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Why do New Years Resolutions Fail?

January 9, 2017

Every year more than 50% of people make New Year’s Resolutions for themselves, hoping to get to the gym every morning, or manage their money better. For the first weeks everyone seems motivated, but about a month into the new year, people seem to loose this determination. But why does this happen and what can we really do to fix it?

Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, says these resolutions are a type of “cultural procrastination” where people try to make extreme and unreasonable changes to themselves. People make resolutions to motivate themselves but in reality they aren’t prepared for the lifestyle changes that will ensue. Peter Herman is also a psychology professor and he and his colleagues identified the “false hope syndrome,” where a person’s resolution is very unrealistic and draws no parallels to how they view themselves. It puts unattainable expectations on self improvement and as a result people quickly get discouraged. Many people also believe that sticking to their resolutions will improve the quality of their life which in many cases isn’t accurate. At this point many people abandon their resolutions.

Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist and Harvard Business School professor and she believes that many New Year’s resolutions are actually detrimental because they are set up for failure. The negative emotions felt due to the lack of success and achievement backfire and deplete self-worth instead of boosting it.

In order to avoid this cycle of goal setting, failure, and self-hatred, it is important to recognize the attainability of your goals. Evaluate yourself, your schedule, and your health before setting a goal that’s too far fetched. Think of a realistic goal and create a list of small, gradual, steps you can take to reach this goal.

The beginning of a new year isn’t the only time to make goals, in addition to long-term goals, short term goals are crucial to success. For example, a goal could be to buy a new car by the end of the year, but a short term goal to go along with that is to save $1,000 by February. This way you are held more accountable for your steps in achieving this goal, and these small actions will bring you closer to success. Next time you’re thinking of setting a New Year’s resolution, make a reasonable goal that you can hold yourself accountable for!

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