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Why Your New Year's Resolutions Aren't Working and How to Make Goals That Last

The year 2020 has been a difficult year for many people. It’s no surprise that most of us are excited for the beginning of a new year and a fresh start. 2021 brings hope and new opportunities for success and happiness. The start of a new year sparks motivation for change and in January we often reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year.


Health is often a major part of New Year’s goals. Studies show that over 55% of all New Year’s Resolutions are health related. Goals such as exercising more, eating healthy, drinking less alcohol, or quitting smoking are some of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions.


However, if we think back to January 2020, what percent of your goals did you accomplish? Do you even remember what your New Year’s Resolutions were in 2020?


Perhaps you do, and maybe you have accomplished all of them; or maybe you remember them, but 2020 brought up some unexpected hurdles for you and you were unable to succeed in your goals for reasons out of your control. However, statistically, most of us set some goals, and either forgot about them or gave up on them early on. According to a study done by the University of Scranton, only about 8% of those who set New Year’s Resolutions follow through with them. Another study of over 30 million people, which was done by the app Strava, found that individuals who set athletic goals at the start of the year, usually failed by January 12th.


Why don’t New Year’s Resolutions Work?

Goals are usually made with good intentions; we don’t set goals knowing they will fall through. But the reality is, they do. Why is this? Why are we so bad at sticking to our goals?


Relying on motivation

First of all, often, when we are making our goals in the beginning of the year, we are full of motivation. Yet, when we are expected to follow through on this goal, we are usually not in the same mindset. For example, we may feel motivated to get up at 7am and do a workout and then drink a green juice on January 3rd when we’re on this motivation high, but come January 14 on a cold and gloomy day, this motivation may not be there and if this is what is driving our goals, our results will suffer.


Expecting too much

When we are in this state of heightened enthusiasm we set unattainable goals. It’s easy to write out the perfect schedule for your week and add in a 1-hour workout each day or say you will meditate for 20 minutes a day- but the reality is much different. Writing down “meal prep” on your weekly schedule for Sunday is much different than getting off of the couch to start cooking when you’d rather watch Netflix. On top of this, life is busy, things come up which further complicate your goals so it’s hard to implement any change. If the goal is too difficult, it’s easier to just forget about it.


Waiting for January

The new year is a great time to set goals and reassess our health habits, but we should be doing this much more frequently than once a year. By waiting for January to set and reassess goals, we put too much pressure on ourselves at the beginning.


Different goals also have different time lines. Some goals need a year or maybe two to accomplish, some may need a month. We need to tailor a timeline to each goal, rather than write them all out in January and then come back to them at the end of the year.


By making goals throughout the year, we can make it less overwhelming for ourselves by stacking one goal on top of another. We can make a small easy goal then another slightly more difficult goal the next month. For example- one minute of meditation becomes two which becomes five which becomes ten. This is a much easier way to stick to a goal rather than saying 10 minutes of meditation daily for the year 2021.


How can we make goals that stick?


Make S.M.A.R.T. goals

While starting out on your goal-setting, follow the acronym SMART. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Realistic. Time-Based.



An example of a non-SMART goal: an individual eating the Standard American Diet who wants to lose 20lbs decides to begin a ketogenic diet, and start running daily.

An example of a SMART goal: the same individual starts to switch out their Coke for flavoured water, and adds in 2 serving of vegetables each day for the next 2 weeks. They walk to reach 50, 000 steps a week for all of January. After 4 weeks they reflect on their tracked progress and stack more on top of this goal if they feel ready for it.


See the difference? We need to choose goals that we can continue to do as life changes, we need a way to measure and track our goals, goals need to be manageable enough for us to handle where we’re at and we need to set a timeline for our goals.


After you’ve written down your goals- go back with the S.M.A.R.T acronym and see if each goal adheres to it.


Write it down

Writing down a goal can make it feel more like a commitment. Write your goal down in a place where you can revisit often. Although writing your goal down anywhere can improve success rates, I wouldn’t suggest writing it down on a piece of paper that you’re going to lose or somewhere you’re not going to look. Put it in a word document on your computer or a journal that you frequently use or even right on your fridge. Just writing down your goal and seeing it frequently can increase your success rate.


Work with others

Depending on what your goal is, it may be helpful to work with others. Goals are personal so it may not work for you to let others know about your goal or be a part of it. However, in their study of New Year’s goals, Strava found that those who work with others were more successful in their athletic goals. If your goal is to hit 10, 000 steps a day maybe ask a friend or family member to join you. It may help on those gloomy, low-motivation days. Working with others virtually through a Facebook group or on an app like Fitbit can increase adherence to goals through gamifying the experience, increasing accountability and relying on some competitive spirit!


Alter as needed

As we saw in 2020, life is unpredictable. Goals set in January don’t always make sense to our lives in July. As mentioned above, reassess your goals often. Don’t just make your goals in January. You can also alter your goals as you go. Maybe you are stacking these goals to make them more difficult, or maybe you realized that your goal of walking 10, 000 steps a day doesn’t work for you and you’re constantly failing at it. By reassessing, you can alter your goal to hit 70, 000 steps in a week instead because you have more time on Sundays and less time on Tuesdays to walk. Altering a goal isn’t failing at it. It honouring your goals enough to adjust instead of giving up.


Make a Plan

Once you’ve figured out what your goal is and written it down, also write down how you’re going to follow through on this goal. If your goal is to eat more vegetables and fruit- how are you going to do this? What are some ways you can incorporate these foods into your life? Look up some recipes, write down your ideas and keep these with your goals. Maybe you need to consult with a nutritionist to get some ideas. If you’re going to exercise more how are you going to exercise? Where are you going to exercise? What equipment do you need to help you complete this goal?


Answer your why

Before finishing your goal setting, make sure you answer the question of why? Why do you want to set these goals at all? What is the purpose of your goal? If you want to lose weight, why? What would happen if you didn’t? Finding out why you’re setting a goal helps us realize if the goal is even necessary in the first place, and if it is, it can help you stick to it. When we know why we’re doing something, it’s harder to convince ourselves to give up. Once you’ve found out this why, write it down next to your goals.



Ready to make some goals that stick?!

I’ve included a link to download a goal setting work page for you to make some 2021 goals. By signing up, you can also choose to be added to an accountability email thread to help you keep track of your goals throughout the year- not just in January.


Click HERE to get your goal setting worksheet



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