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Avoid the New Year's resolutions traps and pitfalls

Three reasons people fail with a setting goals — and how to reverse the trend.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. December 31, 2022
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January is a big month for goal setting and resolutions. Of course, many times we fall short in these plans: research suggests only 8% of Americans follow through and achieve their goals.

So how do you turn your aspirations of the future into an achievement you’re proud of? It might help to consider three reasons you failed in the past to avoid those breakdowns this year. Those reasons include: 


1. Your new routine wasn’t sustainable

I often hear of people starting incredibly strict nutrition plans and workout regimens, just to find themselves burnt out on the rigidity of it. I get it: you’re excited and motivated to make big changes  — but research suggests overly-rigid routines actually undermine habit formation.

Instead, start small by adding behaviors that can easily be incorporated into your routine. Once those become routine, add from there. Instead of promising yourself you’ll hit the gym five days a week, start with once a week. Prove to yourself you can show up for one, then make it two.

This is really important: develop a plan, but be ready to pivot when inevitable life circumstances pop up. An if/then plan can support you when plan A falls through. When a routine is too rigid, it’s easy to give up and focus on more pressing issues.


2. You expect to see changes too quickly

Can you really expect to have a six-pack after two weeks of going to the gym? Of course not. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over time. Yet, we all feel like our efforts should be paying off quicker. In my own experience and while working with clients, I found achieving goals often takes longer than you expect and requires more patience and self-discipline than you originally thought.

When your efforts don’t align with the progress you think you should be making, that leads to frustration. So what can you do? There’s likely someone who has made the exact changes you are trying to make. Reach out, ask them questions; they’ve likely struggled with the same things you are. 

Remember: consistency compounds and momentum builds. Continue to put in the daily effort and you’ll see progress before you know it.


3. You’re only focused on the goal itself

Visualizing the end result alone is not sufficient to bring about your desired change. Day-dreaming of your accomplishment is the fun part. Unfortunately, it leaves you less-prepared for action because you tricked your mind into thinking you already achieved it. 

Our minds are ineffective at distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Gabriele Oettingen, a motivation psychologist, proved in her research it’s more effective to use what she calls ‘mental contrasting’. This technique involves visualizing the behaviors required, as well as the barriers and difficulties you’ll encounter in the process. As a result, your subconscious ties together the future goal with the efforts and obstacles it must overcome in the present. That makes you more motivated to take action. 

Achieving your resolutions has less to do with the goals you set and everything to do with the systems you follow. If you want to achieve your goals in the New Year, start small, stay flexible, develop a back-up plan, consider the effort and remember small actions everyday lead to extraordinary success over time. Finally, enjoy the process of becoming and give yourself grace every step of the way. 


Meredith Killingsworth is a life and executive coach, wellness expert and motivational speaker in Sarasota and Bradenton. 


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