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Finding Success in Failed New Year's Resolutions

January 3, 2022

We don’t like to think about failure. We really want to believe that this is the year that we stick to our diet, get to the gym every day, or quit smoking. Each year, we make New Year's resolutions with a renewed sense of hope.

But if changing habits was easy, there would be no need to set resolutions. You’ll probably slip at some point - and that’s OK. Failures can be useful. We can learn from the missteps and recognize where things went wrong to avoid the pitfalls in the future.

Only 8% of People Who Make New Year’s Resolutions Succeed

If your New Year’s resolutions hit stumbling blocks, you’re far from alone. It might just be that the difficulty isn’t your willpower, but your ambitions. From exercising more regularly, eating a healthier diet, or saving more money, the things we resolve to do are ambitious and challenging.

Psychological research has found activities that have a delayed benefit are the most difficult to motivate yourself to do. It’s not just a matter of checking a box or doing an errand. You won’t notice the benefits of resisting that cigarette today. In fact, you’ll probably be struggling with cravings. But over time your health will benefit. Losing weight takes time but enjoying a slice of pie provides instant gratification.

How Failure Can Set You Up for Success

Accepting that you’re going to slip at some point doesn’t mean you’re a catastrophic failure. In fact, these small step-backs can be beneficial.

  1. Win the Wisdom

When we fail, we learn more about what we need to achieve our goals and the obstacles in the way. Maybe you skipped the gym because you didn’t want to go out in the rain, or you treated yourself to a fast-food meal, or you felt peer-pressured into having a slice of birthday cake at a friend’s party, you can ask yourself if the instant gratification or acquiescence was ultimately worth it and how you can overcome the error the next time.

  • Ready, Set, Goals

Anticipating failures is one of the best ways to achieve eventual success. Studies have found that people who performed a planning exercise designed to identify and overcome possible failures were twice as likely to stick with their goals.

  • You Know You’ll Fail, And That’s Why You’ll Succeed

Determining that you’ll stick to your resolution perfectly can badly backfire. Because when you slip, it’ll feel like your goal is unachievable. By being realistic, it’s easier to achieve your goals.

  • Failure Can Let Your Succeed in Acknowledging What’s Really Important

Ultimately, maybe it’s difficult to achieve your goals because your aims aren’t that important to you after all. The opportunity to explore the question “Why did this goal seem important to me, again?” can provide surprising answers. Reminding yourself why a goal is important can help renew your sense of motivation. But sometimes our goals change, and the reason we’ve failed is that we don’t really care about the goal anymore. You might realize you enjoy quality time in the stands with a hot dog and beer more than being a player running around out on the field!

Ultimately, New Year’s resolutions should benefit you. If that benefit is in helping you realize that maybe something that seemed important isn’t worth the sacrifice, that peace of mind can be as worthwhile as achieving the goal.


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