It’s that time of year when everybody is making New Year’s resolutions. Gym memberships skyrocket, health food sales soar, and optimism boils over with the promise that 2014 will finally be the year.
Yet by the end of January, the fresh-and-clean feeling of the new year will have worn off, and gym usage will be back to its usual levels.
So why do New Year's resolutions fail and at such an astounding rate? Only 8 percent succeed, according to one study. Common reasons include not having enough willpower, unrealistic goal setting and plain-old fatigue.
And even though we know the odds are stacked against us, every year, we’re still making resolutions when January 1 rolls around.
Let's make this year different. I'm going to show you why your resolutions fail and share a tactic that's helped me for the past four years make New Year's resolutions that stick.
The Anatomy Of A Resolution
First, lets look at a typical New Year’s resolution. As the end of the year approaches, or the first few weeks begin, we (often begrudgingly) start brainstorming a list of things we want to improve. We focus on the areas of our lives where we fell short in the past—we didn't lose ten pounds, we didn't reach our social media goals, we made less money than we had wanted to make. Then, with dogged determination, we resolve that this year will be the year that we're going to [insert goals here].
And this is precisely where your resolution becomes doomed. It’s a guilt cycle:
- You spend a year making (or ignoring) a bad habit.
- Then you feel guilty about the habit towards the end of the year.
- So you use guilt as a motivator to change your bad habit.
- Then you spend the year feeling guilty but still not improving your bad habit, only to ...
- Make another resolution to fix that bad habit.
This resolution cycle is centered around guilt. And when you’re using guilt as your main motivator, you’re doomed from the beginning.
The Secret To Success
Jinny Ditzler, the author of Your Best Year Yet!, has an interesting method for making New Year’s resolutions that stick. Essentially, she looks back on the previous year, finds her failures and resolves to fix them the next year. Pretty standard.
However, Jinny adds a twist: When she’s done looking back on the things that she’s missed the mark on over the past year, she immediately forgives herself for her shortcoming. By doing that, she’s removed the guilt from the equation for her resolutions.
That's pretty revolutionary, if you ask me. We all know we should forgive others, but there’s nobody harder to forgive than ourselves. The past is the past, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, anything more than acknowledging your miscues will only work against you.
Coaches will often tell a player who’s just had a miserable game to have a “short term memory.” Essentially, they’re telling the athlete to acknowledge the bad performance—and then forget about it.
Making Resolutions That Stick
Which brings us back to New Year’s resolutions. Making changes based on guilt has a really, really low success rate. So here’s my advice to you: Take an afternoon, or even a couple of days, and follow these steps to create resolutions that might actually work this time around:
- Look back on the previous year.
- Make a list of what worked and another list of what didn’t work.
- Then forgive yourself for not being perfect.
- Start setting new resolutions.
I'd suggest you even take this one step further: Don't only forgive yourself for what didn’t work, but pat yourself on the back for what did, and use that knowledge to plan the next year.
I learned about this method for making resolutions from professional traveler Chris Guillebeau, who's been documenting his year-end "annual reviews" for the better part of five years and has it down to a science. Use his reviews as a resource, and it will change how you look at planning for the year.
This year, I challenge you to apply Ditzler's advice and forgive yourself for past mistakes, then try Guillebeau's method for a fresh take on making resolutions that really work.
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