Why New Year’s Resolutions Crash and Burn (and How to Rekindle the Flames)

New Year’s Resolutions Suck.  There.  I Said It.

ResolutionsIt’s that time again. The air crackles with the anticipation of a fresh start, and our minds hum with the melodies of change. New Year’s resolutions unfurl like banners, proclaiming promises of a bolder, brighter us. But as January melts into February, the banners often start to fray, their vibrant colors fading into a melancholic gray. Why does this happen? Why do our grand aspirations get swept away by the tide of daily routines and forgotten in the attic of unfulfilled dreams?

There are several culprits lurking in the shadows, sabotaging our well-intentioned resolutions. Let’s shed some light on these saboteurs:

1. The Ambition Trap: We often set sights on Mount Everest when a gentle hillock might be more feasible. Ambitious goals are great, but when they’re unrealistic, they quickly become overwhelming. Imagine vowing to run a marathon without ever lacing up your shoes. Setting goals that are too far beyond our current level sets us up for disappointment and demotivation.

2. The Vagueness Vortex: “Get healthy” or “Be more productive” sound noble, but they’re about as precise as throwing a dart at a blank wall. Vague goals lack direction, making it challenging to track progress and celebrate milestones. Think “Run a 5k within 6 months” or “Finish three tasks on my to-do list every day” instead. Specificity is the compass that guides our way.

3. The All-or-Nothing Avalanche: This mindset treats progress like a light switch – on or off. One missed workout or a single slice of cake sends us spiraling down a guilt-ridden pit, abandoning the entire resolution. But change is a journey, not a destination. Small stumbles are inevitable, and viewing them as opportunities to learn and adapt, not catastrophic failures, is key.

4. The Motivation Mirage: We often mistake the initial burst of enthusiasm for sustainable motivation. However, that New Year’s Eve fervor eventually wanes, leaving us staring at our resolutions with bleary eyes. Building intrinsic motivation – that deep-seated “why” behind our goals – is crucial. Connecting resolutions to our values and long-term aspirations fuels the fire even when the initial spark dims.

5. The Accountability Abyss: Resolutions made in a solitary echo chamber often fade into oblivion. Sharing our goals with supportive friends or family creates a web of accountability. They celebrate our victories, offer a hand when we stumble, and remind us of our “why” when the going gets tough.

“If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your hopes.” – Andrew Carnegie

So, how do we reclaim the magic of new beginnings and prevent our resolutions from becoming another fleeting fad? Here are some tips to turn those flickering flames into a lasting blaze:

1. Start Small, Dream Big: Instead of scaling Mount Everest, focus on climbing the first hill. Set smaller, achievable goals that build momentum and confidence. Celebrate each milestone, and gradually increase the difficulty as you progress. Remember, even small steps lead to breathtaking views.

2. Get SMART: Make your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework provides a roadmap for success, allowing you to track progress and stay on course. “Run a 5k within 6 months” is SMART, while “Get healthy” is not.

3. Embrace Progress, Not Perfection: Ditch the all-or-nothing mentality. View slip-ups as learning opportunities, not setbacks. Forgive yourself, adjust your approach, and get back on track. Progress, not perfection, is the true measure of success.

4. Find Your “Why”: Connect your resolutions to your deeper values and aspirations. Why do you want to quit smoking? To improve your health, spend more time with loved ones, or set an example for your children? Understanding your “why” provides a powerful internal motivator that keeps you going even when the road gets bumpy.

5. Build Your Support System: Don’t go it alone. Share your goals with supportive friends, family, or even online communities. Their encouragement, advice, and accountability can be the difference between giving up and pushing through.

6. Celebrate Every Victory: Acknowledge and celebrate every step you take, no matter how small. Completing a workout, finishing a difficult task, or resisting temptation are all victories worthy of recognition. Rewarding yourself reinforces positive behavior and keeps you motivated.

7. Make it Fun: Incorporate elements of fun and enjoyment into your resolution journey. Join a running group, find a workout buddy, or experiment with healthy recipes. When you associate your goals with positive experiences, you’re more likely to stick with them.

8. Be Flexible: Life throws curveballs, and so should your resolutions. Be prepared to adjust your goals and timelines as circumstances change. This flexibility prevents frustration and keeps you on track. Remember, resolutions are not about a rigid checklist or a race to the finish line. They’re about creating a better, more fulfilling life, one step at a time.

So, embrace the journey, celebrate the stumbles, and most importantly, never stop believing in your ability to change and grow. Because even the smallest flame, with a little care and attention, can illuminate the path to a brighter future.

James Clear is one of my favorite authors on this topic.  In his article, Goal Setting: A Scientific Guide to Setting and Achieving Goals, Clear summarizes key scientific findings on goal setting and provides practical tips for success. It’s relatively short and easy to read, making it a good starting point.

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Nathan Nordby
Nathan Nordby is a former Marine, recovering CEO, and current life coach. After leaving the corporate world and years of personal exploration, he’s been on a mission to invite as many people as he can to the rewards of self-discovery. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Creative Living, Metamorfix, a board member of J & J Foundation, a member of Mission 43, a founding member of the Life Design Project, and is active in several men’s groups.
Nathan Nordby
Nathan Nordby is a former Marine, recovering CEO, and current life coach. After leaving the corporate world and years of personal exploration, he’s been on a mission to invite as many people as he can to the rewards of self-discovery. He is a co-founder of the Institute for Creative Living, Metamorfix, a board member of J & J Foundation, a member of Mission 43, a founding member of the Life Design Project, and is active in several men’s groups.