Why Your New Years Resolution Failed Already (& How To Change With The Right Goals)

  • Exploring Change  Future Thinking
  • Avatar  by The Envisionary

  • New Year’s resolutions often start off strong but soon after they’ve become another goal that didn’t happen. Here’s why, and how to change that.

    There we are at the start of a new year, full of vigor and hope.

    ‘This is the year. I shall go to the gym. I shall climb that mountain. I shall eat better. I shall make more money’ etc etc.

    Yet by around mid-February our zest for our New Year’s resolutions either starts to dissipate or has gone completely, and all those goals we loosely set ourselves have likely fallen by the wayside.

    We may be left feeling disappointed in ourselves for either not really doing anything we said we would, or for starting so well but then finding we simply can’t sustain our efforts as we inevitably then fall back into old habits.

    Why Momentum For New Year Goals Has Already Stopped

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    2023 new year resolutions are being washed away already

    The only existing item that may be still active on our resolution list is ironically ‘climb a mountain’, as this is what setting New Year’s resolutions goals feels like by the time mid-February hits (but can apply for any time of the year we have hit a wall or given up).

    The buzz of the new year motivation has gone, SAD may still exist in winter days that are colder and darker, and those initial gains and feel good factor of doing something new turn into ‘what, I have to do this again?!!’.

    Momentum hits a road block, and there’s a good psychological reason behind this.

    Anticipation is short term dopamine. Results are longer term discipline.

    If you have an initial boost of dopamine your brain ain’t going to want to be disciplined to longer term gains.

    It will feel like it doesn’t need to as it’s getting signals that everything is fine if it just ‘feels’ fine (which is the downside of our modern obsession with EQ qualities).

    You see, most of us make the encouraged mistake of goal-setting at the start of new years rather than seeing change as a meaningful process that takes time, and is, well, challenging.

    We live in a very instant gratification-led world today that has been conditioned heavily by this attention and consumer economy of ‘I want it now’, and it must be easy or comfortable.

    So we think of goals as the same as shopping therapy, and like shopping we can become sucked into thinking we need to obtain every goal (rather than the right goal) because this gives us more initial dopamine hits, which in turn starves off our desire to keep going longer term (and keep momentum going).

    There’s a cure for this though, as we’ll see, but first let’s consider the 3 main reasons we end up going from ‘yes, let’s climb a mountain’ to ‘urghh, this mountain is tough, I want out’.

    The Reasons Why New Year Resolutions Fail Fast

    Whilst there’s many reasons as to why we might stop short in our goals, research suggests initial resolutions fail to turn into longer achievements because we overload ourselves with goals that are either too many, too generic, or too immeasurable.

    New Years Resolution Fail #1 – Too Many Goals

    color paint palette wall painting
    Picking a goal is like deciding between thousands of colour palettes

    This is likely the number one culprit towards failing fast.

    We often set ourselves lists of too many things to achieve, and as a year resets we get motivated in thinking we have a whole other year to do it, only to soon find out there’s a big difference in noting down all the things we want to achieve and actively doing so.

    What makes achieving too many goals so hard isn’t just how it would obviously take more time than we have available, but it would also take far too much energy to be able to function.

    The reality is that our mind can’t focus on too much. In fact, it struggles to keep any more than 3-4 key concepts in mind at one time, and really can’t actively focus on any more than one thing at a time.

    You can throw a million thoughts together but actively you’d still have to put a thought into action one action at a time.

    With this in mind it makes no sense then to overload ourselves with too many goals, and yet we often do, and get less done because of it.

    ‘We are more likely to achieve more when we set ourselves less’.

    The Envisionary

    If our vision board is too cluttered with so many hopeful life achievements we must do before we die, then all we do is give ourselves unnecessary judgement, stress, and a higher likelihood that we only achieve a small percentage goals (if that).

    Had you set only a few goals in comparison then your percentage of goal completion would be dramatically higher, as would the psychological effect this has on your motivation.

    Also, when we cross off and delete lists of goals we might fleetingly think we want today (but maybe not in a month) then we free up an enormous amount of extra energy that would otherwise consume us.

    Think of a petty fight in a relationship, or a worry about what someone might think of you in a job interview. How much energy is wasted over self doubts, miscommunication, or potential things that never happened?

    What if you allowed your mind to be free of ‘what ifs’ that aren’t going to help you and only focused on the forward thinking positive ‘what ifs’ instead?!

    When you get your mind to focus on fewer goals you see their details and possibilities a lot clearer, and then you can also work out whether that goal matches your true desires more easily too.

    More choice isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to goal-setting as it drives this ‘mountain-top’ approach that makes us think we have to keep going up and chasing more to be happy or successful.

    In reality our vision in life is clearer and more meaningful when we seek less, and when we are as happy to not be doing something, rather than always worry about never being where we want to be.

    This goes against the advice we get in life to always keep building – to always keep climbing that mountain – but doing so will only take you further away from ever figuring out what it is you actually want or need to do in life, as you just become too swamped by all the noise thinking you are making progress by being busy whilst not making the right progress through the right goals for you (which we’ll cover soon).

    New Years Resolution Fail #2 – Setting Generic Goals

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    Imagine every received the same letter. Yet, we tend to choose goals that way.

    We might not set too many goals but instead we might only set goals that are too generic for motivation to last.

    It’s common to share the same ‘generic’ bucket lists as everyone else, meaning we are much more likely to passively follow a trend or societally accepted goal rather than actively consider what we really want out of a goal.

    We end up falling into the bandwagon because it takes less initial energy upfront to just pick one from a generic bucket list than it does to think a little deeper at first and set the right direction for us (although the irony is in how much more time and energy we waste by following goals that just aren’t right for us).

    There’s a few problems in only setting vague generic goals.

    They quickly become unsustainable as by the time the initial New Year’s resolution buzz or popular trend has worn off (i.e. when everyone stops talking about it) our motivation wanes too.

    They are more likely to get boring fast meaning we are more likely to lose the spark that goal-setting should provide.

    For example, we don’t need to go to the gym to workout just because everyone else does. Instead, it’s our opportunity to find different ways to ‘workout’, to be inventive, to make our goals more exciting and interesting (and thus more likely to be kept up).

    However following generic goals leaves us in this autopilot mindset where goals are more likely to just become a chore after a while as we don’t keep things fresh by thinking outside-the-box.

    They are harder to quantify and breakdown, as just saying ‘I want to lose weight’ doesn’t give as much incentive as ‘I will lose 4kg in the next two months’ (which we will see more about in the next reason).

    They do little towards helping us figure out our own unique goals, as well as potential hidden talents we might have through being more varied and adaptable in our approach to finding and setting our goals (although we are more likely to set generic goals because no one has really taught us how to set unique goals).

    They signify a problem of external validation over intrinsic motivation, and it’s particularly problematic in our modern culture.

    Generic goals may ‘feel’ good because they are commonly shared, known, and praised but (if we are really going to break out the psychological development issue with this) generic goal-setting can limit intrinsic motivation and self-discipline.

    Why does this matter?

    When you are really focused in what you need for yourself to grow as a person rather than what you think you should do because it looks trendy, good on a CV, good for Instagram etc. then you change from being that person who goes to the gym (for example) for external validation to one who is driven by intrinsic motivation.

    I can’t underestimate the power of change in this thinking, and, ultimately, the progress it fosters, but if you are still not with me then consider this:

    ‘It might not be what you want to hear, but it’s likely what you need to hear’.

    This advice was given to me by my old jujitsu professor, and it stuck with me.

    If truth be told we have very much become too sensitive and easily-offended as a society, and this might not seem like it correlates to our own goal-setting but it very much does separate those who will dig deeper in themselves (on those final few reps when it counts) and those who will just follow, seek attention, or give up too easily (or even blame others) when it ‘feels’ difficult.

    On top of this, when we stop comparing ourselves to others our real resolutions become clearer, and we find we waste a lot less energy caring about what we should look like or should achieve, and we stop trying to tick every box and start creating our own boxes as parameters to follow.

    When our goals have more personal connection and meaning then we have more fire in our belly to keep going and be more self-disciplined in our approach towards goals that really matter to us, rather than lose direction and focus when following generic goals that just don’t really inspire us or match to our intrinsic values.

    Now finding the right goal for you is also a process, and it’s something that can require the kind of coaching given here at The Envisionary, but before we go into how to find the right goals to set and stick to, there’s another reason we often fall short too soon.

    New Years Resolution Fail #3 – Immeasurable Goals

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    Hmmm, how did I do? Err, wait a sec.

    We might only have one or two goals we have set ourselves, and we might even be sure that it’s a goal that we really want, and yet we still might find we give up despite this added motivation.

    So what’s up here?

    It’s easy to just say, we got too busy and so on, but adding one goal to your already busy life is absolutely achievable as highly effective people have proven time and time again, and it doesn’t mean living off 4 hours sleep a night.

    The final main reason we quit our goals too soon is we simply haven’t measured them effectively.

    Think of it this way.

    You go to the gym in January (yes the gym again 😉 – it’s an easy analogy for most people to envision), and in the gym you suddenly see many fresh faces pushing themselves hard trying to do everything hoping for instant gains.

    Then come February they’ve gone.

    Sprinting at the start of a marathon is a horrible idea, and while that initial dopamine charge of trying something new is sometimes too much to ignore, the real reason people do this is because they have no real measure of progress.

    You don’t just head to the gym 5 times and think ‘hey, I’m doing it’, and then hope to do the same weeks after.

    We should know by now that goals are really only effective when we see them as a process of change.

    So how do you see change?

    You measure it.

    When we set goals that don’t have any real measure to them (like ‘be healthier with what I eat’) it makes it too hard to quantify progress, and so we struggle to continue after a while.

    We often read digestible ‘lists’ so we can find them easier to read, but what good is that if we don’t take action on those lists? Or don’t digest our own goals in the same way?

    We have to give ourselves small, digestible, actionable steps to follow to ensure we keep going, but also don’t overdo it or burnout too soon (like those January gym goers).

    ‘Gains are made incrementally, and they are made against yourself not others’.

    The Envisionary

    Each time we take an action we move a step closer and we should reward this with ‘little wins’ to keep our motivation steady.

    There’s much less chance we will give up when we keep getting feedback on our efforts.

    As well as smaller steps (and rewards) we also want easier specific goals to measure month by month.

    Less ‘eat healthier’. More ‘reduce chocolate intake by an extra bar each week’.

    When we work towards a challenging, but achievable, measurable first goal in the first month it becomes something we can ease into and slowly push ourselves to incrementally improve in each following month/week (the same goes for our vision board).

    We become more accountable for (and aware of) the steps we need to take to keep moving forward, as measuring doesn’t just tell us what we’ve done but gives us indication of how to use our time and energy more effectively – so we can cut out excess goals that simply are making it harder rather than easier to make progress.

    Too often when we set goals we expect progress to be constant and each week to be better than the last, but this is seldom the case.

    When we measure our goals more effectively we can also factor in challenges and setbacks along the way (the ‘one step back two steps forward’ mantra is very common and acceptable in our process to progress).

    You see, we too often forget it’s a journey, not something we should only measure as 100% done.

    ‘You either win or learn in life’.

    The Envisionary

    Very few goals are 100% done, and no goal was completed without failures along the way, and most goals are changeable.

    When we set goals what we are really doing is setting a specific group of actions we will take towards a point we are happy with.

    And so part of measuring is to also enjoy the journey, for the challenges, the little wins, and the fails along the way.

    After all, what’s the point in setting goals if we don’t enjoy the process.

    Finding Your Right Goals So Your Resolutions Stick

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    Finding your 10, not someone else’s. It may take a few efforts.

    Once we cut out the 3 main stumbling blocks to why we crash and burn on our New Year goals then our vision and direction becomes clearer and we can start setting the right goals that will stick with us.

    It’s all about the process, and the process pretty much follows the 3 main reasons we fail at our New Year’s resolutions.

    We simply reverse engineer it.

    The Process:

    So, firstly, we might have a ton of goals of what we want to do. We know we can’t do all, and so we can quickly cut our goals that aren’t as defined or important by writing down all the goals we think we’d like to do, then giving ourselves just 30 seconds to decide yes or no.

    Then if you still have too many yes’ then go another round, cut out a few more, and so on.

    Once you get down to about 5 then that’s fine for now.

    If your gut tells you you should add another one back to the list then do so, but otherwise refrain.

    A good simple technique is to ignore something or box something up for a while, and if it keeps finding it’s way back to you then chances are you should explore it more. 

    With these 5 or less goals now you want to draw up where you currently are, where you want your goal to be, and where you don’t want it to be (a vision balance board).

    This doesn’t have to take long. You’ll likely get an urge to either really want to have something you don’t (your forward thinking ‘vision’), or to avoid something you really don’t (your backwards thinking ‘devision’).

    This will help you work out whether real meaning is attached to your goal.

    If you are not getting excited (or scared of what might be if you don’t take action) then you can probably bin that goal/vision for now (we can often just be conditioned to goals we think we want but don’t).

    Ideally you will limit your goals to 3, as the less goals the better because you’ll be able to dedicate more energy to fewer goals.

    With those 3 goals set yourself 28 days (4 weeks) to alternate between them at steady, manageable rates through that month (or just focus on 1 at a time if that’s too much).

    Reward incremental progress and give yourself a bigger reward in the 2-3 days at the end of the month before realigning your goals to the next month.

    Goal Setting Advice:

    Each goal will be different lengths but a good guideline is to be able to breakdown a bigger goal into monthly segments, and then break this down into daily or weekly steps. This is making your goal measurable.

    Consider easier goals to begin with. Walk to the end of the road and back rather than jump right into a marathon.

    Not every goal you’ll follow through after a month. Maybe that was enough. Maybe it’s not right. Chances are if you’ve given up on it after a month or so (and it doesn’t come back to you again later) then it wasn’t really that important to you.

    It’s fine to bin goals and shuffle around despite this mistaken idea that goals should be finite. There’s really no point in keeping at goals that are only taking you in the wrong direction, so monitoring them closely can really help you in the long run.

    Although, remember it can take 3 months for goals to really start showing measurable results, so don’t quit just because it’s getting hard, keep going.

    As you keep going with your goal remember to reward incremental targets, and to be okay with leaving the goal for a while and coming back to it with renewed vigor if it’s lost it’s spark.

    An Unconventional Approach To Goal-Setting

    Much of what I’m saying here goes against conventional wisdom, but that’s because most goals people chase are generic and conventional. You’ll only really find your vision and goals that matter to you through exploring with this chapter-living approach to goal-setting.

    Goals really are not only a logical process or step-by-steps, order, and tick boxing. Too often we are told to make 5 year plans, but how many people change their minds or environment within 5 years to keep that same goal going? It would likely dry out long before.

    We are more motivated when we realise we can adapt and change who we are (rather than feeling like we are always never quite 100% with the mountain-top approach to living).

    Goals should be active and dynamic, and they are really best found through the type of out the box thinking that is encouraged and taught here on The Envisionary.

    If you need one-to-one help with your goal setting, vision boards, forward thinking, and much more, then contact The Envisionary for coaching.

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