Why we fail with our new year’s resolutions & what to do about it

Olof Ekman
Jan 5, 2021

There’s no doubt that people feel differently about new year’s resolutions. 

Some people find it a great time to start something new and look forward to them. 

Others find them silly because they don’t feel they need a special day to make new commitments. 

Then there are those who really despise them and say something along the lines of “I don’t believe in new year resolutions”. And what they are really saying is “I don’t believe in myself to keep them”. And that’s usually the result of having made commitments in the past that they could not keep and to go there again is painful, so they don’t. Our brain is programmed to react that way. We do something, experience pain, the brain registers that pain and avoids going there again. Unless you force yourself out of your comfort zone and do it anyway, it will stay that way. 

Regardless of which category you belong to, making commitments and sticking to them is a bit of an art form. And like any art form, we can learn to master it. I’m not claiming to be a master, but I’ve experimented with commitments throughout the years and learned a lot from the people I’ve worked with in The 1-Month Habit Experiment. So here’s are a few tips and ideas that might help you stick to your new year resolution or any other commitment you make to yourself this year.

Don’t start unless you are fully committed

There’s a price to making commitments and then not following through on them. We start to not trust ourselves, and the next time we say we will do something differently we doubt we will actually follow through. It’s like lending money to a friend who never gives it back. Next time they ask, we are hesitant. So unless you are ready to give it all you got, don’t do it. Instead, wait until you are in a place where you feel 100% committed. 

Undercommit rather than overcommit 

It’s a new year and you’ve decided it’s time for a change. Good for you! You feel really excited and as a result, you’ve put the bar really high. But to rebuild the trust in yourself and your ability to change, it might be a good idea to start where you can’t fail so you can build up momentum and have some initial success. Once you feel confident with that first level, advance to the next one. 

Once you have momentum, you can increase. But start where you are sure you will succeed.

Fully committing does not mean perfect

Last year I committed to meditating an hour each morning. And since, most days I have. But on some days, I was too tired or could not find the time. But rather than skipping on those days, I found a way to do it the best I could that day. If I was too tired, I laid down to meditate. Or if I could not find the time, I would go for a walk and try to stay in the moment. So being fully committed does not necessarily mean you have to do it perfectly each day. Just that you decide to do your best.

Tell people about your commitment

You’ve probably heard this before but if you haven’t tried telling others about your commitment, give it a try. For some people, it changes everything, me included.  

There are different ways to do it. You might tell a friend and ask them to hold you accountable. Or commit to something together with someone who wants the same thing as you. Or you can tell people you care about and that you wouldn’t want to think you got a bad character. Like your boss. Your partner. Your kids. Or share it on your social media for everyone to see. The pain of people asking about it and not having done it really gets some people going. 

I find that sharing my commitment with others really deepens it. And you might think, should I really use fear of other's judgment as a motivator? Change is hard as it is. Use whatever helps you.

Need support sticking to your new year's resolution or a commitment?

Give space for your inner rebel

What often happens when we commit to something is that our life can start to feel too rigid. There’s too much control and you might have a need to go a bit crazy. Your inner rebel who does not like that control might want some space. And rather than suppressing that inner rebel completely, try to give your inner rebel some space to live. 

When I stopped eating sweets and sugar, once every now and then I just had this super strong need to go a bit crazy. Do something a bit out of control. And rather than eating something sweet in those moments, I let the rebel go crazy in a different area of my life. It might be watching Netflix for hours. Or buy something outrageous. Or even get a bit drunk. Whatever lets your inner rebel live for a bit, do that. 

I found this really helpful to deal with that rigidness and let the inner rebel have its space but at the same time, sticking to my commitment. 

Once you are fully committed, you will feel free

When you make something your top priority and are ready to give it all you’ve got, it frees up space in your head. You no longer have to debate with yourself whether you are going to do it or not. It’s a firm decision that is no longer up for debate. And all that energy you spent on thinking about whether you will do it or not or beating yourself up for not doing it, can be spent on doing it instead. There’s a sense of freedom to it that is a load off your shoulders. 

In the beginning, protect your commitment like a newborn baby!

Protect it with all you got the first week

A new commitment is like a newborn baby. Fragile and weak. But the older it gets, the stronger it becomes. So in the first couple of days, pay extra attention and protect it with all you got. Because a week in or so, you will notice that it feels more solid since you have invested time and energy into it. Time and energy you don’t want to waste and having to start all over again. 

There you go. Have a new years resolution you really want to succeed with this year? You are welcome to join The 1-Month Habit Experiment where you first get to figure out what’s a good thing to focus on for you, then create your own plan to succeed with it, learn powerful tools and techniques for changing habits, and be part of a group that supports you and holds you accountable. And since we are experimenting, you can’t really fail, only learn. 

Or you can join BehaveWatch which happens monthly and is an online accountability group where we support each other with our commitments and habits. 

Join my private mailing list to receive a monthly bite-sized email with tools, tips, and techniques to help you get better at changing your habits, behaviours, and thinking.

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