Did you even bother to make a New Year's resolution this year? Most people didn't.
According to a national public opinion poll conducted by Marist Poll on December 18, 2014, only 44 percent of Americans are likely to have made a New Year's resolution for 2015. And it's no surprise - given how high resolution failure rates are, many simply don't even bother. The poll found that 41 percent of Americans couldn't even keep their resolution for at least part of the year, let alone see it through to success.
Weight loss is the most popular resolution, with other common resolutions including quitting smoking and spending less money. Whatever your resolution is, here are six reasons why we fail to accomplish our New Year's resolutions - and how you can get around them.
1. We Set Unreasonable Goals
Rather than resolve to start going to the gym once a week for 30 minutes, we resolve to commit to a grueling P90X exercise regiment. Why? Is it because human ambition makes us think big? Is it because we believe a New Year's resolution must be something huge? Or can it be that we're just really bad at judging what is reasonable to accomplish? Regardless of the reason, these grandiose goals set us up for failure.
"When you set weight loss goals, you don't really know how your body is going to react or what is going to be attainable," says Lisa Ordonez, a professor at the University of Arizona's Eller School of Business whose research focuses on goal-setting in organizations. "If you haven't done it for awhile, you need to do your research and revise your expectation."
Don't buy into the "go big or go home" mentality. If you want your resolution to succeed, then don't be afraid to think smaller. There are penalties to failure beyond the obvious, which leads us to our next point...
2. We Have Failed Before
"Every time we fail, we damage our own self-esteem," says Janet Polivy, a psychologist at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. "We make ourselves less able to bounce back the next time. One thing we see is that, when people fail, they don't blame the diet. They blame themselves. And that makes it hard to start again."
Did you fail to achieve your 2014 resolution? That makes you that much more likely to give up on your 2015 resolution. In general, failure is a poor motivator, and there's something to be said for momentum: when you're on a streak of victories or failures, it becomes easier to ride the high - or low.
The Marist Poll found that younger Americans are more likely to make resolutions than older Americans. Can that be because older Americans have given up on trying after repeated failures? We can't say for sure, but we can say that avoiding failure will help you keep your future resolutions. Setting more realistic goals is a good start, but be sure to follow up by avoiding our next point...
3. We Turn Mistakes into Failure
"The research has been replicated fairly frequently," Polivy says. "There seems to be this sense of, 'well, I ate something I shouldn't, this day is ruined, I'll just start again tomorrow, or next week, or next month.'"
Polivy is describing the "what the hell" effect, which is an easy trap to fall into. We let a cheat - or a mistake - turn into a failure. Rather than concede that we slipped up and immediately resolve to redouble our efforts, we mulligan the rest of the day, breaking our forward momentum and instead building up momentum towards resisting getting back on track.
"What the hell; I already had that slice of pie. I may as well have the milkshake, too." Avoid this kind of thinking.