Monday Mornings with Madison

Why Resolutions Fail 90% of the Time, Part 2

Did you make any resolutions for 2019?  Most likely. LinkedIn’s feed has been full of posts of folks sharing their big professional goals for the year ahead.  Most resolutions run the gamut from personal ones like losing weight and becoming fit to professional ones such as increasing focus and improving time management.  Everyone has things they wish they could do better and that’s a good thing.  After all, we should each be a work in progress in every area of life.  So, it’s important to create goals and work diligently to achieve them.

And yet, 90% of most resolutions fail within the first few days or weeks.  The vast majority of resolutions never make it to Spring.  There are a number of factors that contribute to that dismal outcome.  Lack of support.  Cost.  Overly ambitious goals.  Procrastination.  But, there are other reasons as well.  Here are other common obstacles to success.

Reason 5:  Giving up too easily

Sometimes, resolutions fail because the person is just not putting enough effort to persevere.  Tenacity is like a muscle that must be exercised to gain strength.  Anyone who has never had to struggle to lose weight might give up too easily the moment temptation rears its ugly head.  Or a student who has never had to study to do well academically might struggle in college because he never developed good study habits.

In such situations, it helps for a person to realize that it takes 21 days to form a new habit and then it gets easier.  Another effective strategy is to give oneself pep talks – out loud – that he can do it.  Positive, encouraging self-talk can help one persevere when the desire to quit surges.  Another good way to deal with the desire to give up is to find others who will compete with you to achieve a goal.  If the goal is to run a 10K, find others who will compete to see who can run it faster.  Competition can help shore up feelings of weakness and the temptation to quit.

Reason 6: Not enough time

An inability to manage time is often a factor that derails many resolutions.  Many new goals consume more time than the person may have available on a long-term basis, and many goals require a long-term commitment.

For example, a person who wants to earn a private pilot’s license will need between 65 and 75 hours of flight time before sitting down to take the exam.  That doesn’t include the time it takes to get to and from the airport.  That could increase the time investment to 150-200 hours for most people.  While that may not seem like a lot of time, if the person has a full time job and can only dedicate 5 hours a week to the task, then it could take almost 10 months just to amass enough flight time.  The investment of time alone could kill that goal for most professionals.  The key to overcoming lack of time – a very real and very common obstacle — is to build time into the schedule for any important goal or resolution.  If a person is really committed to earning that pilot’s license, he might set aside five hours every week for almost a year to rack up the flight time.  Once the time is set aside, then nothing else should be allowed to interfere with it unless it is an emergency.

Reason 7:  Lack of planning

Often people make resolutions because they have things they want to achieve but have not been able to, such as stopping any bad habit.  Otherwise, they would have already done it.  So, by definition, many resolutions are challenging.  So waking up on December 31 and resolving, at the last minute, to stop a bad habit or do something that is very difficult is bound to fail.  As the saying goes, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.  Without adequate preparation (not precursors and procrastination tactics but actual preparation to increase the chance of success), it is very difficult to succeed.

For example, if a person’s resolution is to stop smoking, then that likely requires planning since nicotine is addictive, which makes quitting harder.  The Centers for Disease Control, working with the Office on Smoking and Health, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed a suggested plan for people who want to stop smoking.[1] The website indicates “One of the keys to a successful quit is preparation. A great way to prepare to quit smoking is to create a quit plan.”[2] Their plan includes these steps:

  1. Pick a quit date and circle the quit day on a calendar where it can be seen daily.
  2. Let loved ones know you are quitting and get needed support.
  3. Remove reminders of smoking and throw away all cigarettes and matches and give or throw away lighters and ashtrays.
  4. Identify personal reasons to quit smoking and keep it somewhere where it can be viewed every day.
  5. Identify smoking triggers and write down one way to deal with or avoid each item on the list.
  6. Develop coping strategies to deal with temptation and withdrawal urges.  Identify medications and behavior changes to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal.
  7. Have places to turn for immediate help, and plan to use multiple quit smoking support options.
  8. Set up rewards for hitting milestones.  Celebrating individual milestones helps.

It makes sense that making a plan can help overcome any big challenge.  A similar type of plan can help achieve practically any difficult resolution.

Reason 8: Unrealistic resolutions

There are ambitious goals and then there are unrealistic goals.  Setting a resolution that is near impossible is just setting oneself up to fail.  For someone who is overweight, wanting to lose weight is a good goal.  Wanting to lose 25 lbs in three months is an ambitious resolution.  But wanting to lose 50 lbs. in time to attend a high school reunion in 10 weeks is unrealistic.  Any plan that is risky, harmful and or radical is bound to fail.  Better to set an ambitious goal of losing 25 lbs in three months with a solid plan and a lot of support and you are more likely to achieve.  Making it a long-term resolution to eat more fruits and vegetables every day and exercise three times a week is even better.

Reason 9:  Focus on past failures

A major but often unrecognized impediment to achieving any goal are past failures.  While it is true that failure is part of every success story, it is also true that many people never succeed because their past failures hold them back.  Memories of past failures can feel like a ghost… haunting a person and serving as a constant reminder of having fallen short.  These memories can also feel like harbingers of doom, casting a shadow on hopes and dreams for the future.  Fixating on past failures can sabotage future success…. like an anchor sinking dreams and drowning drive.  While feeling disappointed is normal in life, focusing on past disappointments can lead to an attitude of negativity. Keeping a negative mindset hinders future success.

The better choice is to acknowledge failures of yesterday and decide to accept those past mistakes.  Address the cause of the failure.  Learn from the mistake.  Each failure is a fundamental opportunity to grow stronger and wiser.  To become a better individual, failures need to serve as springboards for insight and improvement.  Then, move on and take the next challenge.

Reason 10:  Negative self-talk and self-doubt

Doubt, fear, and negative self-talk plague most people.  Even when they appear outwardly bold and brash, deep down most people are plagued with doubts, especially in the professional arena.  This is true despite successes, degrees, accomplishments, awards and accolades.  From entry level staff to top level execs, people are constantly asked to learn new things, do things they’ve never done before and jump into areas where they feel unqualified.  But, if a person doesn’t step into the unknown, he will never achieve anything.

Silencing that negative talk and purging fears and doubts are key to achieving goals.  The first step is to recognize that doubt exists. Observe it, acknowledge its presence, and give that voice a name. Refer to it by that name and separate from it.  Listen to those negative thoughts once and then recognize that those thoughts are not based on fact. Acknowledge that that voice is trying to spare you shame and heartbreak but recognize that there is a better way to handle the situation so the voice can just “be quiet.”  Then push back against the doubts, fears and negative voice with facts and truth.  List successes.  And consider what’s the worst that could happen?

For example, if the resolution is to start a business in 2019, voice all the fears and doubts out loud.  Acknowledge those concerns.  Then consider the facts.  List all the reasons why you are abundantly qualified to run a business.  Past experience. Education.  Skills. Solid work ethic.  Creativity.  Keen understanding of customer behavior and needs.  Then prepare mentally.  Walk through every possible issue and rehearse how to deal with it.  Visualize overcoming the obstacles.  Break larger goals into smaller ones.  Focusing on smaller chunks and working through the possible obstacles makes a larger goal seem less challenging.

These are not the only factors that doom resolutions, but they are common reasons that resolutions nose-dive shortly after take-off.  So take heed and do what is necessary to set goals that are ambitious but realistic.  Move past any past failures, plan for success, make time for the goal and then cheer yourself toward victory.  You can do it!


Quote of the Week

“There is no moment like the present. The man who will not execute his resolutions when they are fresh upon him can have no hope from them afterward; they will be dissipated, lost, and perish in the hurry and scurry of the world, or sunk in the slough of indolence.”
Maria Edgeworth

[1] December 7, 2018, The Centers for Disease Control, working with the Office on Smoking and Health, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

[2] Ibid

© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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