Why resolutions don’t work and what to do about it

‘Tis the time of year that everyone is talking goals and resolutions, setting intentions, and designing outcomes.  Did you decide what you want to accomplish in 2012?

I’ve found that many are giving up on making resolutions because they don’t work or last very long, so why do it because they are sure to be disappointed with (yet) more failed resolutions by February?  As an engineer-at-heart, I find myself intrigued by why resolutions don’t work for so many people.  Here are my thoughts:

Hunch #1: My feeling is that people overestimate what they can do in the short term, and underestimate what they can do in the long term.  Most cram too many ambitions into the daily, weekly, monthly cycles, and not enough into the yearly, biennially, and even longer, say 5 year time frames.  It’s not really surprising because we are all programmed to have a bit of ADD with information overload, ever changing business environments and priorities, and we all want and expect instant gratification.  3 year planning?  5 year planning?  Why bother?  Most can’t even imagine where things will be or what they want 6 months from now.

Hunch #2: People make resolutions that require them to live with conflicting values.  For example, if I want to lose weight by eating at home instead of eating out, but I value convenience over health, I’ll likely opt for the fast-food meal option in a time crunch.  If I want to eliminate watching TV at night and start reading, but I enjoy the perceived relaxation of TV-watching over the perceived benefits of reading, I likely won’t stick with my resolution for long.

Hunch #3: People make resolutions but don’t build resources to see it through.  By resources, I mean taking the necessary steps to adjust the mindset, learn the skills, seek the right advice, or build the proper environment and tribe of supporters to make sure that their resolutions have the best chance to come to fruition.

A hypothesis: resolutions aren’t just for some hard-core driven people who have unnaturally high resolve and can stick through things while others can’t, nor is it about an old concept that is ideal but hardly relevant in this day and age, but that the real issue is about how clear we are about what’s important to us, and whether we have done the work to clarify what is really needed to have it work?

Here’s a challenge for you: take the time to clarify your vision of what wild, ultimate success is for you 3, 5, or 10 years from today.  Imagine what that success would mean to you.  Why it would be important to you.  How would a life lived that way benefit you and those around you?  What would be the impact to your community?

My hunch is, if you became more clear about why you are making the resolution and what its impact and value is far, far, down the road, you might find that doing it is more important, more rewarding, and less painful than not doing it.  If your resolutions are crafted such that they are truly important, fun, and attainable, then implementation of your resolution becomes a positive and motivating exercise.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!




  1. Good thinking. Especially re: conflicting values.

    Just came to my mind: people usually set their resolutions of what they think they supposed to do – but not what they really want – and then of course they don’t feel like sticking to that.

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