard all of that previous success. We’re losers!
When put like that, this mindset is obviously hampering our chances of success, but in the moment, it feels totally valid.
We’ll inevitably fall short at some point during the year. We can tackle that in two ways:
- Plan ahead. What hurdles to you forsee standing in your way? What can you do now to get ahead of them? Set up contingency plans with the expectation that life will get in the way.
- Get back on track. To quote James Clear, your goal is to “never miss twice.” Sure, you didn’t get that workout in today, but you’re going to get it in tomorrow. You’ll be right back on track.
When you inevitably fall down, get right back up. 365 days presents a lot of opportunities to be successful. Don’t let one slip up derail your whole year.
What Resolutions Will You Set?
If your goal is to feel healthier, get stronger, and have more energy, we want to help get you there. Email me your resolution at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll help hold you accountable!