why resolutions fail

January 17, 2019 – National Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day

Yep. Two weeks and we’re out. By the second week of February, it is believed that over 80% of New Year’s resolutions have failed. That’s roughly 45 days, out of 365… Yikes.

A commonly cited statistic is that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolution, which, inversely, means that 92% of resolutions fail. This is likely why only about 40% of the population make them in the first place. Goals, on the other hand, well, just check out this statistic from a Harvard Business Study:

“(the study) revealed remarkable statistics relating to goal setting and success: 83% of the population do not have goals; 14% have a plan in mind, but goals are unwritten; and 3% have goals written down. The study found that the 14% who have goals are 10 times more successful than those without goals. The 3% with written goals are three times more successful than the 14% with unwritten goals. Writing your goals down sets you up to be exponentially more successful.”

So, even though only 40% of Americans make a New Year’s Resolution, that is almost 2.5 times higher than the number of people that make goals. Which raises the question, what really is the difference between a resolution and a goal? And along with it, how do we set an achievable goal?

Many resolutions tend to be health related, with “lose weight” or “get in shape” usually coming in among the most popular. Truthfully, they are my main goals for the near future, and while I typically recommend focusing on one goal at a time, these two go hand-in-hand for me. Using the SMART Goal-setting Method, these two statements, and myself as a test subject, we can figure out why people who make these resolutions tend to be unsuccessful, and how we can set SMART goals to actually achieve them. We will work through them one-by-one, but keep in mind that there is no such thing as a MART Goal, SMAT Goal, or SMRT Goal. If one of these criteria is not met, the whole goal needs to be reconfigured.

S(pecific) – This one is easy. What does “lose weight” even mean? Into what “shape” are we attempting to “get”? A SMART goal needs to be defined – “I want to lose ten pounds.” Rather than saying, “I want to get in shape,” I will say, “I want to decrease my one mile time,” for example. That’s better, but can I be even more specific? How about aiming to run a 4:30 mile? Okay, now we are onto something. What is next?

M(easurable) – We are still on the easy side of things. My first goal of “losing ten pounds” is obviously measurable. Regularly checking my weight on a scale will tell me that much. The same can be said for decreasing my mile time. By keeping track of my progress, I will be able to gauge whether my times are decreasing, as hoped.

A(chievable) – We are on our way, but here is where we start to get into the nitty-gritty. Is the goal possible in the first place? Over the past nine months, I have gained roughly ten pounds. Before that, my weight hadn’t fluctuated more than a pound or two in over five years. Also, over the past nine months, my training log is barren and my eating habits have slipped, to which my weight gain is directly attributable. Based on this information and my recent experiences, I know that this goal is achievable. As for the second goal, I ran a 4:45 mile as a junior in high school. In the 13 years since, I have not specifically trained for, nor attempted a fast mile. A lot has changed in my body physically over the past decade, not to mention the simple fact that I am 13 years older. However, during my most recent marathon training, I was able to regularly run 5:30 miles during longer runs. Taking this and more into account, I am not sure that a 4:30 mile is a reachable goal right now. So I will adjust accordingly to make it more achievable. My goal is now to run a sub 5-minute mile.

R(elevant) – This is where we add some self reflection. For me, an endurance athlete, a goal to increase my one rep max for a Clean & Jerk this year, although a positive thought, isn’t really relevant in my life. Since graduating high school, my race preference has gotten longer and longer, with a focus being the marathon. This year, I am turning back to short distance triathlons. In the past, running a sub 5 mile wouldn’t have been very relevant to my other training. This year, however, I need to once again increase my running speed for short distances. The weight loss goal is relevant for two reasons, the first being that I know where my ideal race weight is, and it is also easier to run faster carrying less weight.

T(ime-based) – Finally, one of the main reasons that resolutions fail is that they are not based on any specific time frame. Lose weight, maybe, but by when? Is it a fail if we haven’t lost any weight in the first week, month, or quarter? Should we really expect to “get in shape” by our February birthday? Again, I will need to adjust my goals, since I haven’t set a timetable on them. Obviously, after not having trained, my goal shouldn’t be to run a sub 5 mile on January 1. In our area, triathlon season really kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. My first race is in June, but my season doesn’t peak until September. So, I will set both of my goals as six month goals.

After some tweaking and a lot of thought, I have turned two common New Year’s resolutions – lose weight and get in shape – into two SMART goals:
1) Lose the 10 pounds that I recently gained, by June 30.
2) Run a sub 5 minute mile by June 30.

We can do this with any other resolution, too. Instead of “read more,” how about we “Start a book club with your friends and read one book each month?” A lot of people want to “save more money” this year. What if we tried to “Put $50 from every paycheck into a savings account for a weekend trip in August?”

Now that we have made our SMART goals, we can set about implementing proper methods and plans to achieve those goals, such as hiring a nutritionist or trainer, keeping a food log, setting a time everyday to read, and more.

And, as always, life changes are better (and easier) with friends! So grab a buddy and set some SMART Goals today.

Happy New Year!