We start out January with great intentions. We resolve to lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, gain control over our finances or to generally have a more positive outlook. Some of us have no problem keeping their resolutions.
According to researcher John Norcross, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology that about 50 percent of people will make a resolution every New Year.
But for many of us, shortly after the New Year, a week or two or even a month in, we begin to slide back into our old ways, eventually completely forgetting about our resolutions.
Why do so many people have problems succeeding in following through?
Researchers have studied this behavior to try to find the reason. Is it simply because people are weak-willed? Or just lazy?
Resolutions are a way of motivating yourself to change a habit. But if you aren’t ready to actually change your habit, especially a bad habit, the failure rate will be high. Another reason can be that we set unrealistic expectations and goals when we make our resolution.
Psychology professor Peter Herman calls it “the ‘false hope syndrome’, which means their resolution is significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves.” In other words, if you don’t really believe you can achieve your goal, then the positive affirmations don’t work.
Another aspect of failed resolutions comes from how you think it will change your entire life. You might think that losing weight or reducing your debts will change your life and when it doesn’t you become discouraged and go back to your old behaviors.
A resolution is basically a goal to change something. And in order to change you have to work at it and change your way of thinking about it.
Why People Fail at Following Through with Their Resolutions
About 40% of the adults in the United States make a New Year’s Resolution every year. Out of those, only about 25% will have broken one or more of them within two weeks. And by the end of January, the failure rate increases to 50%, according to John Norcross, a psychology professor at the University of Scranton and author of Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing your Goals and Resolutions.
According to Norcross, the top five resolutions made each year are:
- Weight loss
- Improve finances
- Get a new job
- Healthier eating
Out of these five, weight loss, exercise and eating healthy are easiest.
What’s the average length of time someone stays with their resolution?
Resolution maintained through first week—–75% of people
Past two weeks —- 71% of people
Past one month —- 64% of people
Past six months —- 46% of people
These statistics show an alarming number of people failing to follow through with their resolutions.
In fact, it’s estimated that 75 percent of all New Year’s resolutions will end in failure.
So, if we’re so determined to change at the beginning of a new year, why do so many fail at following through?
By the six-month point after maker New Year resolutions, over half have already totally given up on at least one of them. Why?
Here are some ideas:
- Timing. January is a tough month to begin anything new. We’ve already packed on pounds starting during Halloween all the way through Super Bowl Sunday. Not to mention, it’s cold and dark out (at least in the U.S.) making us less active and even less motivated to change. Money is often tighter in January, after splurging during the holidays. Stress is higher, as well.
- High motivation with no real plan. Those New Year’s Resolutions don’t come with instructions. We can easily say, “I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year”, but that’s only the first step. To stay motivated, you need a detailed plan and often expert advice to be more likely to succeed.
- Setting unrealistic goals. Often we set unrealistic goals, such as going cold turkey from smoking or losing 50 pounds in 6 months. We sometimes set multiple resolutions that have nothing in common (like losing weight and getting out of debt) expecting to accomplish them all simultaneously. We set our expectations too high.
- Being too tough on ourselves. We have big expectations for ourselves, and then end up having an even bigger disappointment when our progress is slower than we expected or we have an occasional setback. This can cause you to give up.
- Lack of support or accountability. Trying to stay motivated on your own is tough. We’re social beings. We do better trying to reach a goal when we have support and are being held accountable for what we do. If no one knows you’re on a diet and fast food isn’t on your approved menu, the only thing keeping you away from the fast food lane is your own self-control.
Now you know what causes you to fail at your New Year’s resolutions. To make resolutions work, it involves changing your behavior, setting realistic goals, having a system for reaching the goal, and having others hold you accountable.