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Why People Don't Achieve New Years Resolutions

Why People Don't Achieve New Years Resolutions

CC Thomas Leth-Olsen

As I write this, it’s almost the end of January.

How many of you are still at your New Years resolution?

According to stats from the University of Scranton about half of my US readership set a New Years resolution.

40% will have dropped off by the end of this week (the first month…)!

Losing weight is the top resolution, while getting fit and healthy is #5. Both my domain I suppose…

I’ll be honest, I never set New Year’s Resolutions, so I fall into the 38% of you who also never do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a vested interest in this topic.

The only reason I don’t is because I would procrastinate otherwise and waiting a year to set a new goal seems way too long.

I really don’t want to become a ‘I’ll do it tomorrow or next week’ kind of person, but I’m not judging…

I procrastinate enough as it is, so I use daily and weekly goals to keep me focused.

Things like write for an hour daily.

Read/learn an hour daily (sometimes it’s Videos/Audio/Seminars/Conferences/etc…).

Do 15 minutes of mobility training every day.

Lift twice a week.

Stuff like that…

Shorter feedback cycles means I can adjust more quickly, and give people the illusion that I’m super productive.

I also daydream enough as it is, so I don’t want to spend any more time focusing on things in the distant future than I already do.

One day Fitnack will help 100,000,000 people…and I’ll be able to offer scholarships and run contests…and create new specialty coaching programs…and teach more…and hire more people to help me run it…and…and…and…

STOP. Breathe.

I want to focus as much as I can on what I think is important to do right now and I think you can probably benefit from the same approach.

i.e. I should really just focus on finishing the software and then try to help the first 10 people…

And this resembles how I’m sure many ambitious people are, but even if you aren’t incredibly ambitious about your career, there is something in your life that you need to reel in and take more control of.

Something you need to focus more directly on right now and not tomorrow.

As a coach I’ve spent a considerable amount of time studying the field of goal setting and this system appears to work infinitely better for most.

Only about 8% of people will actually be successful with a resolution, I believe because they avoid the the most common pitfalls many of us make.

Without further delay, here are the mistakes most people make:

  • Too unrealistic
  • Too vague
  • Lack actionable intent
  • Lack of focus
  • No accountability

Too Unrealistic…

Get your ego out of the way for a moment, humility goes a long way for setting goals or resolutions.

If you want to lose more than 1-2 lbs per week you’re not being realistic.

If you want to gain more than 1-2 lbs per week you’re not being realistic.

If you want to compete at the highest levels in a sport with less than 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, you’re not being realistic.

Consider that to create change one must consider the amount of time they can commit is directly proportionate to how quickly that change happens.

But also, how quickly someone changes something seems directly proportionate to how long that change is sustained.

To change something, something else must give, but you have to use realistic long-term approaches that can stick.

To set more realistic objectives use a method called ‘Contrasting.’

Whereby you identify the pros and the cons of the work behind achieving the resolution or goal.

Not the pros and cons of the achieving the goal itself…

Important distinction.

What about your life must you maintain? What can you manage changing?

Is changing how you eat going to seriously mess with your career or enhance it?

Where will you find the time to exercise? Will that time distract you from something else you really care about?

This provides perspective on how realistic the objective is, and how strongly you’ll be pulled towards it.

It’s not as simple as the pros outweighing the cons to decide if it’s worth doing.

It’s about balancing the potential negative aspects of the process with the positive aspects of the process and figuring out how realistic the objective is in the timeframe you have.

Exercising once a week can help you lose weight, but it’s slower than three times a week.

It could however snowball into twice a week if you find value in it…

Most big audacious plans fails because they just can’t be maintained, so sometimes it’s worth starting small, even when the process is slower.

Meet yourself where you’re at, it’s about finding the middle ground.

You get from the process what you put into it and the results sneak up on you.

Consistency matters so if you can’t do what the plans asks, make it smaller.

Too Vague…

I need to look after my body better this year.

I need to improve my balance or flexibility.

I need to work on these back muscles so that I run better.

What does any of that mean?

Nothing…     Exactly!

You need to define the specifics of what you want to improve and have some method to track.

What kind of balance or flexibility do you have now?

How strong are these muscles currently?

What classifies as ‘looking after your body better?’

You can choose quality oriented goals, but you still need some method of tracking.

For instance, ‘I want improve my energy,’ needs a way to track and monitor your energy.

That could be as simple as tracking your energy on a scale of 0-3 every day; Where 0 is a lack of energy, 1 is low energy, 2 is moderate amount of energy, and 3 is an ideal high amount of energy.

If you start averaging 3’s next month, and this month you averaged 2’s, then you’ve improved.

You can’t subjectively track, BEWARE going by ‘feel’ alone, your brain will deceive you regularly by attempting to fill in the blanks.

NOTE: I come across this regularly. Feel is a terrible marker for success. Psychology science tells us that your brain will manufacture stories to make you feel better about yourself, even when nothing has changed.

If you can’t track progress, then it’s not a goal or resolution.

Vagueness also leads to juggling too many things…

Lack of Actionable Intent…

I want to lose XX amount of weight in XX amount of time.

I want to gain XX amount of weight in XX amount of time.

I want to finish 1st in this this and this events or I’m going to win the championship at the end of the season.

Sidenote: I hate to break it to any members of the athletic population reading this, but everyone’s objective is the win the championship or take first. 

The problem with setting goals like this is that you can’t act on any of it.

You don’t just win a championship or wake up 3 months later 10 lbs heavier or lighter.

Most physical goals aren’t directly under your control, but you know what is?

Your daily actions!

So setting a goal of lose this or gain that or obtain this by this time, needs to be taken a big step further.


Decide what you can and need to improve.

If your technique isn’t good enough to compete at a high level, then you need to work on technique.

If you want to lose weight then you need to work on adopting daily behaviors that lower energy intake.

If you want to gain muscle, then you need to weight train more and eat more daily.

Break down the weeks leading into your goal and identify all the days you’re going to do what.

Then establish a consistency target of at least 80%.

But you’re still not done!

Remember to track the effectiveness of that plan and learn from what the data you’re tracking is telling you, then modify the plan.

I suggest reviewing the plan every other week, or monthly for physical goals.

Review the plan with your tracking data, what does it tell you?

Then make appropriate changes.

Life isn’t static and your plan shouldn’t be either.

Goal setting needs to be cyclical:

Goal Setting Process

This comes with a Caveat: Don’t hop from idea to idea, you have to give it the time it takes to create the change.

A day isn’t enough time to really tell if you’re losing or gaining any significant weight, and neither is a week in my experience.

Though tracking weight/girth weekly isn’t a bad idea, you can’t jump to any drastic conclusions without first comparing the data to the previous couple of weeks.

Hopping from change to change is a bad idea.

A wonderful paper last year isolated a critical component people overlook just as much in goal setting as they do in dieting.

“The only consistent finding among the trials is that adherence—the degree to which participants continued in the program or met program goals for diet and physical activity—was most strongly associated with weight loss and improvement in disease-related outcomes.” ~ A Call for an End to the Diet Debates – Journal of American Medical Association

This might seem unrelated to goal setting, but you’re bound to find the same thing about exercise.

If the plan doesn’t seem to be working, double check your adherence to the plan before you make a change.

Adherence to the plan is always more important than the plan itself.

Lack of Focus…

I think this might be the most common among ambitious personalities.

Have you ever publicly stated something like:

“I want to improve my flexibility this year, get to 225 bench, 275 squat, 315 deadlift, 175 overhead press, get to 10% bodyfat, have a golden ratio between my hips and waist and have 28″ upper arms…”

Sounds crazy when you see it written on paper now doesn’t it?

We’re all socially primed to care about how others perceive us, so this looks ambitious, and ambition is a highly prized social quality.

Unfortunately you’re also a victim of traditional goal setting dogma, whereby having more goals is certainly better than one.

The problem is goal dilution.

If you have 5 hours a week to train, 5 hours to cook/prepare meals and you want to accomplish all of these things at once; It takes considerably longer because the percentage of your time you can dedicate to each is diminished.

In economics this is called opportunity cost.

“The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.”

Meaning that choosing to focus on one thing at this moment means that you lose any potential gain from something else.

That generally makes people a little anxious.

So decide on what’s most important to you and make sure your focus lies there, don’t bounce back and forth between various objectives.

If you have more than one or two real resolutions this year, you’re doing it wrong and I’d encourage only one at a time where possible.

Daily/weekly goals in the multiples can be juggled far more easily as you’re really deciding in advance how you’ll spend the time working towards the main resolution or goal.

No Accountability…

I realize I’m a coach, so everyone thinks I’m biased about this, but I became a coach because I realized early the value of accountability and feedback.

It wasn’t the other way around.

You don’t have to necessarily pay for accountability, but establishing a monetary attachment can be useful for some.

What you don’t want to do is be held accountable to your New Years resolution.

You want to be held accountable to the plan you’ve created to help you achieve your New Years resolution.

For instance a group of friends I know are currently using a google doc spreadsheet that they share between each other for daily actions they are ‘resolving.

They go on and put a check in the boxes for the days they did what they decided they wanted to do at the beginning of the year.

Everyone has a different long-term objective, that isn’t shared, but everyone can see the daily plan and whether or not someone has done what they said they were going to do for those days.

The result is usually that they are super compliant, given that they are all friends and end up talking about it regularly.

The added benefit of accountability is that you are also tracking adherence at the same time, so it’s win-win.

Create some kind of daily or weekly check in with a friend or group of friends, or if you need, hire a coach.

With technology these days, the accountability factor is incredibly easy to start.



What do you think? Are there any other reasons people don’t complete resolutions?

Leave a comment if you dare…