Before December is over, half of those reading this piece will write their New Year’s resolutions. But only 8% of will succeed. The problem is not making resolutions, but to turn the habit of breaking promises into a tradition.
Don’t lie to yourself. That’s what happens when you set unrealistic goals or lack a clear plan to achieve them. Wishful thinking undermines your personal development. Avoid turning failure into your new normal.
You are the product of your broken promises. Before making new resolutions, reflect on your past attempts. The list is not the problem, your lack of method is.
This article doesn’t include the formula for success. But a framework to help you change from within.
Five Reasons Why Resolutions Fail
Most people fail because they set unrealistic goals. Don’t commit to run two marathons in 2018, if you don’t exercise at all. Resolving to become fitter won’t help either. It’s too unspecific. Challenge yourself without hurting your ability to succeed.
Before repeating the same mistakes as last year, reflect on what didn’t work. You don’t need new resolutions but a new mindset:
1. You are too rational or too emotional
Driving change requires using both sides of your brain. You need passion to reach your goals. Embrace your resolutions with all your emotions. Own them, visualize them, enjoy them: turn your goals into a vision.
On the other hand, passion alone will take you nowhere. Building a clear plan will keep you focused and drive you into action. Having measurable goals will make you more accountable and help you monitor progress.
2. You set goals to please others
Peer pressure is more prominent than we realize. It’s easy to get derailed by other people’s expectations. And their definition of success easily becomes ours.
Don’t fall into that trap. Set goals that are meaningful to you. Clarity and ownership drive motivation. Avoid pleasing others if you want to succeed.
3. You believe self-improvement is linear
Most of us are taught that the path towards achievement is a logical one. “Follow this hack, show up every day, and you will thrive.” — they tell you. That’s why you expect to succeed at the first attempt.
Changing behaviors is not impossible, but it doesn’t happen overnight either. Expecting things to be too easy is as silly as to quitting because you reverted to ‘bad’ behaviors. The rhythm of the heart has waves and intervals. Life is not linear; everything is always in motion.
4. You are afraid to be happy:
Self-doubt affects everyone from time to time. Happiness is much more than a smile or enjoying a movie. Happiness is a mental state that we desire and fear at the same time, as I wrote here.
We all wish a perfect life. That’s why we build a list of resolutions. But, sometimes, we feel we don’t deserve them and boycott ourselves. Self-doubt puts our chances to achieve a better life in jeopardy.
5. You are chasing the formula for success
If the formula for success existed, it would be available on Amazon at a much higher ticket price than that of a self-help book.
You won’t find the road to success on your GPS. There are no shortcuts either. Real change happens from within. Stop looking for outside solutions, spend that time doing soul searching instead.
Become your flaws best friend. If you accept your weaknesses, you will be able to benefit from your strengths to the fullest. Self-pity, guilt, self-doubt, envy, remorse, frustration, chase you because you don’t accept who you are.
Become your own best friend. Self-acceptance will remove unnecessary emotions that get in your way.
A Seven-Step Approach to Change
Use these steps as a framework to drive change. Take the principles and experiment with them. Tweak them, adjust them, or replace them as needed. It’s your life, and you are its Chief Designer.
1. Start by reconnecting with your purpose
Live your life the way you want to be remembered. Your life’s purpose should be the North Star that guides your resolutions. When you have clarity on your ‘why’ it’s easier to find motivation and stick to your goals.
We take life for granted. The (false) belief that we will live forever is why we waste our time. When you accept that life is uncertain, it’s easier to focus on what really matters. Check out this exercise to identify your life purpose by writing your own obituary.
2. Adopt a learning mind
New Year’s resolutions are full of uncertainty. We know what we want, but we don’t know what we are getting into. Learning a new sport or how to play an instrument is fun at the beginning. Initial progress gets us excited. But the more we learn, the more we realize how little we know. And that can be daunting.
One of the reasons people quit is that they compare their abilities when they are beginning to those who’ve already mastered the subject. Adopting an ignorant mindset can free yourself. Instead of worrying about what you don’t know, think of yourself as a blank canvas. Celebrate every brush stroke as progress without being obsessed with how the final artwork would look like.
3. Embrace rejection and failure
We are all wired to let others dictate how we feel about ourselves. That’s why we fear rejection.
But no one knows you as well as you. People might not trust your ability to learn something new. Or maybe laugh at you because you tried to lose weight many times before and failed. Don’t let rejection stop you. Use it to keep you on your toes.
No one can tell you how strong you are but your actions. Turn rejection into fuel to make your resolutions come true.
4. Make choices and prioritize
Those who want everything get nothing. Having too many goals can be as damaging as having none at all.
Every new year is full of hope and magic. And it’s easy to get under the influence and believe that we can change our entire life in January. Being overly ambitious can backfire.
Once you’ve built your resolutions list, check out this exercise. Focusing on what really matters, will increase your chances to succeed.
5. Break down your goals into smaller-goals
Lower your goals without lowering your ambition.
If you want to become the most successful person in your field, go ahead. But set your goal in a way that will get you started rather than paralyzed.
When I committed to riding my first century (100 miles), I started by setting weekly goals. First, I had to get used to cycling 30 miles in a row. When that became my new normal, 50 miles became my next challenge. My original ambition was to ride 3–5 centuries each summer. But I created a goal that was much easier to digest and accomplish.
6. Track progress and adjust
As I mentioned earlier, if you can’t track your goal you don’t know if you are moving forward. Wanting to lose weight is vague. Committing to losing 10 pounds in 2 months is much specific. You can break it down into smaller chunks and set weekly goals.
Be compassionate with yourself. That won’t affect your commitment. If one week you fall behind, add an extra effort for the following week. Flexibility doesn’t mean fooling yourself. But being too harsh can damage your willingness for good. Many people quit because they confuse one small failure with failing to achieve the larger goal.
Being flexible also applies to not letting your goals blind you.
If, at some point, you realize your resolution lost meaning don’t stick to it just to test your resilience. I spent months learning to play the piano, and it wasn’t my thing. I refocused that energy into something new. That kept my energy flowing rather than being drained by unrealistic expectations.
Stop doing something can be the best resolution.
7. Self-improvement is a lifetime journey
You don’t need to wait for Monday to start a diet. Or for January to kick-off new projects or resolutions to improve your life.
Every day is the perfect day to start something. The sooner you get started, the bigger your chances to succeed.
Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrated that our feelings decide for us 95 percent of the time. You feel before you think. Check out this 5-second rule exercise. It will help you overcome your emotions and jump right into action.