While it’s difficult to estimate exactly what percentage of New Year resolutions fail, research indicates that only roughly 10% of individuals who set resolutions at the new year feel they were successful one year later. For many, the feelings of failure start to kick in within weeks – in fact, a 2019 report from the fitness tracker app Strava estimated that users are most likely to give up on fitness-related resolutions by January 19th. But why does this happen, and what can you do instead to make long-lasting changes to your habits? In this post, we’ll cover common reasons why New Year resolutions fail and how to reframe your goals to make them more successful!
5 Reasons Why New Year Resolutions Fail
1. They’re based on extrinsic motivation
Although evidence suggests that intrinsic motivation is more effective in supporting behavior change than extrinsic motivation, New Year resolutions are often based on extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation relates to the external result of an activity or behavior (e.g. calories burned or the number on the scale), while intrinsic motivation relates to internal rewards (e.g. feelings of enjoyment or empowerment).
Rather than setting a resolution to burn a set number of calories per day or lose a certain number of pounds, focus your resolutions around engaging in specific activities you know you enjoy, such as making time to attend your favorite workout class or going on scheduled walks with a friend. Recognize too, if some activities bring you more joy or value after you move, even if it didn’t seem that enjoyable while moving. This could be endorphins from a run, feelings of empowerment after lifting weights, or reduced hip pain after yoga. If your resolutions bring you joy, you’ll be much more likely to stick with them.
2. They’re not specific enough
Many New Year resolutions fail because they’re too vague and open-ended to be actionable. One of the most common resolutions we hear is to eat healthier. This is a broad resolution that could be narrowed down to something much more specific. For example, what does it mean to you to eat healthier? Perhaps you’re specifically working on eating more vegetables. If that’s the case, you can make the goal even more narrow by aiming to have a serving of vegetables at lunch each day. From there, you can get more detailed by bulleting out an action plan with the steps you’ll take to achieve the goal, such as chopping up raw veggies every Sunday for an easy grab-and-go option to pack in your lunch or making extra vegetables at dinner so you have leftovers to eat with lunch the next day.
Starting with a small, specific goal makes it more realistic to achieve, and you can always expand your goals later on. Check out our post on Setting Practical Nutrition Goals for more ideas on how to get started.
3. They’re overly restrictive
When setting goals with clients, we like to focus on things they can add in to benefit health rather than setting restrictive goals. This is referred to as approach-oriented goal setting, which focuses on positive behaviors. In contrast, avoidance-oriented goals focus on avoiding negative behaviors. A study published in 2020 that followed over 1000 participants who set New Year resolutions found that after one year, those who set approach-oriented goals were significantly more likely to report that their resolutions were successful than those who set avoidance-oriented goals.
So, while you might be hearing all about the things you should avoid in the new year, focus instead on what you can add. Check out the infographic below for examples of non-restrictive resolutions that support performance. For more on why we don’t recommend starting a restrictive diet this January, check out our article on Ditching the Diet Mentality for Performance.
4. You have an all-or-nothing mindset
All too often, people feel like they need to go all in and set rigid, all-or-nothing New Year resolutions. However, research suggests that setting rigid goals does not equate to higher levels of success and may be harmful to your mental health and overall wellbeing. One study found that people who approached their New Year resolutions with flexibility rather than tenacity had a greater level of wellbeing, though unfortunately neither group had high success rates with their resolutions.
Give yourself grace and flexibility with your New Year resolutions and remind yourself that change takes time. If life gets hectic and you aren’t able to dedicate as much attention to your goals come February, that doesn’t mean you need to give up altogether – with a flexible approach, you can always refocus and pick back up where you left off when you have time.
5. The timing isn’t right
Speaking of timing, there’s no reason to feel like you have to set goals in January! A common reason why New Year resolutions fail is that it’s simply not the right time. If your new year is looking hectic and you aren’t ready to make any major changes, there’s no shame in delaying your goal until you can give it more attention and energy.
It’s also beneficial to check in with yourself on your goals more frequently (i.e., more than once per year!). Goals can change and it’s okay if your time frame to achieve them needs to be altered. Habit change is hard, and any changes you make are more likely to stick if you make time to address any barriers that come up on a regular basis.
Accountability for New Year Resolutions
If you’re feeling ready to make nutrition changes to support physical and mental performance and are realizing you need support and accountability, let us know! You can apply for our 1-1 nutrition coaching programs, which are tailored to your needs with built-in structure through unlimited email support and regular follow-up sessions. HSA and FSA can be used towards our coaching programs!
If 1-1 sessions aren’t for you, but you want weekly education and activities to induce behavior change, sign up for Fitness Nutrition Foundations, our self-paced 8 week course. It offers incredible value at an extremely low cost. Learn more here and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions!