It happens to most people: As January drones on, the once-fierce motivation to stick to that New Year’s resolution has started to dwindle. Come February, most people have quit; the people who haven’t quit are clinging to their intentions by their last thread, holding on for dear life.
It’s incredibly frustrating and can cook up all kinds of guilt, self-loathing, and regret. If I wasn’t so lazy, I’d have stuck with it this time around. If only I had more willpower… Sitting with that dissatisfaction is more than uncomfortable. It’s definitely not the triumphant way you imagined your year starting when you made your resolution in the first place.
But in reality, sticking to a New Year’s resolution has little to do with laziness or will power at all. Most people make a fatal error in creating their resolutions from the get go, but then later blame themselves for their inability to keep up with their intentions. We consulted numerous sources to get to the bottom of what’s really going on when you call it quits. If you made a resolution this January, here are 15 reasons you’re probably struggling so much to stick to it.
A year-long resolution is a tall mountain to climb. It’s normal to feel intimidated when you’re standing at the base — but here’s where some people falter. They look at the looming task ahead and get overwhelmed, quitting before they’ve even taken the first step.
Sure you want to “get healthy,” but what does that mean, specifically? Setting a vague goal like that means you’ll never really know if you accomplished it. At what point do you suddenly realize you’ve achieved optimal health and feel like you succeeded? To be brutally honest: never. Pick a goal that’s specific and task-oriented (e.g., read 10 books, eat two servings of vegetables every day) to ensure even the possibility of success.
I want a raise. This year, I will bench press X pounds. My goal is to get this one job I really want. What do all of these goals have in common? They’re all outcomes of actions instead of actions themselves. You can’t control whether or not you get a raise — your boss does. But you can be more present and proactive at work. You can’t control whether you build strength that fast — but you can dedicate some time in the gym to trying. By focusing on the outcome, you’re stripping yourself of the ability to determine the steps it takes to get there. All you can really control are your own actions. Start there.
This is an offshoot of the previous point — you can’t control your body weight. Your body has a predetermined set point that’s entirely out of your control. When you live a generally healthy lifestyle, you’ll likely find a stable weight that’s best for you. However, this weight could be lighter, heavier, or exactly the same as you are now. If you don’t lose weight by the end of the year, despite your best efforts, it’s not because you’re doing something wrong. Your body just doesn’t want to lose weight.
By focusing on the outcome of weight loss when it comes to your health, you’re neglecting to tune in to the healthy habits that could really make you feel better in your body. Some of those healthy habits might not result in weight loss. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worthwhile! Some diet-related healthy habits to consider this year could be to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet, cook meals at home, or try new foods.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious. Ambition and the desire to achieve are necessary for success! But if your goal is so lofty that it’s unrealistic, you’re setting yourself up for falling short.
If you’re prone to focusing on the big picture, having multiple categories of goals (long-term and short-term) could be a good way to keep your expectations in check. It’s great to want to learn a new language, for example, but you might not be 100 percent fluent in just one year. And if you have a busy schedule, it’s unlikely you’ll find time to practice every single day. Set a short-term and achievable goal like “Practice French twice per week for an hour.” You’ll be better equipped to accomplish that goal than one that’s too far-reaching.
You start off the year fully committed to your New Year’s resolution. You mess up once. Before you know it, you’re beating yourself up for spending too much that day, skipping the gym, or eating your fourth Oreo cookie. Many people faced with this situation decide to throw in the towel. After all, they already failed at their resolution, right? Why should they keep trying?
That’s the all-or-nothing thinking talking. Nobody’s perfect. And when trying something new, you’re bound to slip up a few times. But abandoning the project entirely doesn’t need to happen. So you missed one day. That doesn’t mean you can’t get right back to it tomorrow.
Your goal is likely something you’ve never done before — and you probably have no idea how exactly you’re going to do it. Take some time to plan out how you’ll achieve your goal. You might even block off time on your calendar or write down the definitive steps you need to take. This might help you determine whether your goal is realistic in the first place, or whether you’ve set out to do something that won’t fit into your schedule.
You’ve probably heard that positive motivation works better than negative — a kid is more likely to listen if you reward him when he does wash the dishes than if you scold him when he doesn’t.
We hate to break it to you, but you haven’t changed all that much since age 10. Positive motivation works better across the board. But we often forget this fact when trying to motivate ourselves.
When it comes to our health goals, we tend to focus on the areas we fall short. Maybe you “ate badly” last year or “were lazy” and didn’t exercise. These self-criticisms are ruthless, and they do more harm than good. Instead, focus on the positives of achieving your goal. When you eat more vegetables, how do you feel physically? When you get outside and get moving, do you feel energized and strong? Remind yourself of the reward you’re chasing to motivate your next step instead of the negative consequences of giving up.
So what should your positive motivation look like? Oftentimes, the motivation behind a person’s New Year’s resolution is misplaced. Your goal might have been selected because it’s something you think would look good, be cool to brag about, or gain you approval from others — when in reality, goals that stick are chosen to enhance your own life. This requires some honesty. Do you really want to learn to lift weights or do you just want other people to think you look toned? Remind yourself of the personal gain you’d achieve if you were to stick to your resolution this year. If there is no personal gain, maybe it’s time to find a new goal!
Another time to find a new goal is if you thought the resolution would be fun and rewarding to accomplish, but you quickly find the reality is feeling much different. For example, say you want to get into running. You set the goal of running a 10k by the end of the year. Once you start training, though, you discover that you hate running and it’s actually keeping you away from the other forms of exercise you used to enjoy. It’s okay to figure out that running — or knitting, journaling, writing a book — isn’t for you. Don’t continue putting hours into something that isn’t serving you. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to make your life better. If it’s not serving that purpose, let that goal go.
At the start of January, maybe you got really into yoga. You went right ahead and set a resolution to do yoga three times a week. But a month in, you got bored after you realized you weren’t enjoying it anymore. That’s completely okay — people change! If you don’t even want to achieve the goal anymore, there’s no need to stick to it just for the sake of saying you did. Make a new goal to replace it that you think might feel more rewarding.
Life can get in the way of achieving your stricter goals. For instance, say you intend to eat one salad a day every single day. If you have both lunch and dinner plans that don’t involve salad, does that mean you failed at your resolution? Is keeping your resolution worth missing out on those social experiences? Finances could also get in the way. Maybe your goal is to travel more, so you set a resolution to take a trip once a month. Halfway through the year, you might find you have more financial strain than you anticipated. Allow yourself some flexibility to ensure you can actually stick to your goal. The more adaptable and achievable the goal, the better.
At the start of the year, you were gunning for a promotion. But come March, you realize that you don’t really want to stay in your current company and instead want to pursue a new career path. This kind of scenario happens all the time. At the start of the year, you might prioritize one thing, but later realize another interest is more worth your time. People change naturally as time passes, and so do goals — a year is a long time to dedicate to just one priority!
It’s not always comfortable to talk about, but a negative self-worth can bleed its way into all aspects of your life. If you aren’t valuing yourself and your accomplishments, it might become much harder to achieve whatever self-improvement goal you’re set on. I’m not worth it, so why would I spend time trying to better myself? When this happens, practice self-compassion and patience. The more time you devote to taking care of yourself, the better you’ll feel.
This is a big part of improving your positive motivation. If you wait until the end of the year to congratulate yourself on succeeding, it’s going to feel about as tiring as a marathon to get there. Make it easier on yourself — and more fun — by acknowledging milestones throughout the year. Treat yourself to a reward after the first two months, maybe, or take yourself and a friend out for an expensive, indulgent meal to commemorate your success.