Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail: How to Succeed

John ThurmanBy John Thurman9 Minutes

Why do New Year’s Resolutions fail? Mainly, because they are only a statement, or what we wish for in the coming year. There are usually no action plans, no deadlines, no backup plans. Sometimes they are unrealistic resolutions, with no other thought or plans besides the statement. — Catherine Pulsifer, New Year’s Achievements

This might shock you, but most of us fail miserably at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Oh, you’re not shocked? How about we look at the three primary reasons we tend not to be as resolute as we’d like.

First, we need to get our thinking right before we can experience enduring change.

Second, we fail to have a structure—a pathway with some built-in accountability—to keep us focused and intentional.

Third, we are fearful of making these changes because of how they might impact us.

Several years ago, Gay Hendricks penned a best-selling book, The Big Leap, which identified four barriers to getting what we want.¹

Barrier #1 — The feeling that we are fundamentally flawed and either don’t deserve or don’t have it in us to make the changes we need to make. In other words, we are limited by our own thinking.

Barrier # 2 — This one is a little odd, but I validated it in my book, The No-Fear Entrepreneur. It’s the fear of feeling disloyal. “If I make these changes and experience success, I might leave others behind, which would be wrong.”

Barrier # 3 — A belief that positive life change and success bring a more immense burden.

Barrier # 4 — The fear of outshining others or, as some of our mothers used to say, “Acting too big for your britches.”²

Does this sound like your story? It reminds me of mine!

Well, a new year, a new series of milestones, has arrived, and I want us to have a year filled with joy, hope, belief, and possibilities.

The ancient wisdom of the Book of Proverbs shares some exciting insight regarding hope.

Proverb 13:12 shows the benefit of having hope. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” (NLT)

The Message puts it this way: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick, but a sudden good break can turn life around.”

So. Let’s be intentional about building a home-based strategy for having excellent outcomes for the new year!

Rather than using the old, ineffective way of making resolutions, I want to suggest a different approach, which may lead to the better, more permanent changes you desire.

What tool can you use to enhance your outcomes for the new year? It’s called an After Action Report.

I was introduced to the AAR as a young cadet and used them throughout my 22 years as a Chaplain in the Army Reserves and National Guard. I have also used this model in my work with the Forest Service, various law enforcement agencies, and as a Disaster Mental Health Specialist.

Simply stated, an After Action Report is a way of reviewing an event in a concise, orderly manner to improve the long-term outcome. For our discussion, the AAR will have three parts.

Question # 1 – What did I do right last year? Think about this in the context of personal growth, business/professional development, relationships, and spiritual growth. NOTE: Make sure your positives outnumber your negatives!

Question # 2 – What did I do wrong last year? Be brutally honest with yourself, but don’t get involved in self-flagellation or excessive self-criticism. Remember, do your best to ensure that your positives outweigh your negatives.

Question # 3 – What can I do better this year? Be crystal clear here. The main reason most people fail to meet any of their New Year’s Resolutions is that they are too broad, too generalized, and have no measurable outcomes attached to them.

So you may be thinking, Great John, I get it. I need to do an AAR for next year. Then what?

I am glad you asked.

But before I continue, let me throw a potential thought-worm at your brain. The greatest enemy to making the changes you want to make is your inner perfectionist. This process will help you see it for what it is and help you push through the smothering barriers of perfectionism.

I met Jon Acuff a few years ago at a creative’s conference in Franklin, Tennessee. I have been following him for a couple of years and absolutely love his down-to-earth, practical wisdom. The following suggestions come from his book Finish and a YouTube Channel episode.

Here are the three statements he suggests for implementing lasting, productive change in your life. Take a moment to thoughtfully read each statement and fill in the blanks.

1. Ninety days from now I will have ______________________________________________.

Example: Ninety days from now, I will have walked x miles. Ninety days from now, I will have lost x pounds. Ninety days from now, I will have written three chapters of my next book. Ninety days from now, I will have begun new friendships with three people. Think doable and straightforward.

2. This sounds impossible, but I want to _____________________________________ this year.

Example: If you want to get in better shape, develop a plan that you can enjoy and will work. If you’re traveling, write it down. If you want to improve your relationship, what would that look like? Classes, coaching, therapy, reading? If you always wanted to write that book, learn about a book proposal, either fiction or nonfiction. Start writing. Brainstorm what steps you can take to start making the impossible seem more possible.

3. This is weird, but I want to _____________________________________ this year.

Be bold because you will need to be. When you begin to think like this, you will encounter a familiar old enemy: fear. For most of us, fear means Forget Everything And Run. I prefer another way of looking at fear: Face Everything and Respond! So what is the one weird, bold, and brassy thing you want to do this year?

I hope you find this helpful. I also hope you will join me as we implement this new approach. Let me know your thoughts.

Here is a parting piece of ancient wisdom you can apply to this year.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

Let’s lean into this year with a heart filled with hope and possibilities.