Monday Mornings with Madison

Why Resolutions Fail 90% of the Time, Part 1

Word Count: 1,964
Estimated Read Time: 8 min.

To err is human, and so is to want a ‘do-over’.  When we fall short of the mark we set for ourselves (or that others might have set for us), we long for a fresh start… a second chance to get it right.  This is also an inherent part of human nature.  For many, a second (or third or fourth) chance can finally mean achieving a long-sought, ever-elusive goal.  For someone, it might be to finally quit smoking.  For someone else, it might be to get off the couch and be able to run a 5K.  For another, it might be to finally get a promotion or raise.  For the reserved person, it might be to break out of that introverted shell and start engaging on social media.  For someone who is always missing deadlines, it might mean better time management.  For an introverted person, it might be to be able to speak in public with confidence.  Whatever the goal, this time of year prompts people to resolve to do better.  Hence the term “Resolutions.”

With all that momentous resolve, one might think that resolutions are kept more often than not.  But that is not the case.  In fact, surveys estimate that 90% of all resolutions are broken, forgotten or trashed within the first month.  And, since many of those resolutions require more time than a month to be achieved, they can be added to the ‘err’ category pretty quickly.  What’s worse, some people are so aware of the failure rate of resolutions that they become cynical and refuse to identify any resolutions…. embracing defeat before even beginning.  Their self-talk sounds something like “Who am I kidding?  I’m never going to be able to stop smoking.  No point in trying just to fail again.”

So why aren’t most resolutions kept?  It’s a good question, and one worthy of consideration.  After all, if you know what is causing you to fail at something you really want to achieve, you might have a fighting chance to make course corrections that could lead to success.  With that in mind, here are some of the reasons why resolutions are not kept.

Reason 1:  Too many precursors before starting.

Some people will create a myriad of steps that they need to do BEFORE they begin tackling a goal.  They set a ton of precursors.  These are often a way of procrastinating or delaying a dreaded or seemingly overwhelming resolution. It is a stall tactic.

For example, a millennial exec in the U.S. might decide to start cycling daily after watching a video of the Tour de France.  But before he gets on a bike, he might first research everything there is to know about the sport.  He might subscribe to a cycling magazine and read more about Rebecca Twigg, Jens Voigt, and Jan Ullrich.  He might also do a competitive analysis of all of the top bicycle manufacturers to determine which brand is best.  He might then buy a $12K top-of-the-line, carbon fiber, handmade Emonda bicycle by Trek, as well as a helmet, shoe clips, padded shorts, water bottle, gel-filled seat and reflectors.  He adds mirrors to increase visibility.  And he might even drive (in a car) certain routes and various times of the day to determine which are the best routes for cycling.  Only after all that will he finally get on the bike and go for his first ride.  All of this prep has drained him of his resolve and energy.  So, after a week or two, when his posterior is sore and he starts getting busy at work, he no longer wants to cycle.  He stops getting up early every day to cycle and just leaves it for the weekends.  Within a few months, he abandons the sport completely.  He thinks maybe next year he will try hiking.

Here is a better approach.  If a person wants to start cycling (as a resolution… or just cause), he might decide to ride a bicycle every day for two weeks as a way to try the sport.  He borrows his brother’s spare bike for a few weeks to give it try.  He goes for long rides every day, taking a variety of routes, to see how much he enjoys it.  If after the two weeks he still likes it, he resolves to extend his goal to a month and asks to borrow the bike a little longer.  He keeps riding every day and works his schedule to ensure he has the time.  When he sticks with it for a month — and finds that he still looks forward to his ride every day — he rents a bike for a couple of months to ensure it is something he really wants to commit to doing long-term.  He adds bicycle riding to his fitness goals.  After that, because he still enjoys cycling, he buys a used bike and joins a cycling group.  He makes friends who also enjoy the sport.  After six months, he decides to spend some additional money on attire and gadgets, and then invests in a top-of-the-line bicycle when his used bike breaks from so much wear and tear.  This approach allows him to get started right away so that he can begin to achieve small successes and ensures that the goal remains the focus.

Reason 2: Going it alone.

When tackling a big resolution, don’t go it alone.  One big reason why resolutions are not kept is that the goals are set and tackled by one person, alone.  There is strength in numbers and great value is found in having a support group when changing a habit, learning new things, or achieving a goal.  It is much harder to achieve goals without the right support.[1]

According to Amy Jen Su, co-founder and managing partner of Paravis Partners, a boutique executive coaching and leadership development firm, there is value in consciously cultivating and realigning networks of support in order to achieve a goal.  She identifies three steps a person should take to develop such support.  First, the person must get into the right mindset.  Second he/she must define what is needed, and then third, align with the right people.   The right mindset includes addressing any inner issues that might be standing in the way of moving forward.  Defining what is needed helps clarify what kind of support would be most beneficial.  Then, with that in mind, the person needs to tap those who are able to provide the type of support needed.[2]

For example, for an introverted person who wants to be able to speak in public with confidence, he might first need to face the fact that he is afraid that others might see him as foolish or incapable.  He needs to accept that overcoming the fear of speaking in public is key to being able to get a promotion and he must accept possibly looking a little foolish in order to grow professionally.  Then he needs to consider what kind of specific support he will need.  What roles might others play in helping him achieve his goal?  For example, does he need a cheerleader to encourage him, a mirror to tell it to him straight, an expert to advise him on how to speak in public, a white board to help brainstorm ideas, a role player to help him practice, or a safe harbor where he can share without fear of judgment or ridicule?  Perhaps he needs several of these.  By realizing that, he might enroll in Toastmasters as a place to find people who are experts, encouragers, role players and safe harbors.

Reason 3: Financially Burdensome

Many resolutions can be achieved without spending any money at all.  If the resolution is to lose weight and get fit, a person does not have to join a gym, subscribe to a weight loss program and purchase expensive pre-prepared foods.  Online yoga classes, a jump rope, some basic walking shoes and an increase of fruits and vegetables can all help achieve that goal with minimal cost.  The same is true of recycling more, praying daily or quitting smoking. It takes resolve and focus, but it doesn’t have to cost money.

Other resolutions, however, may require some outlay of capital.  It is pretty hard to improve one’s golf game without spending money…. sometimes more money than is available.  At times like that, it is important to get creative.  For example, if a person’s goal is to start posting videos on LinkedIn, he may think he needs to remodel a room to create a space that looks good on screen, buy an expensive DSLR camera plus lighting and a pricey lavalier microphone in order to shoot professional quality clips, and upgrade his laptop to then install sophisticated video-editing software.  It could cost thousands of dollars to make all of that happen.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  There are creative solutions that can offset most of the expense.  Someone who wants to shoot videos might want to start by using the video camera on his phone.  The video quality is actually quite good on most smartphones these days.  To deal with light and sound, the video could be shot in a quiet park or sitting on a chair or couch in any room where there is plenty of natural light and very little ambient noise.  And for under $50, Movavi’s Video Editor or Corel’s VideoStudio provide surprisingly good video editing tools.  And those who want to use Adobe’s Creative Cloud solutions including Premier Pro video editing software, and happen to have a student or teacher in the home, can subscribe monthly for just $19.99 per month, a small cost.

The key is to create resolutions that are financially feasible and don’t place a burden on the budget.

Reason 4: Extremely lofty resolutions.

Do you know someone who has resolved to climb Mount Everest in 2019 or set some equally lofty goal?  It might be to lose 50 lbs in 3 months.  It might be to double his sales in the first quarter of 2019.  Establishing extremely lofty resolutions is a fast way to fail or flounder a goal.

Before setting such a lofty goal, there are questions to ask.  In the case of summiting Everest, has the person ever climbed a mountain? Any mountain?  Does the person do any scaling at all, even at the gym?  Is the person in top physical shape?  If the answers to any of those questions is no, then failure is likely.

Rather than fail completely, it might make more sense to take out some of the altitude from that lofty goal.  Instead of tackling Everest, a person in good physical shape might try climbing Pikes Peak instead.  At 14,114 feet, Pikes Peak gets hikers about as high as they can get in the continental United States — all on a good trail.  And if the person gets to the top but doesn’t feel up to walking back down, he can hop on the cog railway or hitch a ride in a car from one of the tourists who have driven up the road on the mountain’s north side. From the trailhead, the 13-mile hiking route gains 7,381 feet — a strenuous day of hiking that gives aspiring mountaineers a taste of what it takes to climb big mountains[3].  That is still a big resolution, but not so lofty that it cannot be achieved with some effort.

These are all reasons why resolutions are not kept.  So set some resolutions but make them reasonably attainable, get some support and then get started.  Don’t delay.  Next week, we will look at additional factors that contribute to resolution failure and how to beat the odds.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” Abraham Lincoln


[1] January 15, 2016, Amy Jen Su, You Can’t Achieve Your Goals without the Right Support, Harvard Business Review,

[2] Ibid

[3] October 18, 2016, Brendan Leonard, 8 Attainable Peaks for Novice Climbers, Redbull Blog,


© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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