Why Your Resolutions Fail

Do you have trouble following through on your resolutions?

I know the feeling. I used to be the champion of failed resolutions.

I spent years of my life trying to be goal oriented, but never got much further than the “goal setting” stage. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel, running hard but never actually getting anywhere.

That changed three years ago. I started taking a more conscientious approach to setting goals, and realized I had been going about things all wrong. Since then, I’ve gone from just setting goals to actually achieving them.

If you find yourself never actually following through on resolutions, you’re likely making the same mistakes I did:

You’re Setting Too Many Goals at Once

Here’s a hard truth: you can’t fix your entire life at once.

I remember night after night planning how my life would take a total 180 the next day. I’d tell myself that starting tomorrow I’d quit drinking, quit smoking, start running, eat better, lose weight, read more, and write daily.

Sometimes I even started in on these goals, but I rarely lasted more than a day or two.

It’s simply too much to do all at the same time. Real, lasting changes take focused effort, and I couldn’t focus when I had a half-dozen goals at once.

I finally started achieving my resolutions when I limited myself to starting just one or two at a time. These days, I actually have quit drinking, quit smoking, started running, started eating better, lost weight, read more, and started writing (almost) daily. But I didn’t start doing those all at once. Instead, it was spread out over the past three years.

If you are going to pursue multiple goals at the same time, at the very least choose one main goal to focus on. If you could only achieve one of your resolutions this year, which would it be?

You’re Choosing Goals in the Wrong Order

That brings us to the second mistake I used to make: choosing goals in the wrong order.

Last year I wrote about my absurd attempts to go on a diet before giving up my heavy drinking habit:

These attempts were doomed from the start. How could I possibly lose weight when I was drinking hundreds (sometimes thousands) of calories in beer each day? In fact, how could I expect to stick to any goals before doing something about my alcohol addiction?

I was putting my goals in completely the wrong order, ensuring that I wouldn’t actually achieve them.

For me, alcohol addiction was an obvious problem that needed to be addressed before I could worry about any other resolutions.

You may not have anything quite as bad affecting you, but you probably do still have one issue that’s much more pressing than the others. For example, if you haven’t exercised in years, it’s probably more important to start a workout routine than to worry about reading more books.

Once I started putting my goals in the right order, they even snowballed, helping me achieve additional goals. For example, by cutting alcohol I was able to start losing weight, which in turn allowed me to run more easily (which in turn helped me to lose even more weight).

You’re Quitting Too Soon

The last big mistake that I used to make was quitting at the first sign of setback.

I’d set a resolution and start strong. Then, a few days or months later, I’d get sidetracked. The goal would go on hold while the rest of my life took over.

By the time I remembered my resolution, I’d have lost all my motivation. I talked myself out of returning to my goals, telling myself that too much time had passed.

What I’ve learned over the past few years is that every goal worth achieving is going to have setbacks along the way. Things will go wrong, goals get put on hold, planned timelines get thrown off.

The key to achieving goals isn’t to stick to your resolutions perfectly 100% of the time. It’s to acknowledge that you’re human, that you’ll make mistakes, and that those mistakes will only derail your progress if you allow them to.

Resolutions are not impossible. Many of us have made huge positive life-changes through them. If you focus on one, carefully selected goal, and don’t let your mistakes discourage you, you will achieve your resolutions as well.

Written by

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more.

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