We’ve all been there. Each year as the holidays come to a close, we make a list of “resolutions” or promises to ourselves for the New Year. Although we may have every intention of keeping these promises, we likely won’t fulfill those commitments.  

The statistics are against us:  

  • Of 41% of Americans who make resolutions, only 9% were successful in keeping them.  
  • Only 23% of survey participants plan on making New Year’s resolutions this year. This number drops every year; it was 31% in 2021. 
  • Research can even predict which day you’ll quit your goals. Fitness app Strava documented over 800 million user-logged activities in 2019 and found that most people ditch their commitment to themselves on January 19, which is now dubbed “Quitter’s Day.” 
Breaking History 

The intention behind these promises is there, but we fail because we don’t set ourselves up for success. So, how can we increase the probability of you making a dent in the historical legacy that New Year’s resolutions don’t work?  

  1. Choose one promise. That’s it. Don’t pick five, or even your top three. To narrow down your list, choose the promise that you are passionate about and that you believe will have the biggest return on investment in your life. That will increase the motivational component for you actually going after and achieving your goal.  

2. Understand that you will self-sabotage yourself and be able to identify it the second it happens. You already know this is the case, because you have failed multiple times at resolutions historically. But that’s because you aren’t going deep enough to identify the exact moment you choose failure. And yes, we choose failure when we self-sabotage! Think hard: what exactly do you do that creates the failure? The answer is not just “I give up,” as that is not an accurate assessment.  

Let’s say you want to consistently work out five days a week. What gets in the way of you working out? In order to be most effective, you need to figure out what you are saying to yourself on the days you do not work out. Here are just a few ways we sabotage ourselves: 

  • “I’ll do it later, or even tomorrow.” You are procrastinating. 
  • “I should do this other thing first.” You are avoiding.  
  • “Skipping one day doesn’t matter.” You are justifying. 

Think about the second the alarm goes off in the morning. The moment of failure occurs when you hit snooze and think “I’m too tired” or “it’s too cold outside.” That’s the point of failure. It’s not that you actually missed a day of working out. It’s identifying the exact conversation you had with yourself to get you out of alignment with your goals. 

If you are able to catch yourself in that five millisecond period of time where you can change that thought and take new action, you will increase your probability of success. By doing that, you are building a new muscle to make your goal a priority, whether you feel like doing it or not. That is the core piece that will set you up for success. Most people don’t recognize that they are self-sabotaging themselves or how they can shift into new patterns of behaviors.  

We also use distracting behaviors as self-sabotage. That’s when you prioritize another task before the one to help you reach your goal. Whether that’s scrolling through social media or watching the news until it’s time to get ready for work instead of working out, you are putting something in the way of the action so you distract yourself to ultimately avoid the action. You made different choices that are out of alignment with the behavior you are trying to build a habit of.  

3. Evaluate your performance each day. Check in at the end of each day to see how you did. If you didn’t meet your goal, just saying “I’ll do better tomorrow” won’t work. You likely got some pleasure from not doing what you were supposed to do, so the likelihood is that pleasure will increase tomorrow. You must ask yourself why you didn’t fulfill your promise. What were the conditions, both environmentally and psychologically, that led to your choices to break your promise.  

You have to become self-aware, curious and mindful. Once that change happens, you can be successful with your New Year’s resolutions.  

Related: Swap your New Year’s Resolution for an Annual Intention 

A Different Kind of Promise 

The most popular resolutions for 2022 were living healthier (23%), personal improvement and happiness (21%) and losing weight (20%). But a powerful resolution doesn’t even have to do with getting fit, losing weight or working out more.  

What if you were able to give yourself more time back in a day? Time is the number one reason busy executives say they don’t make time to exercise, practice mindfulness, and prepare and eat healthful meals. 

If you find yourself getting sucked into TikTok for an hour every day or you binge Netflix shows every evening, make a promise to take back some of that time for yourself. This is a powerful promise that can really make a difference in your life. By eliminating that distracting behavior and the mindlessness of that engagement, you can bring in a new habit, whether that’s reading, meditation, working out or working on your MBA. I promise you will be shocked at the number of hours you actually have in your day when you get really conscious and reduce the brain numbing activities that don’t give you a return on your investment.   

Three Types of Promises 

When we make promises to ourselves, we don’t realize that there are different types of promises.  

  1. Strong promise. You will deliver on this promise. You have every intention of doing what you say you are going to do and unless something comes up that somehow impedes you (i.e. car accident), you will be there. For example, when your best friend makes a dinner reservation at a new restaurant downtown, she can count on you to be there.  

2. Conditional promise. In this type of promise, you make a commitment but an unspoken condition exists and you give yourself an out. For example, if you get invited to play golf on Saturday, you can commit unless it rains or something else comes up.  

3. Criminal promise. This is a promise that you make but you have no intention of keeping. You may feel uncomfortable saying no to a neighbor’s invitation to a BBQ, but you already have another event to go to on the same day and time, so it’s just easier to no show and make your excuses after the event.  

New Year’s resolutions are quintessentially criminal promises. It’s why we have rinse and repeat resolutions. Although you may have intention of keeping them when you make them, if you don’t set yourself up for success with the ways mentioned above, you won’t be able to fulfill those promises to yourself. But if you put in the work on the front end to identify and combat self-sabotage, you will be aware of how to make a successful promise and keep it. So, go ahead and choose that one (remember, only one!) promise to yourself for 2023. Then, working on making strong promises and eliminate criminal promises from your life.  

From the JMA family, we wish you and yours a very happy new year!