Why We Break Our Resolutions

Already broke your resolution? You’re not alone. Resolutions are always more fun to make than they are to execute.

The same is true with most change.

We create these grand plans as our most aspirational selves. Yet when it comes time to go to the gym, be more focused at work, or practice mindful parenting, our creature of habit comes out, vowing that we will change later, at a time that is more convenient than now.

This pattern happens with most organizational training, too. In the classroom, new techniques or skills sound totally feasible, maybe even fun. Then, when you get back to your inbox, daily life takes over.

In my work with organizations, I’ve come to identify a few reasons why change doesn’t last. And in my conversations this week about New Years Resolutions, I’ve noticed some obvious parallels.

A lack of progress against a goal can usually be traced back to one of three reasons.

1. The desired outcome is not specific.

Sometimes, the problem is not necessarily our ability to stick to resolutions, but more the resolutions themselves. Resolutions that are vague are less likely to be fulfilled. This is the difference between “being a better spouse” versus “telling my spouse I love them every day.”

A lack of specificity is also why most organizational change fails. Goals like “be more customer-centric” or “be a better leader” are ambiguous. There are varying degrees of success and any success is up for personal interpretation. It becomes impossible to hold yourself, or others, accountable. If you can’t write it on a list, and check off that you did it, it’s likely not a sticky enough ambition to last.

2. The environment sabotages the goal.

The more you can orchestrate your environment to support the change, the more likely you’ll stick with it.

If you’re trying to be a more patient leader, don’t schedule 1-1s after your predictably tense meetings with procurement. If you want to have less screen time, don’t plug your phone in next to your bed.

Fighting an uphill battle is exhausting, even when you are excited about the goal. Making small tweaks to support your efforts keeps the wind in your sails to push through when things get tough.

3. The goal is unrealistic.

I confess I’m the poster child for overly ambitious goals. With the start of the New Year, many of us are feeling rested and recharged, ready to tackle 2020. And sometimes, that leads to goals that are less than feasible.

If a resolution is a 180-degree shift from your starting place, sustaining momentum is going to be challenging. For example, if you want to start eating better, giving up carbs, dairy, sugar, and red meat cold turkey on January 1st is likely not a sustainable strategy.

When a goal is way too ambitious then, the first time you smell Popeyes, you’ll want to give up entirely. Instead, set realistic milestones. You can always amp up your commitment, but once you break it, it’s hard to get back in the swing of change.

Feeling like you couldn’t stick with something, or like you gave up too easily is a horrible feeling. But that feeling is often avoidable.

If you’re trying to implement a change, for yourself, your team, or your family, set yourself up for success. Creating a realistic and specific plan, and finding small ways to support your progress, ensures your resolution lasts far beyond January 15th.