Why 91% of New Year’s Resolutions Fail

It´s been four months now since you set your New Year´s resolutions this year, so it´s a perfect opportunity to reflect: Are you still doing what you set out to do? Did you follow through on your resolutions and create a better version of yourself?

If not, you are not alone! Studies suggest that between 40 and 60% of Americans set New Year´s resolutions, and yet, half of them have already given up on their goals after a few months. At the end of the year, only nine percent will report success in keeping up their resolutions. That´s pretty bad odds if you ask me.

Luckily, while keeping your resolutions is certainly hard, it is far from impossible. Whether you have already given up on your goals or still work towards them, this article will help you achieve your goals smarter and faster, so that at the end of the year, you belong to the glorious nine percent that kept their commitments.

Before we get into that, however, let´s first examine why we set our New Year´s resolutions in the first place. After all, there is nothing inherently special about this day that makes it different from any other.

What makes New Year special, however, is this idea that we can have a fresh start. The idea that, no matter what your past looks like and no matter how many times you failed, you can suddenly overcome defeat and emerge victorious. It is out need to believe that greatness is possible for us and that, and that if we just finally show enough self-discipline, we can have this great victory.

So what do we do? We jump right in, set the most outrageous goals, and hope that someone, somewhere, we will muster the courage, discipline, and motivation to follow through. As you can imagine, that´s a recipe for failure.

When we set our New Year´s resolutions, we are usually ecstatic. The year lying ahead seems to be full of possibilities, and we can´t wait to prove our newfound superhuman strength and willpower to the world! We can´t wait to get out and finally start running, loose those extra pounds, spend more time with our families, or save more money. When we go to bed that night, we know: Tomorrow I will be a new person, and nothing will hold me back!

Eight hours later the alarm goes off, and life looks a little bit different now. The superhuman motivation from yesterday is gone, and we have to face the brutal reality: Nothing has changed, and it never will. Reaching your goals will never be easy and effortless, and you will never suddenly discover the secret to willpower through a magical pill.

The truth is, change is hard. It´s painful. You have to get yourself do the things that you ´don´t want to do, not just once or twice, but for months and years to come. In the pursuit of your goals, you will fall down many times, and any time you do, you will ask yourself: Is this really for me?

You can imagine the battle in your mind like the fight between your Present and Future Self. Your Future Self is the one that dreams and makes plans, the one that sees unlimited possibilities for the future. It´s the part of you that set your resolutions in the first place.

However, there is a disconnect between the Future Self and the present moment. While the Future Self can make plans and set goals, it can´t actually make them happen. That is because only the Present Self can decide what to do at any moment in time. Now it would be easy if the Present Self just followed the instructions of the Future Self, but unfortunately, that is not the case.

The Present Self doesn´t care about future rewards or accomplished goals, it only cares about one thing: Avoiding pain and gaining pleasure right now. The more intense and immediate the imagined pain or pleasure is, the more it has an impact on the decision making of your Present Self.

Let´s say your goal is to lose 30 pounds by the end of the year and determine that you will need to run at least five times per week for at least 30 minutes in order to achieve that goal. When setting that goal, your Future Self is excited: Finally fit, finally healthy, and finally you will look good in your bathing suit!

However, your Present Self makes a slightly different calculation: Running five times per week even though I hate working out? Dieting when I could be eating delicious donuts and chocolate cookies? No, thanks!


As you can see, there is a huge disconnect between what you want now and what you want in the future. When you wake up at 6am to do your morning run and it´s cold and rainy outside, a goal of losing weight suddenly loses all its appeal.

So, should we just hopelessly surrender to the desires of the Present Self and give up on all our dreams and goals? Hell, no! While the enemies inside your head may be hard to beat, they are far from invincible! Here´s how you defeat them:

Set realistic goals

Especially when it comes to New Year´s resolutions, our goals are often way too big and unrealistic. We have never worked out a day in our lives and suddenly want to run a marathon in three months. We have never earned more than $30.000 a year but want to be millionaires within a year.

Now, I´m not saying that these goals are unrealistic, but the timeline may be. When we set goals, we often expect a massive transformation over night. We have been conditioned to believe in the sudden victory, the classical rags to riches story of the overnight success. What we tend to forget, however, is the work they put in beforehand. As famous singer and actor Eddie Cantor said, “It takes 20 years to make an overnight success.”

When you set your goals, don´t plan to reach your biggest dreams in two months. It´s not going to happen, and expecting it will just lead to disappointment. Keep that vision of the future you want to create, but start small.

When you want to be a marathon runner but have never run before, start with a 5k. Once you have mastered that, run a 10k, then a half-marathon. Along the way, never forget your big dream, but focus on the next small step ahead. Sometimes, setting huge goals can hold us back because they seem impossible. When that happens to you, keep your vision, but break it down. Start with the first possible step, no matter how small it may be. Focus on constant improvement, not perfection.

Develop good habits

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” It is truly astonishing that Aristotle discovered this powerful principle over 2000 years ago, and yet, we still don´t use it correctly. Habits are the driving force behind nearly everything you do. Your body, your relationships, your finances, and your happiness are all a direct result of the actions you take on a consistent basis. If you want to change your results in life, change your habits.

Why are habits so important? Because they determine most of the decisions you make on a daily basis. What you eat or don´t eat, how much you work out, and how you spend your time at work are all habits. If you change them, you can completely change the direction of your life.

So how, then, do we determine which habits to adopt? This is a highly individual thing and depends on the kinds of goals you have, but here are 8 great habits to start with. If you still don´t know which habits to develop, ask yourself: Which one habit would make the biggest impact on the results in this area of my life? It doesn´t have to be anything earth-shattering or some nearly superhuman feat, instead, it is often the simple things that will get you the best results.

Need more knowledge about your industry? Read a good book for 30 minutes every morning.

Need to get in better shape? Start working out.

Feel stressed a lot? Start meditating.

Now, when you start a habit, don´t suddenly go from zero to hero. Don´t expect to suddenly have the willpower to work out every day for half an hour or meditate for 20 minutes. Instead, start small, even if that means doing something for one minute. Everyone has a different starting point, so begin with what you feel comfortable with. You are new to running? Go only for a few minutes. It might sound ridiculous and doesn´t have any real benefit physically, but that´s not the point. The point is to establish a new habit and make you a runner. Once you have that down, you can work on getting results.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is wanting too much too soon. After setting their goals, they jump right into massive action that is not sustainable over the long run and then wonder why they lost all motivation after a week. Building habits doesn´t work that way. Building habits is a long-term process that requires patience and discipline above everything else. It´s not a quick fix, but it is necessary if you want your Present Self to start making better choices. And the way to do that is to start out easy.

Make the new habit so easy that it is impossible not to have the willpower to do it! In the beginning, it´s all about doing it. Not about how well, how long, or how hard. You simply have to do it. Over time, you will find it easier to follow through to the point that your new behavior becomes automatic. That´s when you can start making it harder.

Schedule habits

One of the best ways to make sure that you actually follow through on your New Year´s resolutions and stay committed to your goals is to schedule your habits. In other words, you plan in advance what you do, when you do it, how you do it, and for how long you do it. This might be as simple as “every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I meditate for 10 minutes right before going to bed.”

By deciding in advance what exactly you will do, you need less willpower when it comes to actually following through. You don´t have to weigh the pros and cons of an action and decide how exactly you will do it as you have already done it. All you have to do is show up.

 It can also be helpful to plan for failure because the truth is, you will fail. Everyone fails once in awhile, whether that is due to lack of time, willpower, or energy. And when you do, it´s okay! In fact, research from the University of London (Lally et al., 2010) suggests that occasional slipups are not detrimental as long as the next act of performing a habit is made a priority. In other words, it doesn´t matter if you fail once in a while as long as you make sure that you follow through the next time.

You can also plan for failure by completing the following sentence:

If X happens, I do Y.
If I feel too tired to go for a run, I just run for one mile and then see if I feel better.
If I don´t feel motivated to work on my book, I watch inspirational videos.
If I am mad at my partner, I think of all the great times we had together.
If I am stressed out, I meditate and then make a plan to tackle my tasks one by one.
If I can´t meditate for 20 minutes today, I meditate for 5 minutes.
You get the point.

What this exercise allows you to do is to accept the reality that you won´t always feel like following through and completing the whole action. When that happens, it is better to do a “mini-version” of your usual habit than to quit it altogether. However, this tool should not be used as an excuse to do less work and is instead supposed to help you through the bad days. This does not only work for habits, but really any response to circumstances, events, or thoughts that you want to create.

Find your “why”

All too often in life, we know exactly what we want, but we don´t know why we want it. Why are you doing what you are doing? Why should you eat the salad instead of the cake? Why should you work out five times a week?
If you don´t know your “why”, two things will happen: First of all, you don´t realize you are on the wrong track until it´s too late. If you don´t have any good reasons to do what you are doing right now, you are wasting your time because you´re not striving towards your true goals and desires.

Secondly, your “why” is there to motivate you when nothing else can. Victor Frankl is one of my all-time heroes, not just because he survived the horrors of the Nazi death camps during World War II, but more so because of the way he did it. Before he was deported, Frankl had the chance to leave the country, but decided to stay with his wife and parents because they were not able to flee. Right after his arrival at the camps, he was stripped away from his family and would never see them again. He saw friends die in front of his eyes, and, overworked and undernourished as he was, saw pain and suffering anywhere he went.

It would have been easy for him to give up on his life like so many others, but Frankl chose a different path and decided to embrace life regardless of the circumstance around him. He had found that, more often than not, the people that survived in the death camps were not the strongest or youngest, but the ones with a “why”. In all that misery and pain, they found a reason to live, and that reason kept them alive.

As Nietzsche put it, “He who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how”. Frankl believed that his life was more than his circumstances and that there was one thing in the world that no one could take away from him, and that was his attitude.

So, what is your “why”? What gets you up in the morning? Why do you do what you do? Find that reason and hold onto it as if your life depends on it!

We all hate the same things

As Darren Hardy said, “Successful and unsuccessful people hate the same things, but successful people do them anyways.” He must know, as he is the former publisher of Success Magazine and has studied success more than nearly anyone else on this planet.

Everyone hates waking up at 5am to do their morning run when it´s cold and rainy outside. Everyone hates getting rejected over and over again. Everyone hates eating a salad at dinner while everyone around them is enjoying cake for dessert. We all hate the same things, but successful people do them anyways.

No matter how inconvenient, annoying, frustrating, or hard it may be, successful people make it a habit to the things that other people aren´t willing to do so that they can have what other people will never have.

Instead of complaining about the things you hate to do, remember: Everyone hates to do it, so it´s your opportunity to set yourself apart from the masses! If it was easy, anybody could do it. But it´s hard, and that´s what makes it great!

Your New Year´s resolutions will likely require many sacrifices. No matter which goals you set, you have to change the things you do on a consistent basis in order to make your new way of life stick. It won´t be easy, but if you apply these techniques, you will be one of the victorious nine percent of people that actually kept their resolutions and became better because of it!

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