Despite the best of intentions, most New Year’s resolutions are doomed to flop. Learn why, and what you can do differently this year.

With the holidays behind us, we look forward to this new year with the hope of better things to come. For many of us, this means a healthier, slimmer body, and we find ourselves wishing we could truly commit to eating well and exercising more this time around. If you have set a new resolution but are bummed about past resolutions that have not stuck, you are not alone: up to 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February. The truth is, most resolutions fall prey to psychological pitfalls early on. If you are one of the 80%, understanding why a resolution can fail can arm you with the knowledge you need to finally transform your New Year’s resolution to a lifelong habit.

What makes a resolution destined to fail?

If you read Part 2 of our Better Habits for Better Health series, you may remember that creating the right goals in the first place is an essential ingredient for lasting results. Too often resolutions are fleeting because they miss the mark when it comes to making realistic, manageable habits that stick. Beware of these common hurdles:

1. You try to change too much too soon. If your goal is to engage in daily exercise, it is tempting to say, “I will exercise at the gym every day after work.” While impressive, this goal may be too ambitious. Attempting too much at first will most likely cause you to feel overwhelmed and ready to give up before you even get going. Focus instead on one small goal at a time: “I will exercise at the gym after work every Monday.” Once your Monday workouts become a habit, increase your workouts to Mondays and Wednesdays, and then expand from there.

2. You are focused on an end result instead of taking the long view. You want to lose weight, so it seems logical to set a clear goal for how many pounds you want to shed. The problem? You might be taking a short-term view by only fixating on the number on the scale rather than appreciating that new behaviors that lead to a long-term, healthier lifestyle are what deliver results, not the goals themselves. Having one specific goal in mind is useful, but it does not end there. Improving your lifestyle is a continuous process, and the idea is to keep instilling new behaviors that will stick with you for life.

3. You feel discouraged. Building a better lifestyle takes time, effort, and patience, and a lull in your progress may cause you to second guess the value of even trying. Suppose you commit to eating healthier over the next six weeks. You start off with a bang, following your plan closely for the first three days and feeling very encouraged. Then the weekend rolls around. You indulge in pizza and ice cream, and immediately feel disappointed by this setback. Vowing to eat better, you spend the next week sticking to plan, only to feel down after sneaking in dessert. A few cycles of encouragement and discouragement are enough to breed impatience, causing many to bail on their goals altogether.

The bottom line: instead of resolution, think of lifestyle evolution

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on unprecedented challenges for us all, and for so many in lockdown, last year's health goals were not met. But with a new year comes a brand new opportunity to renew your resolve to enhance your life for the better. Make this the year! If you want greater health, focus your energy on creating long standing habits rather than short-term resolutions. Remember, hitting a coveted number on a scale is only part of the story. Taking a long view of your wellness journey by continuously building and improving behaviors, one small habit at a time, is the best way to achieve results that last. Commit to attainable SMART goals that include eating nutritious foods, incorporating regular exercise, and reducing stress. A SMART goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. As an example, if you would like to eat healthier snacks, you can say: “I will eat one piece of fruit for my snack instead of eating cookies or chips on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the next four weeks.” Setting goals such as these will help you to work toward a healthier lifestyle you can benefit from and enjoy for many years to come.