If you want to start new habits, you have to acknowledge the old habits you’ll be giving up.
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
- Struggling to keep a New Year’s resolution often happens because of five main reasons.
- Being overconfident without self-monitoring can cause you to fail quickly, says psychotherapist Amy Morin.
- Know what you’d be giving up to deliver on your resolution, and make a plan to overcome setbacks.
Anyone who has ever set a New Year’s resolution knows how hard they are to keep. No matter how good your intentions are when you establish them, it’s tough to get changes to stick.
As a psychotherapist, I see people fall into the same traps year after year. Whether they decide to lose weight, pay off debt, or get organized, they declare that they’re finally going to do something different in the coming year. Yet, despite their efforts, most of them feel discouraged by their lack of willpower within the first few days of the new year. Most of them quickly abandon their goals.
Trouble keeping a New Year’s resolution is a common phenomenon. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Scranton found that 23% of people quit their resolution after just one week. And only 19% of individuals are actually able to stick to their goals long term (two years, in the case of the study).
Here’s why most New Year’s resolutions just don’t stick:
1. Not ready to change
Those end-of-the-year activities and New Year’s Eve parties often come with pressure to declare how you’re going to change your life. And many people set a resolution based on what they think they should do, rather than what they actually want to do.
Saying you want to hit the gym more often when your heart’s not in it won’t help you get in shape. In fact, a half-hearted attempt is likely to backfire. After a few days at the gym, you might decide you’re more of a “couch potato” than an “athlete” and quit working out for good.
You have to be ready to change your life if your habit changes are going to stick. And while some people’s readiness for change happen to coincide with January 1st, most people will find the timing doesn’t quite work out that way.
2. No self-monitoring
Monitoring your progress is key to creating lasting change. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re on target? Simply assessing your improvements on a regular basis can be enough to keep you motivated.
For example, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that fitness apps can motivate people to get more exercise. Tracking activity levels can help people overcome perceived barriers to exercise. All those excuses you’re tempted to make might go out the window when you’re monitoring your progress.
So whether you use an app that tracks your spending or how long your runs are, there are many ways you can monitor the steps you’re taking.
3. Lack of planning
A little planning ahead goes a long way toward making good habits stick. You have to answer tough questions like, “Will I have to wake up earlier to go to the gym?” or “How am I going to stick to my budget when my friends invite me out for dinner several nights per week?” Anticipating challenges and identifying solutions is key to long-term success.
Mistakes are bound to happen when you’re working on a resolution. In fact, a study from the University of Scranton shows that people who are successful at sticking to their long-term resolutions tend to slip up (defined as the re-emergence of unwanted behavior) at least 14 times. A whopping 71% of individuals said their mistakes actually strengthened their desire to reach their goals.
Planning ahead can help you figure out how you’ll recover from those mistakes. And that’s an important part of preventing a misstep from turning into a permanent failure.
While many people worry that lack of confidence will kill their chances of reaching their goals, overconfidence can be even more detrimental.
When you’re convinced your goal is going to be easy — and you conclude you’re overqualified for the job — you’ll likely find yourself unprepared and ill-equipped to face the reality of the situation.
Change is hard. Acknowledge that it’s tough to delay gratification and push yourself when you’re tired. Saying it’s going to be difficult to stay on track doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re being realistic.
Recognize that you have weaknesses and that you’re going to struggle, and you’ll be more emotionally prepared to meet your goal.
5. Not looking at what has to be given up
Everything you add to your life means you have to give something up. But we often only focus on what we’re gaining and forget to look at the things we’re leaving behind.
Going to the gym three nights a week may mean fewer hours with your family or less time to watch your favorite show. Before you sign up for that membership, make sure you’re ready to make the trade-off.
Similarly, sticking to your budget means less impulse purchases and fewer meals out with friends. How are you going to handle these uncomfortable feelings (or the awkward conversations when you have to say no to things you really want to do)?
Before you commit to changing your habits, recognize what you will gain from the new habits. And think about what you’ll need to give up before you make the change. Simply acknowledging this ahead of time — and developing a plan to deal with the change — can help remind you that it is worth the price you’re going to pay.
How to make your resolution last
Just because most resolutions fail doesn’t mean your resolution can’t last. If you’re prepared for the reality of the challenge and you’re willing to put in the hard work to make it happen, you can make your resolution stick this year.
This article originally published December 28, 2019.