Four Reasons Your Resolutions Aren’t Sticking—and What to do About it

Four Reasons Your Resolutions Aren’t Sticking—and What to do About it

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It’s that time of year where I’m hearing a lot of “This year, my goal is to…” and “I have to stick to my resolution to…” but I’m also hearing a lot of “Yeah, my resolution will probably last a month,” and “I told myself I would do [insert goal here] this year, but I just don’t care right now.”

It’s got me thinking about the many goals and resolutions we make, especially in the New Year, and why so many times they don’t stick. (Statistics actually show that only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions)
Sticking to the goals I lay out for myself has definitely been a problem for me and I think there are four main reasons why. If you find yourself in the same dilemma, read on for some insight into what might be getting in the way and what you can do about it.

1. You’re trying to change something that doesn’t really need changing.

In other words, you’re “should-ing” all over yourself. One of the most crucial components of a successful change effort is that it must be aligned with the actual problem that you’re trying to resolve.
If that’s not the case, then after a while it’s going to be—and feel—like you’ve got another new thing loaded on top of an already busy schedule and overwhelming list of things to do. Then, when it comes time to integrate this change into your life in a permanent way—which is already hard—it’s going to be that much harder to find space.
Questions to ask yourself: Why do you want to make this particular change or try this new idea? What problem are you trying to solve?

2. You’re not really motivated to solve the problem at hand.

Sometimes, we know there’s a real problem, but we don’t feel any urgency to solve it, and so any change efforts become another form of “should-ing” on ourselves. Sometimes you just need to accept that it’s not the right time, but if you are still struggling with motivation, a great way to overcome this particular barrier is to make the status quo more visible.
An example: Statistically, the most popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight. While it seems like it’s easy to define that problem or gap in the number of pounds overweight or pounds to lose, it could actually be about something else like getting stronger, or being able to run with your dog, or fit into your favorite dress again.
Maybe you need to show yourself what that gap really looks like by trying to go for a run and realizing you can’t even run around the block. Whatever it may be, find that beacon of light that will help you get clear about what you want and know that this problem is worth solving.
Questions to ask yourself: What does the problem look like right now? What is the gap between where you are and where you want to be? How can I see it more clearly and define it in more specific terms? Is it something I really want to do at this time?

3. You’re using external circumstances as distractions and excuses.

When something is hard, I have a tendency to go on autopilot and start doing all of the other easy stuff that I know needs to get done. Then, all of a sudden, it’s bed time and I don’t have to deal with the hard stuff until another day! I also tend to tell myself that I had no choice but to do these other things, otherwise who else would do them? They needed to get done!
In my case, this behavior eventually caught up with me (as an emotional breakdown) and I had to face facts that I was creating a world for myself where I couldn’t put myself first and, therefore, had abundant excuses for not pursuing my goals. When I finally talked to my husband about it, he said, “I would rather you spend time after work doing something you enjoy than cleaning or worrying about dinner for us. That stuff will figure itself out.”
Questions to ask yourself: What are the barriers to my not being able to achieve this goal? What are the reasons those barriers exist? How many of those barriers and reasons are REAL and how many are tasks or responsibilities that you’re putting on yourself?
TO DO: Go ask your spouse/partner/family/friends if they agree that those pressures/expectations should exist and if not, can they help you remove them by taking care of some stuff and reminding you to take more time for yourself.

4. You’re focusing too much on the WHAT and not enough on the HOW.

The “what” is your big idea and all of the relevant details that go with it: You want to get in shape so you join a gym, buy a fitbit, get a trainer, get a new sports-bra, etc. The “how” is the implementation, the scheduling of the trainer, the regularly getting to the sessions, the finding time to go to the gym, the showing afterwards, the packing of the bags, the wearing of the fitbit.
In many cases, we tend to focus on the “what” while drastically underestimating all of the details and processes required to actually implement the new change. In these cases, we feel a surge of initial excitement, but as the small and unplanned challenges start adding up, we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and disappointed. As a result, we may end up dismissing the entire idea as too hard, or too much, and progress halts. To avoid this situation, try starting small.
Questions to ask yourself: What does this goal look like broken up into smaller pieces? What will it take to accomplish each of these little pieces? What is the “low hanging fruit” (something that is easy to add and integrate into what I already do)? What routines do I already engage in every day/week/month that I can easily tweak to add a small piece of what it’ll take to reach this goal?
Keeping these four points in mind, and the questions to ask yourself, will help you to hone in on critical roadblocks—and figure out what you need to do in order to overcome them.

I’m wishing you the best of luck in the year ahead and welcome your ideas, questions, and feedback in the comments.

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Anna Kawar is a passionate improvement coach with a decade of experience building the capacity of individuals and teams to continuously improve, personally and professionally. She currently works for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching where she has taught over 800 educators and coached over 60 teams from non-profits, schools, and districts to use innovation, rapid-cycle testing, data, and spread methodologies to improve educational outcomes for K-16 students. Anna started her career at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, where she managed and helped develop a network of almost 500 healthcare improvement experts and fellows. She received her MPP and MBA from Duke University, where she was an Education Pioneers Graduate Fellow and led notable projects with the North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Triangle Family Services. Anna currently serves as an advisory leadership coach to Full Circle Institute and sits on the boards of Improving Education in Baltimore and the Design Museum Foundation in San Francisco.