New Years Resolution Fail

Did you even bother to make a New Year’s resolution this year? Most people didn’t.

According to a national public opinion poll conducted by Marist Poll on December 18, 2014, only 44 percent of Americans are likely to have made a New Year’s resolution for 2015. And it’s no surprise – given how high resolution failure rates are, many simply don’t even bother. The poll found that 41 percent of Americans couldn’t even keep their resolution for at least part of the year, let alone see it through to success.

Weight loss is the most popular resolution, with other common resolutions including quitting smoking and spending less money. Whatever your resolution is, here are six reasons why we fail to accomplish our New Year’s resolutions – and how you can get around them.

1. We Set Unreasonable Goals

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School, put it simply. “We’re really bad at setting reasonable goals,” she told Business Insider.

Rather than resolve to start going to the gym once a week for 30 minutes, we resolve to commit to a grueling P90X exercise regiment. Why? Is it because human ambition makes us think big? Is it because we believe a New Year’s resolution must be something huge? Or can it be that we’re just really bad at judging what is reasonable to accomplish? Regardless of the reason, these grandiose goals set us up for failure.

“When you set weight loss goals, you don’t really know how your body is going to react or what is going to be attainable,” says ” title=”” target=”_blank”>Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. “We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they don’t blame the diet. They blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again.”

Did you fail to achieve your 2014 resolution? That makes you that much more likely to give up on your 2015 resolution. In general, failure is a poor motivator, and there’s something to be said for momentum: when you’re on a streak of victories or failures, it becomes easier to ride the high – or low.

The Marist Poll found that younger Americans are more likely to make resolutions than older Americans. Can that be because older Americans have given up on trying after repeated failures? We can’t say for sure, but we can say that avoiding failure will help you keep your future resolutions. Setting more realistic goals is a good start, but be sure to follow up by avoiding our next point…

3. We Turn Mistakes into Failure

“The research has been replicated fairly frequently,” Polivy says. “There seems to be this sense of, ‘well, I ate something I shouldn’t, this day is ruined, I’ll just start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month.'”

Polivy is describing the “what the hell” effect, which is an easy trap to fall into. We let a cheat – or a mistake – turn into a failure. Rather than concede that we slipped up and immediately resolve to redouble our efforts, we mulligan the rest of the day, breaking our forward momentum and instead building up momentum towards resisting getting back on track.

“What the hell; I already had that slice of pie. I may as well have the milkshake, too.” Avoid this kind of thinking.

New Years Resolution Fail

4. We Deal in Absolutes

“People are making absolute statements about what they’re going to do, and that’s setting them up for failure immediately,” Cuddy says, “because they’re not always going to go to the gym three times a week.”

Only a Sith deals in absolutes. If that isn’t good enough reason to avoid this kind of thinking when it comes to resolutions, then do it to increase your odds of success. Avoid concepts like “always” or “never” – afford yourself some wiggle room. If you resolve to never eat chocolate, then not only is that a more difficult resolution to keep, but if you “cheat,” then this will lead to more negative thinking and loss of morale than if you simply resolve to eat less chocolate.

5. We Use Negative Framing

People “tend to focus on things they want to change about themselves and things they dislike about themselves,” Cuddy says. When you do this, “you’re eliciting in yourself negative emotions. Some negative emotions are motivating, but for the most part, they’re not.”

I’m fascinated with the psychological applications of framing. It’s a terrific example of how we can trick ourselves into drastically changing our perception of something from negative to positive. If your resolution is to lose weight, then you’ve already applied a negative framing to your goal – by focusing on the weight loss, the implicit message is, “There is something wrong with me that I must change.”

If, instead, your goal is to lead a better lifestyle by exercising more and making healthier food choices, your focus is on positive change – weight loss will simply be a consequence of these goals. The message then becomes, “I am seeking to improve myself.” Self-improvement implies no negative current state – everyone has room for improvement.

6. We Focus on a Distant Goal

“If you’re focused on walking 100 miles, and you’re just constantly focused on that number 100 miles and trying to track your progress, it’s going to be pretty friggin demoralizing most of the way,” Cuddy says. “You’re going to feel like a failure for so much of that because the comparison is between where I am now versus where I want to be.”

When do you think people give up on their resolutions? Early on, or toward the final stretch? The answer is obvious, and part of the reason is that when things become difficult early on, a faraway goal seems daunting to achieve.

I’ll never get there. This will take forever. I can’t do this.

By setting milestones, you can achieve measurable, incremental success that will keep you motivated to go on. Better still, if you can focus on how your pursuit of the goal is improving your life in the interim, not only will you be undaunted by the distant finish line, but you’ll be more likely to be adopting positive, life changing habits rather than a temporary change in behavior.


Did you make a New Year’s resolution for 2015? Why or why not? Have you already given up on it? Did you achieve your 2014 resolution? If not, when did you quit? Let us know!


Sources: Business Insider, Vox, Marist Poll

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