Why your resolutions fail and how to fix it

profile picture of Rex Fan
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, BGUK
04 January 2023
Next review due January 2026

Do you struggle to get to February, let alone the end of the year, without giving up your new year’s resolutions? If so, you’re not alone. Studies show most people fail to keep to their resolutions as time goes on.

But there are things you can do to increase your chances of meeting your goals. Here, I’ll explore why your resolutions might fail, and what you can do to succeed this year.

person doing wall sit exercises on a yoga ball

What percentage of new year’s resolutions fail?

It’s hard to give an exact number. Some studies suggest that only 20 percent of people who make resolutions, end up sticking to them in the long term. Although many people may be able to keep their resolutions going after one week, this number then drops as each passing month goes by. This may be because people start off with enthusiasm and commitment, but then struggle to keep this going consistently.

Why is it hard to keep resolutions?

There are many reasons why you can fail to meet your resolutions. They include:

  • setting unrealistic goals
  • setting goals that are too vague
  • not creating a step-by-step plan to meet the goal
  • setting too many goals
  • not knowing why you have chosen your goal

How to set resolutions for the new year

It’s helpful to start by considering what your priorities are, as it can be easy to get overwhelmed with too many changes at once. For example, this year you might like to focus on your health, finances, family, or hobbies. From here you can work out a specific plan.

It’s also important to be clear on exactly what you want to achieve. This is because vague goals such as ‘I would like to be healthier’ or ‘I would like to save money’ don’t tend to work very well. Instead, a good strategy is to create SMART goals.

  • Specific.
  • Measurable.
  • Achievable.
  • Realistic.
  • Timely.

So, an example of a SMART goal could be to jog for 20 minutes every Saturday morning. Or it might be to save £10 a week by taking your own coffee to work every day. These are small, realistic, and specific goals, which can help you to meet your bigger aims of getting healthier or saving money.

Turn your goal into a habit

For the best chance of success, try to turn your goal into a habit. This stops it from being something you must try hard to remember to do. Instead, it will start to happen more automatically. Doing something regularly, over a period of time, can help you to form new habits.

You might find that initially it’s easy to keep doing your new habit. But then perhaps you feel tired and skip a day of running or get tempted by a fancy looking coffee. This might make you feel like giving up, but setbacks are normal, and it’s good not to feel guilty if things don’t go to plan. You can just continue to work towards your good habits again the next day and this will help you to meet your goals in the longer term.

The key to forming new habits is to be consistent. Missing one or two days of your new behaviour won’t matter. But stopping for longer periods can make it hard to get going again.

Another idea is to connect your goal with something enjoyable. This means you could do something you enjoy at the same time as working towards your goal. This can increase the chances of you sticking to it, because your brain tends to want you to repeat things it enjoys doing. So, you could go running with a friend you enjoy chatting to or listen to your favourite podcasts only while you are at the gym.

Know your why

Studies have shown that thinking about your motivation for doing something can help you to keep at it. For example, consider why it’s important to you to get healthier. It could be because you want to have more energy to enjoy life, or maybe you want to reduce your risk of getting a certain disease. Having a sense of purpose can make it easier for you to stay active, even if you don’t feel like doing it.

You might like to make a list of all the reasons doing something could improve your life. For example, if you are trying to quit smoking this year, then making a quit list and keeping it somewhere visible can help.

Five tips to help you keep your resolutions

  • Write your goals down. This can help you to refer back to them over the year and stay focused on your intentions. Ideally, keep them somewhere visible, such as a fridge, or mirror as this may help you to keep going.
  • Don’t do it alone. You may have more success if you find someone who shares the same goals as you. This can help you with accountability and motivation when times are tough. Consider joining a local running group or arranging clothes swaps with friends instead of shopping.
  • Make it fun. Try to enjoy your new habits. You could try listening to music when exercising, choosing a new recipe to try, or planning what you’ll do with your savings.
  • Reduce stress. When you are stressed, it can be harder to stick to healthy habits. This can be because stress and poor sleep can make you feel less like eating well or exercising. So, finding time to relax and have fun may help.
  • Check your progress. It may help to set yourself check-ins every one to three months, where you can see how you are getting on. This can help you to problem solve any barriers to success, as well as celebrating any progress.

Are you interested in learning more about your health? Discover more about our range of health assessments.

profile picture of Rex Fan
Rex Fan
Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, BGUK

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    • personal correspondence with Rex Fan, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor.

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