New Year Resolutions: Why They Fail and How to Make Them Stick

by Usman Shamaki.

At the beginning of every year, we go through the same cycle of making New Year resolutions. These usually range from resolutions to work harder, make better financial decisions, exercise more, quit smoking, make new friends, lose weight (or in my own case, gain weight) and read more books. However, a recent study of New Year resolutions and their rate of success discovered that only about 9.2% of New Year resolutions are successful and the average length of most New Year resolutions is six months. Six months may not seem like such a bad run for a New Year resolution but then again, your aim was to stretch the resolution to last a year, not six months. Therefore, six months won’t do.

After closely studying mine and other people’s New Year resolution patterns, I have put together some theories as to why they fail and tips on how to follow through on your resolutions.

  1. DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF SMALL VICTORIES: Whether you’re working on acquiring a new good habit, dropping an old bad one or improving on an already acquired habit, setting huge goals may seem like a good idea but it has a number of downsides. First of all, it conditions your mind to acknowledge only huge victories in your quest to acquiring or improving on the habit and blinds you to smaller victories which should ordinarily count as well.

Secondly, it leaves you feeling you have failed whenever you are unable to reach the huge goals you have set for yourself. To make your resolutions stick, it is important to acknowledge smaller victories on your way to achieving your ultimate goal.

  1. START SMALL: When it comes to New Year resolutions, the saying “go big or go home” has no place. The aim of your resolution is to build a new habit and that cannot happen overnight. Building a new habit takes time. If you have never exercised before, thinking you will somehow start going to the gym every day and sustain the tempo within a short period of time is unrealistic. Start with small attainable goals such as going to the gym three times a week then work your way up.
  1. THERE ARE DAYS WHEN YOU WILL FALTER: You know that feeling, right? You start off the New Year all fired up about your resolutions, you start off keeping to it strictly every day and then you slowly start losing steam. Then you wake up one day and you’ve lost the resolve to keep to your resolution. Then it all goes downhill from there.

The first step to starting and sustaining a New Year resolution is to accept and realize that there are days when you will falter and not keep to it. Realizing this will help to curb that huge disappointment which might drain you of the energy to go on. Accept that there are days when you will not feel up to it.

  1. DON’T GO IT ALONE: It has been proven that doing things in a group is far more beneficial than doing it alone. The camaraderie of doing things as a group can be a great motivating factor. To make your resolutions stick, find people with similar resolutions. If your resolution is to exercise more, join a group with similar interests and join a gym or go jogging together. If it’s to read more books, join people with similar interests and start a book club.

The American Psychological Association recommends joining “a support group to reach your goals, such as a workout class at your gym or a group of coworkers trying to quit smoking.”

If you go it alone, there won’t be much to motivate you into sticking to your resolution.


  1. MAKE ONE CHANGE AT A TIME: My New Year resolution for 2016 started off with me wanting to write a book, then I said I would edit and proofread articles and books for other writers, then I said I would join a gym. On and on I went piling one resolution on top of another. By the end of the year I had achieved just one out of the many resolutions I had. A resolution is essentially a form of behavior modification and the last time I checked, behavior modification is never an easy process. One resolution is difficult to stick to needless to say lumping multiple resolutions together.

Multiple resolutions rarely ever work. It takes exceptional willpower to make multiple resolutions and stick to all of them. Most of the resolutions people make are about making major lifestyle changes. Therefore, making multiple resolutions can lead to something I like to call Resolution Meltdown. This is why it is important to make one change at time, especially when each of your resolutions require a total behavior and lifestyle change.

  1. TALK ABOUT YOUR RESOLUTIONS WITH OTHERS: Don’t keep your resolutions to yourself. Talk about it with your family, friends or others who have been through and surmounted the same struggle you are trying to overcome. Doing this will help sustain your motivation and enable you get tips on how to further accomplish your goals.


  1. CHANNEL YOUR FRUSTRATIONS PROPERLY: We’ve all been there. We start off the year keeping strictly to our resolutions with lots of motivation and excitement. Then we face a setback, get frustrated and toss our resolutions into the trash. One thing I have learnt about the frustration that comes with being unable to achieve a goal is that it turns into heart-wrenching guilt, and that is one feeling I would rather not have.

Rather than let frustration trick you into giving up on your resolution, channel that frustration into achieving your goal. Reexamine your actions to find out where you went wrong and see what you might have done differently.


  1. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS: If you were to withdraw money from your account willy-nilly without tracking your spending, what do you think would happen? You would be broke in no time and you wouldn’t be able to know what exactly you did with your money. Resolutions are more or less the same way. Keeping track of your resolutions is one of the easiest and effective ways of making them stick and making corrections. When you see the progress you’re making, it will boost your confidence and encourage you to keep at it.

You can keep track of your progress by keeping a log, a journal or a diary. However, considering the fact that we are all in the tech age, I would recommend downloading an app to help you keep track of your progress. One amazing app that helps in building habits is called Habit Bull. It acts as both a habit tracker and a reminder to build on your habits.

  1. CREATE A REWARD SYSTEM: In anything we do, the existence of a reward system enables us to put in our best and strive harder to achieve our goal. If your employer told you to work without any remuneration, would you be motivated to work harder than you already do now? Aha! Now you get my point.

Creating a reward system is an effective way of making resolutions stick. There is no specific reward system which you can use to aid in keeping your resolutions. Basically you’ll just have to tweak it to suit your circumstances and preferences.

Whatever your resolutions may be, I wish you all the best in achieving them. I wish you all a successful 2017. Happy New Year!

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