Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work…and What Does Work

Here we are at the start of 2024. Exciting. People always want a fresh start, a new year. Usually, when people reflect upon the prior year they realize they didn’t achieve the goals and dreams they had for yet another year. And so begins the process of making the same old New Year’s Resolutions AGAIN.

Setting a New Year’s resolution is an incredibly common practice, especially in the U.S.  A 2022 Poll by YouGov indicated that 37% of Americans said they had a goal or resolution they wanted to achieve in 2023; however, only 87% said they were very or somewhat likely to keep it through the year.

Let’s talk about New Year’s resolutions. According to the Cambridge Dictionary it is a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year. And that usually lasts, how long? A week, a month, tops? All you dedicated gym rats, like myself, see the gyms uncomfortably full in January and then back to regular attendance in February and the rest of the year. Every January, I get annoyed, “I can’t wait for these people to stop coming!” and like clockwork, they do. All the people who made that New Year’s resolution to get to the gym…lasts them one month.

The Forbes Health/One Poll survey found that the average resolution lasts just 3.74 months. Only 8% of respondents tend to stick with their goals for one month, while 22% last two months, 22% last three months and 13% last four months.

Failing at New Year’s resolutions is so common that there’s even a slew of (unofficial) dates commemorating such failures.  Some sources cite “Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day” as January 17th while others denote the second Friday in January as “Quitter’s Day.”

The biggest reason why people do not achieve their New Year’s Resolutions is because there is a deep seeded subconscious fear around attaining them. What does that mean?

If we take an example of someone wanting to lose 20 pounds, perhaps the subconscious reason that the person never attains the goal is because the 20 pounds is hiding the person from being “seen” (figuratively) by others. If the person was average, ordinary and regular, then they would be much better at being “invisible.” Perhaps the person has been carrying this extra weight their entire life, so being “thinner” would “feel” very exposed, vulnerable and open.

What would happen if people started paying a lot of attention to this person, and putting them on a pedestal, and looking to them for advice?  This might be wayyyyyyy out of their comfort zone. Because the comfort zone is to be “invisible,” unnoticed, to blend in with the herd. And that, my friends, is the real reason most New Year’s Resolutions never make it past January.

If we take an example of a person wanting a new, better paying job, they may have spent years in a job that was comfortable, predictable, ordinary and routine. Getting a bigger, better job, may involve managing others. (Let me tell you that managing others is really difficult!) Finding the balance of achieving company goals, setting hard boundaries and rules and also being a leader is hard. Dealing with people’s emotions, being more responsible to the company, delivering bigger numbers and goals for the company means more pressure, more stress, more eyeballs on you every single day. Perhaps now, this person is off the radar, with a nice easy day to day job that isn’t very fulfilling. Perhaps as a child, they weren’t an overachiever, just went along with the crowd and did the status quo, so something bigger and better than status quo would be really scary to the subconscious mind. Perhaps in high school, they were the “follower,” never the leader. Then having a simple routine job would be comfortable, but something bigger, better with more responsibility would be quite scary.

We all have something called an “ego” and its entire function is to keep us safe and for us to survive. From a very young age, it starts filing information away, as “good or bad.”  Everything labeled “Good” is the mask we wear to show the world how wonderful we are and everything labeled “Bad” goes into our subconscious and we can’t see it anymore. We do see these things reflected in others around us and mainly it’s the things that piss us off the most. These are also called “limiting beliefs.” They are beliefs we have deep inside that we think are definitive; but the only person who makes them definitive is…us. We do this every single day. I’m sure you’ve witnessed people you know who are constantly self-sabotaging themselves. They are on a path towards their dreams and then boom; suddenly they take a left-hand turn and blow it. This is the subconscious mind at work. The stress, fear, doubt and tension here all come from an attachment to the outcome, to how things will turn out.

Here are some examples:

  • The person who wants to lose weight – perhaps they are so attached to losing the weight that every they get on the scale and don’t lose weight, they have two extra snacks that day from frustration. What will happen? Aha – they won’t lose the weight.
  • The person who wants a new and better job is so attached to getting it that every interview they go on, all the interviewer sees is their desperation to get the job. Guess what? Nobody wants desperation walking into their office.

It’s the openness to not be attached to how the outcome comes to fruition that is where the magic lies. It is probably one of the more difficult tasks of this work.

So, what can you do?

  • Know that the outcome isn’t always fully in your control.
  • There are multiple outcomes that will be OK, if not great.
  • Focusing on the outcome is detrimental. It causes us to stress out, to enjoy the process less, or sometimes to not even start something because we don’t think we have a chance of getting the desired outcome.

Ditch those New Year’s Resolutions and focus on what it is you really desire, the commitment to move out of your comfort zone and your non-attachment to the outcome. These are your three keys to 2024!

joanne newborn
Joanne Newborn is CEO & Founder of Newborn Evolution LLC. She is an Executive Leadership Coach, Trainer and Strategic Advisor working with Organizations around the globe. Her Superpower is interpreting Senior Leadership’s vision and strategy and translating it to achievable goals to ALL levels of an organization from C-Suite to Middle Management to Individual Contributors. She and her team are transforming organizations’ visions into results by using a unique blend of Eastern & Western Methodologies. She has her MBA from Penn State, her ACC from the International Coaching Federation, is a DiSC Certified Practitioner and a DEI Certified Coach. Her company is a Certified Women-Owned Small Business and a Silver Associate Member of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Association. She can be seen speaking on Leadership and Building High-Performance Teams around the US and at Conferences and Universities. You can connect with Joanne on LinkedIn or visit her website.

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