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Yes, Your New Year's Resolutions Might Fail. Do It Anyway.

Updated: Mar 7, 2022

There is no shortage of opinions on whether New Year’s resolutions or even just setting personal goals is a productive use of time. Some people say goal setting is essential to success. Others will tell you why goal setting is pointless. Some will say that the new year is a time to turn over a new leaf, begin again, and start fresh! Others will say it’s an arbitrary time to try and do anything and you’re likely to fail – the new year’s resolution is over. Then, if you actually engage in the activity, there is no shortage of opinions on how to make and keep those resolutions.

The conflicting opinions can leave many confused and others indifferent. If someone is actually reading articles on the subject, then they’re bound to run into this New Year’s resolution stat: 80% of us will fail by the 2nd week in February.

So, why even attempt a New Year’s resolution if the odds are so obviously against us?

Think about the 20% who succeed. 20% of New Year’s resolution setters succeed! Those goals of better health, fulfilling careers, meaningful relationships, and profound experiences were achieved.

Let’s spend our time talking about this lot.

They’re doing what many of us want to do and the more time we spend learning about these people, developing relationships with, and learning from them, the more likely we will experience similar success.

In fact, this is a principle for making positive behavior change, be around people who are already doing it. Katy Milkman writes in her book How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, “Your decisions are heavily influenced by the norms in your peer group, so it’s important to be in good company when you hope to achieve big goals…”

The successful 20% are likely doing this and employing a few other key strategies too. Here are just a few for you to try.

Don’t you want to be a part of this 20% too?

Take Advantage of Fresh Starts

Milkman has researched “fresh starts” and has found that beginning a goal at the start of a year, month, or week yield better goal achievement than starting on a random day. She writes “Fresh starts increase your motivation to change because they give you either a real clean slate or the impression of one; they relegate your failures more cleanly to the past; and they boost your optimism for the future.”

This can be a liberating aspect of working on goals and achieving them. If you screw up, forget, or get distracted away from what you said you wanted to do, then you just begin again. Maybe it’s after the weekend or next month or on your birthday but goal achievement is about sticking with it.

Giving yourself fresh starts can help you do that.

Write It Down and Create Reminders

One of the biggest obstacles for goal achievement is distraction or just plain forgetting. We have excellent intentions, but then they wain as life takes over.

Document what you want to achieve and put it somewhere to remind you. A note on the inside door of your bathroom cabinet, a sticky note on your laptop, or a reminder from your calendar. Whatever you see frequently.

Last year I had my husband write my goals in his handwriting on a card and frame them in a 4x6 frame. I keep the frame on my desk. Because it’s written in his hand, I don’t ignore it the way I would my own handwriting and the frame draws my eyes to it. My New Year’s goals are front and center on my work desk all year. It works for me. Perhaps it might work for you.

Break Down the Goal into Small Goals

When talking about achieving goals with a coaching client, I referenced the common saying, “There’s only one way to eat an elephant. One bite at a time.” My client, a vegetarian, was repulsed. “Why would anyone eat an elephant?!” Fair point. We laughed.

But the sentiment was clear. Going after a large goal felt overwhelming and uncertain. Self-doubt takes over and, for her, she began to talk herself out of her goal before even starting.

Whatever goal you have, break it down into 3-5 small goals. If you want to lose 20lbs, start by losing 4lbs. Then lose another 4lbs and so on. Maybe you have the goal to make a big decision next year. Write down all the pieces of information you need to make that decision in a list. Then, start investigating that list in small chunks. Before you know it, you’ll have what you need to make that decision.

Try Temptation Bundling

This strategy also comes from Milkman’s book. She writes, “temptation bundling entails allowing yourself to engage in a guilty pleasure (such as binge-watching TV) only when pursuing a virtuous or valuable activity that you tend to dread (such as exercise).”

This strategy worked for me when it came to addressing holiday cards, a mind-numbing experience and one I often procrastinate. Instead of dreading the task this year, I told myself I would have a glass of wine while I did the cards. It made getting the cards done far more enjoyable.

Look for ways to temptation build around the behaviors you want to change to achieve your goals. You’ll be more likely to stick to it if you find something fun and enjoyable to do as well.

Setting New Year’s resolutions is a worthwhile activity. Don’t get discouraged. Set the goals, make your best effort, and learn from your successes and mistakes along the way. Each small action you take to improve yourself can build on another, and then another. Just keep going.

I don’t know a soul who wouldn’t buy a lotto ticket with a 20% chance at the jackpot. How is your success, your life, your own goals not worth the same investment?

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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.

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