Why New Year’s Resolutions Tend to Fail—And How to Make Them Succeed

At this time of  year  many of us make New Year’s resolutions that over time wither and fade as we try vainly to transform some aspect of our lives. What begins with a hopeful optimism descends in yet another unmet aspiration.

It’s always a curiosity to me how we seek change in the same way that produces the same failure. I imagine that if we conducted a survey six months after the New Year and asked people about the success of their resolutions, we’d find an abysmal rate of failure. Our struggle with change is resoundingly difficult and scant attention is devoted toward understanding why that’s so.

Change begins as a thought, underscored by a wish or even stronger, a desire. This may set in motion an even stronger feeling, an intention. Most people find themselves somewhere within this continuum. Clearly, where you fall within that range is important toward the eventual outcome, but nevertheless insufficient for an assurance of reaching your goal.

What typically prevents the success is the necessary commitment–the vaulting into action–that supports the transition. A number of years ago, on the occasion of my voicing a resolution —to get into shape and work out regularly—a dear friend asked me when I’d actually be doing that. I said, ” at least three times a week.” He responded with a ringing clarity, ” If it’s not in your calendar, day and time, you’re not committing to it.” He was quite right. The intention wasn’t enough. It was lacking willfulness. I came to appreciate that intention must be coupled with will. To change we must engage a willful intention.

It’s not uncommon to initiate the change, but over time we tend to retreat back into the old familiar zone and loosen our grip on the new progress. Sustaining change is often more difficult than initiating it. This is because we haven’t fully committed to the progress. We make a bit of change, breathe a sigh of relief and give ourselves a break. And the change evaporates.

Your willful intention, if grounded in conviction, can lead to what I call a defining moment. It’s an instant in which we become so invested in the change we desire, that we commit to a turning point in our lives. We are in fact changed as of that moment. This is a defining moment in which we come to see ourselves differently, act upon it, and become transformed.

The defining moment alters everything. It is the engine that drives the change. The introduction of this new catalyst alters how we think and how we operate. It introduces a new habit into our being and literally alters our bio-chemistry. Neuroscience is now clearly confirming that our thoughts do indeed alter our brain chemistry. Sustaining the new thinking and embracing it with conviction becomes achievable with a deeply rooted commitment. Anything short leaves us falling short.

Old habits die hard because old thought defends its territory. Thought and behavior are inextricably connected. This habitual pattern literally creates a groove of thought, feeling and behavior. And it here that we get stuck. In order to disrupt that habitual pattern, we must intervene with a significant force, the defining moment in which we embrace the change and nothing stands in the way. This requires embracing the disquiet of new behavior. We need to take the discomfort and make it our ally as we align with the new shift. A resolution isn’t enough; a turning point into new terrain is required accompanied by the energy to sustain it.

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