This year most people will try setting successful resolutions as they go into the new year. Nine out of ten people will fail.
Now, this isn’t to make you feel discouraged. It’s very common to set up resolutions and it’s a positive exercise to help us achieve goals. January 1st is a natural time to begin. As the new year approaches, we start to think of ways we can make a fresh start. We examine aspects of our lives and ourselves we’d like to change.
It’s not that new year’s resolutions aren’t full of good intentions. A desire to grow and move toward the life you want is powerful and positive. Most resolutions don’t fail because they weren’t “good” or they weren’t the “right” resolution.
No, there’s one major reason why most new years resolutions fail and understanding this reason will help you set successful resolutions instead.
If resolutions are so difficult and failure-prone, why do we bother? Why do we have powerful motivation each December to start thinking about our goals for the upcoming year?
At the end of each year, we often feel kind of sick of things. The days are grey, we’re in the throes of the holiday hustle and bustle. We see January coming up and we’re ready to turn the calendar page. It gives us an opportunity for a fresh start. We see that marker on the horizon and we tell ourselves, “That’s it! I just need to make it to that mark and I’ll change!”
Now, there are a variety of possible changes we may choose to make, and which resolution we choose says something about us. Oftentimes, the resolution we choose isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not the best fit for our lives. We don’t choose all that well. That’s why 9/10 resolutions fail. Only about 8% of resolution-makers will actually set successful resolutions that will stick for the year. In fact, a third of the resolution-setters won’t even make it through the first week and another third will fail by the end of the month (and it goes on from there).
Some people set goals that are way too big. We may set a goal to change something overnight—you want to lose 50 lbs. You want to run a marathon. You want to make partner at your firm. You want to find the “one.”
While there’s nothing wrong with any of these goals—and many of them certainly can happen over the course of a year—simply setting a big goal is too vague. There’s no clear path to achievement or plan to forge ahead. Instead of working in increments, we’re simply throwing a big goal out there and hoping to wake up January 1st a whole new person.
On the flipside, many resolutions also fail because they’re too small. They aren’t based on a deeper reason. We may set a somewhat reasonable goal, “cut out caffeine” for example, but without exploring the reasons behind the goal, it falls flat.
If we want to set successful resolutions, the secret is to explore the bigger reason behind our goals: what does this mean to you? Why do you want this? Why does it matter to you and your life? What do you hope that goal will do for you?
In fact, exploring the deeper rationale behind the goal is even more important than the goal itself. The deeper meaning has more value than the resolution. It’s based on far more than the arbitrary marker of a change in the calendar.
We all want to be happier—to live lives of more joy, greater fulfillment, and deeper happiness. That desire for happiness is the impetus for each resolution we set. The problem comes from not exploring what will actually bring us that happiness we desire.
Many people experience what positive psychologists refer to as “miswanting.” We want something, mistakenly believing that it will bring us happiness. These items might be under your Christmas tree, in fact. We may believe we want an engagement ring; we want a nicer car; we want a bigger house; we want the corner office; we want to fit into our skinny jeans.
But underneath each one of these wants, we won’t discover fulfillment. Underneath these wants are simply more wants. We get a new laptop or a fancy watch, and we’re happy for a moment, but it passes. We eat celery for weeks and go to the gym every day in January but fitting in our skinny jeans doesn’t make us feel complete.
How do you discover the yearning behind your resolution? Apply what we call the “so that” test. For example:
I want to fit in my skinny jeans so that I can be attractive.
I want to be attractive so that I can find a partner.
I want to find a partner so that I can love and be loved.
My yearning is to love and be loved. The underlying desire isn’t simply to “look hot,” but to find the fulfillment and joy that being loved brings.
This same test can be applied to any resolution. If you want a promotion at work, it may be so that you can gain the respect of your colleagues. Your yearning is to be respected. If you want to manage your calendar better, it may be so that you can find time to engage in volunteer activities. You may want to volunteer so that you’re contributing to the world around you. Your yearning is to contribute.
Yearnings are universal—we all have them. They often drive us toward or away from different decisions as we go throughout our lives. These yearnings are deeper than just wants. They are the fuel that moves us toward personal change and growth–the personal change we’re hoping will come through successful resolutions.
It’s not achieving a goal or getting something we want that brings us long-lasting fulfillment. When we get something, we feel temporary happiness, but it’s fleeting. True, long-lasting fulfillment and satisfaction comes from engaging in your life fully. It’s about discovering that sense of meaning.
If your goals or resolutions have a deeper meaning, achieving them has an intrinsic value. The things that truly make people happy are personal growth, deepening their relationships, contributing to society—not just losing 10 pounds.
Now, maybe you yearn to contribute to society or spend more time with your family. You may realize, if you were healthier, lost some weight, or quit smoking, you would have more energy to do the activities you want to do. Suddenly, the “why” behind the resolution becomes more compelling. We’re not just giving up something to torture ourselves. We’re setting a goal with a deeper reason behind it.
Working on the deeper vision and exploration is an important step toward setting successful resolutions. Once you’ve determined what you yearn for, creating your vision will come easily. What does your yearning look like in your life? What would bring this into your life now?
Your vision shouldn’t be a fantasy (your brain sees your fantasy as already achieved—it doesn’t process it as a planning tool). How will you change your life to bring in more fulfillment? Outline the steps and consider anticipated setbacks. What roadblocks will come up and how will you deal with them?
Explore your underlying yearnings and use them to create your vision. This will help you become motivated to take the steps you need to take. With a clear plan, you’re ready to forge ahead into a life of more fulfillment and joy in the new year.
Successful resolutions don’t need to wait for midnight on January 1st. You can start your resolution now, today. Identify your yearnings and move toward the life you want to achieve.
For more on living your best life in the new year, please visit us the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming networking event to help you make this your best year yet!
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.