Why Resolutions Don’t Work and What to do Instead

Why Resolutions Don't Work

How are your 2017 resolutions going? Still on it or not so much?

I heard somewhere that by 17th January many people have already ditched their New Year’s Resolutions. Are you one of them?

There are many theories about why this happens but I think it boils down to the following things:

Unrealistic expectations

Ok, so let me get this straight. This thing you want to change, more than likely a habit of some sort or a way of being, this thing you’ve been embedding for many years, repeating over and over again, you are expecting to undo or reverse it overnight? Just because yesterday was 31st December and today is 1st January? Hmmm.

Now, I’m not saying that you can’t change habits, but I think that the failure of so many resolutions comes in part from the expectation that just because you have decided to make a change it will be all unicorns and rainbows from here on in. The reality is that it takes time to form a habit, especially if that habit is something that goes against your ego’s desire to keep you small, safe and stuck.

Take getting up earlier for example, one of my personal projects for this year. Just because I have decided that it would benefit me to do this in order to have more time and to feel less stressed and overwhelmed does not mean that the first (or even the second, or third…) day I decided to do this was a success. Equally, the fact that I have yet to create a new delicious morning routine where I bounce out of bed at 6am does not mean that I have given up on the idea completely. It just means I need to persevere and find new ways to help me make the change (like putting my alarm clock in another room), to keep in mind the benefits the change will bring to my life and to remind myself that it will get easier as my new habit forms.

I also think it’s important when you are finding it hard to create a new habit to investigate why. There could be a biological reason I’m finding it hard to get up early such as a hormonal issue, in which case working with a nutritionist could be helpful, or maybe I just need to get to bed even earlier to get the right amount of sleep for me. Don’t automatically assume it must mean you have rubbish willpower.

Another way in which we can have unrealistic expectations is when we expect to make lots of changes all in one go.

Say for instance your goal is to lose a significant amount of weight. In order to achieve this it is likely that you will need to change your eating habits, create an exercise routine and increase how much you sleep. Each of these bigger changes also comprise many smaller changes. Take for instance eating more nutritious food. To do this you may need to change where you shop, how often you shop as you’ll be buying more fresh ingredients, how long you spend planning and preparing meals, start planning ahead for the times when you will be eating out and so on and so on. Not an insignificant amount of change required for just that one habit.

I have worked with several personal trainers who have recommended starting with just one small change. Even though it may seem like the easiest thing in the world to accomplish, when you are successful at making one change you are encouraged and your confidence in your ability to succeed increases. It’s far better for your morale if you under promise and over deliver than if you over promise and under deliver.

And don’t forget, a New Year’s Resolution is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s not a New Day’s Resolution or even a New Month’s Resolution. You’ve given yourself a year to experiment and find a way to make the change you want to make and to determine whether the change actually works for you. Don’t give up because it doesn’t work in the first few days.

You didn’t give up learning to walk or ride a bike or drive a car at the first attempt, so why should this be any different?

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Such a simple saying and so, so true.

Sometimes we actually set ourselves up for failure, which I believe is our ego’s sneaky way of collecting evidence to support its theory about our inherent uselessness.

Let’s look at changing the way you eat. Say your intention is to start eating more nutritious food from Monday. Is the best way to succeed:

A. To cram your weekend so full of activities that you have no time to plan your food for the week ahead, to shop or to prepare your meals?


B. To ensure you make time to look at your schedule for the week ahead, determine how many meals you will need to prepare, when you will have the time to prepare them and to go and get all the ingredients you will need?

It’s obvious (I hope) that the answer is B but how often do we prepare more in line with answer A and then wonder why by breakfast time on Monday we have already lapsed into our old habits?

And why do we start everything on a Monday? Traditionally most people’s least favourite day of the week and we expect ourselves to be able to make a big change. The same goes for New Year, expecting ourselves to completely change our habits the day after one of the biggest celebrations of the year and after a week, if not longer, of over indulging and busyness.

How about deciding to make a change on a Saturday or Sunday. Clear a weekend of any social events, take the time to prepare and set yourself up for success. Or even give yourself a week of preparation to really stack the odds in your favour.

Wrong resolutions

Do you really want to make this change? Is it you who wants this or is it your spouse, your friends, your family, your upbringing, society? Does this resolution reflect who you are right now or the person you want to become or is it based on who you used to be? Are you trying to get back to being the person you used to be instead of moving towards the person you want to be?

I believe we often set ourselves resolutions based on the person we think we should be rather than the person we actually are or want to be. Take some time to get quiet and ask yourself what you really want for your life and see if your resolutions still feel authentic.

Wrong reasons

Resolutions based on intrinsic (internal) rather than extrinsic (external) motivations are far more likely to succeed because they reflect the truth of who we are rather than what we believe others expect of us.

Take for example losing weight. If our motivation is based on the idea that by losing weight we will be more attractive to the opposite sex or that we will fit in better with our peers then we’re off to a shaky start. Firstly, we can’t control what other people think or how they behave, we can only control how we feel about ourselves. Secondly, when we are coming from a place of self flagellation rather than self love we will always find something else that needs to be fixed, creating a never ending cycle of not-enoughness. The likely outcome is that we will yoyo up and down the scales ending up feeling thoroughly disappointed with ourselves.

We also often set goals without considering what they really mean. Take wanting to get a promotion. A promotion would certainly lead to increased income and status but would it make you feel the way you want to feel or would it just impress certain people such as your friends and family and leave you feeling stressed? Even though we are conditioned, certainly in western society, to see success as the house, the car, the respectable job etc., how many people who view that as success and achieve it are still left feeling empty and dissatisfied?

Deep down the reason that we set goals is in order to feel a certain way but many of us are disconnected from that notion. How often have you set and achieved a goal only to realise when you reach it that you feel great only for the merest moment if at all? If you’re anything like I used to be you are ready to move onto the next challenge within about thirty minutes in order to fill the emptiness, which leads us into an endless cycle of achievement for achievement’s sake.

In Danielle Laporte’s amazing book The Desire Map she suggests that we turn this around so that our goal becomes feeling the feeling. If we start by aiming to have more of the feelings we want in our lives then we are more likely to end up with goals that are aligned with how we want our lives to be. Setting goals this way also encourages us to check in on a regular basis with how we are feeling on the way to our goals. If the process of completing a goal takes several years then it’s madness to hate the entire process. As Danielle Laporte says, life is what happens on the way to the finish line. Everything you are doing today is not just preparation for your future life, it is your life.

If after all that you are thinking it could be time to revisit your goals for 2017, then I have just the thing for you!

I have created a free PDF to guide you through reflecting on 2016 and looking forward to 2017 (download below)

live with intention


Download the PDF here or click the image

If you got a lot from this article but feel that you could do with a little help to implement and keep you moving in the right direction, great news! I am now taking on 1 to 1 coaching clients for 2017. If you feel called to get some help with setting yourself some new goals and making sure that in 2017 you live a life that is true to you send me an email at corinne@corinneworsley.com or get in touch via the contact page on my website and I will be in touch to set up a free 30 minute call for us to get acquainted and to see how I could help you. If I’m not the right fit for you then I’m bound to know somebody who is.


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