Why You Failed at Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions in 2016

|Posted by | Psychology of Money, Save Money


There is a scientific reason for why Singaporeans fail at keeping their new year’s resolutions. Read on to learn why you failed, and how to achieve them in 2017.

If you’ve always suspected that no one really keeps their New Year’s resolutions, you’d be right. Depending on who you ask, anywhere between 81% to 92% of resolutions are destined for failure.

Another poll found that of those who did make a resolution, the large majority – 75% – managed to stick to their resolutions – for all of 7 days. (We assume it’s because they’ve sobered up by then.) In contrast, only 46% of people manage to keep their resolutions past the 6-month mark.

With longevity rates spanning 1 week to 6 months, New Year resolutions have a notoriously low success rate. Why do we fail so regularly and spectacularly, year after year?

Resolutions Fail Because They Are Too Vague

According to social media analytics company Digimind, the top 3 resolutions for 2016 among Singaporeans were to 1) save money, 2) travel and 3) exercise.

These are all good and worthy goals, but they make for terrible New Year resolutions (if taken at face value).

Why? Because the typical New Year resolution is too vague and poorly constructed to have any chance of success.  

Yes, you decide you’re going to save money this year, but how much do you want to save? More importantly, how will you do it? And what are you even saving the money for?

Without clarity on any of the above, you’ll find it difficult to stick to, or even remember your resolution in the first place.

Solution: Define Your Resolution

You wouldn’t embark on a journey with only ⅓ of the map and expect to succeed at reaching your destination, would you? Yet, when it comes to resolutions, that’s what most of us do.

New Year resolutions are great in that they tell us what we want to do. But they don’t tell us how, and why. So, if you’re serious about keeping to a New Year resolution for 2017, then you’ll need to answer all 3 questions: what, how and why.

So, the way to do this is:

What: Save money

How: Cutting out weekend drinking

Why: Go skiing in Korea

Your New Year resolution should therefore be “This year, I will save money by cutting out weekend drinking, so I can go skiing in Korea.”

Resolutions Fail Because They Are Too Big (For You)

Let’s take ‘exercise’ as an example in this next section.

You decide you’re going to exercise more this year. No more lollygagging around, this time you’re gonna sign up for a gym and go for a workout 5 times a week. You’ve even bought matching workout outfits and a pair of good gym shoes. Nothing’s going to stop you from getting the body of your dreams in 2017!

After 3 months (or let’s be realistic, by the end of January), your fancy sports gear and gym membership card remains as spotless as the day they were bought – guiltily, shamefully unused.

Oh, there’s that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach again. It’s guilt, not hunger, so kindly put that tub of ice cream back in the freezer. Before you beat yourself up for failing yet again, might we suggest that your resolution might have been too big for you to begin with?

Underestimating the resolution is a common reason why we fail at keeping it. We may be prepared for the goal, we but are not prepared for what is required in order to reach the goal.

Why do you even underestimate your resolution in the first place? The same reason you think you’re a better-than-average driver. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias that causes us to think we’re better at a task than we actually are.

Solution: Research Your Resolution

Sure, going to the gym is a great way to get fit and sculpt the body you want, but only if you do it right. Yep, there’s a right way and a wrong way to lift a dumbbell, and not knowing the difference is why so many people waste time, effort and money on their gym memberships.

Before you sign up for a membership, ask for a look-around, research what going to the gym is like, and find out realistic estimates of the time and effort you actually have to put in before you see results. (Don’t talk to personal trainers for this – their job is to sign you up for personal training packages that cost extra on top of your membership fees.

Instead, talk to your colleagues or friends who are active gym-goers. Or hang out in gym forums, if you can ignore the stench of testosterone wafting through your screen.)

Similarly, before you make any resolution, find out what you will need to put in in order to get the results you want to see. After that, do a rational, realistic assessment of your available time, energy and money, and check for a match between your resources, and what’s required.

Assuming you still want to proceed, the next step is to work out a schedule you can easily stick to. Embark on your resolution with small, attainable goals that you ramp up as you go along.

Whether it’s bench-pressing your body weight or climbing Mount Everest, showing up is half the battle. Don’t sabotage your efforts by making it too difficult or troublesome to embark on that important first step.

Resolutions Fail Because They Are Emotionally Hollow

Our example in Point 1. above makes it seem like the ultimate goal really is to go to Korea, and if that’s a goal of yours, well and good. However, it doesn’t matter if you actually go to Korea this time next year – the important thing is to anchor your resolution with a target outcome that you are emotionally invested in.

Most people give up on their resolutions (or any life goal, really) because they’re drawing their energy from the wrong place. We all believe that we have to suffer through the process in order to get what we want, and success is largely a matter of willpower.

That’s a mistaken notion. Willpower is a mental resource which gets depleted as we accomplish our tasks throughout our day. It is the wrong type of ‘fuel’ for keeping your resolution.

Solution: Find the Emotional Investment

Motivation is a feeling. More accurately, motivation is a state of being brought about by certain emotions.

To make sure you keep your resolution, think about how good accomplishing your goal feels. Try to be as detailed as possible when you do this – what does success look, taste, feel, sound and smell like.

Construct a mental picture in your head, spend 5 minutes each day immersed in it, and refer to it every time you feel tempted to stray from your resolution.

This works on 2 levels – by motivating you with a clear picture of what success looks like, and by giving you the extra energy to keep on going when you feel like giving up. In other words, instead of giving in to lethargy, pump yourself up by drawing from the emotional energy you’ve invested in your (successful) future self.

Conversely, if you can’t find the positive emotional investment, or cannot form a clear, uplifting and exciting picture of what success looks like, that particular resolution might not be for you.

In that case, get back to the drawing board, and using what you’ve learnt from this blog post, choose and construct a New Year resolution that is clear (what, how and why), attainable (what resources does success require), and emotionally impactful for you.

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Alevin ChanBy Alevin Chan
A Certified Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimize happiness and enjoyment in his life.