New year's resolutions hand written on pieces of paper placed on top of a glittery decorative tablecloth surrounded by blue and silver Christmas decorations

Written by Tracy Shirvill

New year’s resolutions have been around for a long time. The Babylonian’s celebrated Akitu, a 12-day celebration where they would make promises to the gods to pay their debts, pledge loyalty to the king, and plant crops. In more modern times, Scottish writer Anne Halkett wrote a list of resolutions in 1671 which included “I will not offend anymore”.

Today, new year’s resolutions are more likely to be goals based on themes of health, wealth, and relationships. With January seen to be the ideal time for a fresh start, millions of people make new year’s resolutions to help them achieve their goals. So why do so many people fail to achieve their resolutions? Below are three reasons I have seen as a counsellor why people may struggle to achieve their goals.

1. New year’s resolutions focus only on behaviour goals

Included in articles about new year’s resolutions is the SMART goal framework. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based. SMART goals focus your attention on the behaviours you need to change to achieve your goals. While this approach can be effective it also leaves out a lot. SMART goals do not consider your emotional state or factors outside of your control. They can feel rigid, and do not allow for contingency plans. When people don’t achieve their goal there is no recognition of what they achieved on the journey. This can create feelings of failure and inadequacy. It also doesn’t ensure that you are implementing strategies which are holistically beneficial.

Creating long-lasting change requires reflection. Why are you where you are now? What experiences created the behaviours you are trying to change? What beliefs do you have about yourself that could prevent you from achieving your goals?

2. Your goals are based on the expectations of others

Ask yourself, where did the idea for your goal come from? Is your goal to lose weight because of a negative comment about your appearance? Are you looking for a relationship because you are ready for one, or are other people putting pressure on you? Are you ticking life’s boxes because you think that is what you should do? Feeling shamed or pushed into making a change in your life that will make others happy will not benefit you in the long run. Goals which align with your values and temperament will be naturally motivating and enjoyable.

3. Looking at life as a sprint not a marathon

Time-based goals are motivational because they create pressure to succeed. But that pressure isn’t always positive. I mentioned above that SMART goals do not consider what one can experience along their journey to achieving their goals. Ask yourself if you are enjoying the process of achieving your goals. Are you feeling connected to yourself, and to others? Are you gaining confidence or learning new skills? Are you settling for less than you deserve to tick that goal off your list? If setting a deadline is causing you stress or pushing you to make decisions you might otherwise, take a step back and reflect on why this time is so important to you.

While it isn’t possible to go deeply into each of these reasons on a blog, I encourage you to think about some of the questions I have asked here. Know that not achieving your resolutions is not a reflection of who you are, but a sign that there is more for you to consider.