New Year’s resolutions: why they don’t work and what to do instead
Is that time of year again, when you look at yourself in the mirror, grab your brand new fancy planner and begin to write down your new year’s resolutions.
You feel excited to finally lose weight, or change job, or start that business, so you apply yourself diligently for a few weeks and then…
…then you quit, just like you did last year, and the year before that.
I know you don’t want to admit it, but that’s exactly what happens. The only consolation I can offer you is that you’re not alone in this!
In fact, the majority of people who create a new year’s resolutions list abandon it before the end of January. Most of my clients come to me exactly because they’re tired of repeating the same cycle over and over again without making any real changes.
But why do we do this to ourselves?
Why do we keep on doing something every single year, when we know it never worked before, hoping this time it will be somehow different?
Well, we all have our own personal reasons, but mainly what all humans have in common is the inability to easily change. It’s very hard to change our mind, our habits and our behaviors, so we simply live the only way we’ve learned to, without even questioning if it makes any sense at all.
If you’re still reading because you didn’t get triggered by this first paragraph, I salute you and I invite you to stick with me to understand why new year’s resolutions rarely work.
This way you can choose to correct your course of action and mark 2021 as the year you finally did that thing you’ve been talking about since 1995 (just kidding, you were only a toddler then! Let’s say since 2015!)
Reasons why they don’t work:
1- You repeat them without reflecting
Writing the same list of goals, new habits or intentions every year without reflecting on what went wrong the year before is pointless, yet most people do just that. Not taking time to assess what prevented you from keeping your commitments will result in the same outcome you get every year.
2 – You have way too many
When friends or clients share their new year’s resolutions lists with me, I get overwhelmed by the amount of things they’re planning to start, stop, change, get rid of or achieve all at once. Overestimating your time and energy or underestimating the complexity of certain projects is another common mistake that can lead to exhaustion and quitting.
3 – You expect outer change without inner work
Expecting that this will be the year when you finally ask for and get that promotion you long for without overcoming self-doubt, insecurity and low self esteem is a bit unrealistic.
Unless you change your mindset and beliefs around what is possible for you and what you deserve it’s unlikely that you’ll magically find the courage to speak to your boss if you never could in the past.
4 – You use the same approach every year
For example, every year you “attack “your yearly resolutions by working on them incessantly for days until you collapse (literally or figuratively) and then quit out of exhaustion (see number 2). Or maybe you’ve been trying to lose weight for years by running and it just doesn’t seem to happen, but you persist hoping that this year somehow it will.
5 – Your “why” isn’t strong enough
I promised myself I wasn’t going to quote Simon Sinek anymore (see? My new year resolution didn’t work!), yet here I am once again! By the way, I love you, Simon!
I don’t think there’s anyone left on this planet who isn’t familiar with Simon’s “why” but knowing about it and apply it to yourself are two different things.
The point is that if the reason why you’re trying to start, stop or achieve something isn’t strong enough, you won’t make it. This is why is super important to be honest with yourself and only go after what matters to you and avoid falling for trends or copying friends.
Now let’s see what to do instead!
1 – Reflect on what happened last year
How did it go? Did you end up sticking to your resolutions or not?
What got in your way? What can you do to prevent that from happening again? What are you going to do differently this time?
These are some of the questions I would ask you if you were my client.
Try and answer honestly and take it from there. When I say “honestly”, I mean without blaming it on other people or outer circumstances.
I know sometimes it’s exactly what happened (you wanted to start exercising regularly but you broke a leg), but that isn’t always the case, especially when the same resolution/goal/intention is missed and then repeated every year.
2 – Pick one major and one minor resolution
This technique works every single time! Instead of writing a long list of resolutions and then quitting because it’s just too much (see number 2 in the previous part), pick a major and a minor one.
For example, if your main focus is having a healthier lifestyle don’t say you will quit drinking, run 5 miles every day, meditate, do yoga, become vegan and go to sleep at 9pm!
Pick the one habit that you think will create the greater impact (for example run 5 miles daily) and a smaller one that will be easy to keep (maybe go to sleep at 9pm?).
3 – Try a different approach
I know it may seem counter intuitive, but you have no idea of how many people insist on going about it the same way every single year!
Investing in stocks hasn’t helped you saving more money? Try hedge funds! Keto diet didn’t make you lose any weight? Try intermittent fasting!
If you seriously and consistently apply yourself every single year and still get no significant results, it’s time to try something new!
4 – Focus on a “theme”
This is a different way to embrace yearly resolutions and it’s also very simple to put into practice. Instead of creating the usual list of habits to change or intentions to follow, you focus on a single “theme”.
This means you have to decide what’s going to have priority in your life for the entire year and then make choices that will support that.
Let’s say that you choose to focus on personal growth. What you’ll have to do is commit to behaviors that will promote it and support it, for example you will sign up for a new course, read at least 10 books or work with a life coach.
This strategy is incredibly successful because it helps you define what truly matters to you in this particular moment of your life, rather than trying to do too many things all together.
It’s also very flexible, because it allows you to select the best course of action as you go along, instead of sticking to the only options you’re aware of in the beginning of the year.
5 – Get help!
I will never ever get tired of repeating it!
Do you know what my clients tell me after they start working with me?
“Why didn’t I do this before!?”
They regret wasting so much time and energy or giving up on some goals only to find out all they needed was a little professional help!
So, what do you say? Shall I save you a spot?
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This is what some of my clients say about me. Thank you!
Going on a coaching path with Chiara was incredibly stimulating and regenerating in a delicate phase of my professional life in which I had to question my work and redefine my future career goals. Chiara’s uniqueness as a coach, in addition to being extremely professional, lies in her extraordinary empathy and her ability to establish a relationship of trust with her clients. Chiara is a coach and an authentic professional and was able to transmit passion, courage and motivation to me thanks to a pragmatic approach, focused on practical steps that are never an end in themselves. Thanks to her, I had the opportunity to focus on my future professional goals and create a plan for their effective realization. Chiara has always been genuinely interested in my growth and has really helped me understand how to be a resource for myself and not an obstacle. His questions opened me to new ideas and perspectives and charged me with a new creative energy.
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