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Why you keep breaking New Year's resolutions, according to a psychologist

Keeping New Year’s resolutions is no easy task, but what if there are some solid reasons as to why you can’t seem to make them work beyond the end of January?

When you reflect on the resolutions you made last year, it’s common to realise that you didn’t actually achieve them.

“Research suggests that only eight per cent of people actually achieve their New Year’s goals,” Lysn psychologist Gabrielle McCorry explains. “That’s a pretty small percentage when you think about how many people are actually making New Year’s resolutions - most people do and I’m sure you’ve at least thought about it.”

But why are New Year’s resolutions so difficult to keep? Well as easy as it seems, Gabrielle says making a change to our lives isn’t always straightforward.

Here, Gabrielle shares her tips on why you might be breaking your resolutions and how to turn the tide.

Using the wrong words

The simple act of phrasing our goals can have a huge impact on whether we achieve them or not. Gabrielle suggests ditching the word, ‘should’, and replacing it with, ‘will'.

“In fact, lifestyle coach Erin Falconer says in her book, How to Get Sh*t Done, that using the word, ‘should’, is definitely a bad idea when it comes to goal setting, because it is often associated with guilt, shame and an absence of decision,” she says. “In addition, phrases like, ‘have to’, and, ‘need to’, fall under the same banner as they don’t compel us to reach towards our goals.”

Also lose the word, ‘soon’. Gabrielle advises that it requires no specific or measurable outcome and can become redundant.

“Instead, use a timeframe or specific date, for example, ‘I will be able to run 5km without stopping by 30th April 2019’,” she says. 

Setting unrealistic goals

If it’s becoming a pattern that you’re not achieving any of your resolutions, Gabrielle suggests that it might be time to gauge how realistic your goals are.

“Evidence shows we are more committed to achieving our goals if we believe they are attainable,” she says. “We need to get back to basics and the key thing here is to make them achievable, so setting goals like, “I’ll save 1 million dollars this year”, when you’re only earning $50,000 a year, would count as an unrealistic goal.”

Although thinking positively is great, Gabrielle maintains to keep a realistic tab on things – same goes for fitness-related goals. 

“If you’ve never been a runner and you decide to run a marathon, whilst this is achievable, it might be more realistic to aim for a half marathon instead,” she adds.

If a goal is monumental, it’s simply easier to let it fall to the wayside. But, if you do have a grand goal, Gabrielle says it’s important to break it down into tiny steps that you can work on day-by-day.

Don’t procrastinate

If you’ve already fallen off the bandwagon, don’t despair. Studies show that 25 per cent of us lose steam within just one week when it comes to staying on track with our resolutions.

“Whilst the New Year seems like the perfect time – clean slate, fresh start etc. sometimes doing it at that time of year is setting yourself up for fail,” Gabrielle says. “Especially when you consider what’s happening – we’ve just finished Christmas and New Year’s parties which usually comes with a lot of over indulgence on food, alcohol and spending. Then you try to set up big goals like losing weight and exercising after you’ve spent the last few weeks doing the opposite – seems like it might make things even harder!”

Gabrielle says to keep in mind that whenever we try to change our behaviour we usually fail at least once. The important thing is to not give up if you do – just start again.

“That might mean starting at a better time, perhaps you’re back at work, back into your routine and you’ve got less social outings to attend,” she adds. 

Too many goals at once

Filling a notebook with ways to better yourself, might indicate that you are setting a few too many resolutions at one time.

“Too many goals are overwhelming for our brains to handle and means we will struggle to focus whole-heartedly on all of them,” Gabrielle explains. “Instead, choose three of your main goals that will require most of your attention. These can be from three key areas of your life, for example, fitness, career and finances.”

By doing this, you’ll still feel like you’re taking steps to achieve your goals without the risk of becoming overloaded and giving up on everything.

Focusing on the negatives

Instead of punishing yourself for not going to the gym or for splurging on that dress, Gabrielle suggests focusing on what went well.

“This mindset is more motivating and builds confidence that you can succeed,” she says. “Furthermore, ‘goal achievers’ think positively about reaching their goals. If you have thoughts like, ‘I won't be able to lose weight’, or, ‘I’ll never save enough to get a deposit for a house’, then you probably won’t. Evidence shows that positive self-talk contributes to increased self-confidence in achieving goals.”

Not celebrating small wins

It’s no surprise that rewarding ourselves gives us an incentive to continue making progress towards our goals, so celebrate the small things.

Gabrielle says the best way to make this work is to consider at what milestones you will be rewarded, instead of just ad hoc times when you ‘feel’ it’s right.

“Also, make sure the reward is proportionate to the achievement you’ve made, and is consistent with the nature of the goal,” she adds. “For instance, a reward of an ice cream for losing 5kg may not be appropriate. Finally, the reward you choose needs to be meaningful to you, otherwise it is not likely to motivate you to keep going."