New Year's Resolutions: Why Are They So Hard to Keep?


  • Author Felice Block
  • Published June 28, 2011
  • Word count 766

As if the pressures of the holidays aren't enough, many of us top off the season with even more pressure - New Year's resolutions.

Dale Berry of Self Help Magazine states that fewer than 30% of New Years resolutions ever achieve success.

Logic tells us if we engage in behavior that results in negative consequences, we should just stop doing it, right? So why is it often easier said than done?

Much of behavior is driven by unconscious motivation. Change is scary and we use defense mechanisms like denial, minimization, or projection to help us avoid what we fear.

Denial is an unconscious way for a person to protect him or herself from information that is too painful to face. Minimization is a little different in that the person acknowledges there's a problem; they just minimize the severity or the consequences of the problem. If we aren't aware of how severe the problem is, then we don't have to do anything about it.

Projection is a way to blame a problem on someone else; relinquishing responsibility to make changes yourself.

Alfred Adler, a Viennese psychiatrist, had a lot to say about what motivates people. He said all behavior serves some kind of psychological purpose that is generally outside of our conscious awareness.

For example, the psychological purpose of a class clown could be to get recognition and a sense of belonging with his or her peers. Maybe the clown believes the only way he or she belongs is by being funny.

Let's apply this theory to the New Year's resolution to stop smoking. If one psychological purpose of smoking is to "inhale" feelings that are too difficult to face, no wonder it's so hard to stop! Even after withdrawal from the nicotine, you'd have to learn to deal with those feelings that were previously too scary to confront.

Change is difficult, but not impossible! Habits are tough to break, but here are some tips to increase your success with keeping New Year's resolutions:

Visualize Your Goal

When you picture your desired outcome, your actions will coincide with what you imagine. Close your eyes and visualize as much detail as possible. What will you look like, what will you be doing, where will you be? Picture the colors, sights, sounds, and smells. This picture details your long-term goal; conjure it up in your mind several times a day.

Start with Small Steps

Break your long-term goal into small action steps. For example, if you want to exercise more, start with 5 minutes and gradually increase time. Set yourself up for success with manageable, realistic goals. Small change leads to bigger change.

Just Do It!

It's a myth that you have to be motivated first in order to be successful. Get started on your small steps and motivation will follow. Success is the foundation for more success.

Get Support

Find a buddy to support you in your goal. Make sure it's someone who is motivates you with encouragement rather than criticism. It could be a friend, co-worker, family member, a member of a support group or twelve-step recovery group.

Make sure you report your progress and struggles to your support person at least once a week. Tell people about your resolution; this helps you be more accountable.

Don't Give Up!

Most people "fall off the wagon" when they try to change a behavior. The trick to success is to get right back on track instead of wallowing in guilt or discouragement. Be kind to yourself rather than critical. Tell yourself, "I slipped but I will start again."

Reward Yourself Often

Make your reward special, meaningful, and healthy. Avoid rewards that trigger other bad habits like overeating, shopping, procrastination, or alcohol. Create a "menu" of rewards so that at a moment's notice, you can indulge without much preparation or trouble.

Here are some examples of rewards:

  • Sip a cup of your favorite herbal tea or specialty coffee

  • Listen to a favorite CD

  • Talk to a friend

  • Play with your pet

  • Take a bubble bath

  • Get a massage

  • Get a Manicure/pedicure

  • Read a book/magazine

  • Feed Yourself Positive Thoughts

We all have conversations with ourselves, multiple thoughts that are unspoken but powerful. Cognitive psychologists, call this self-talk. Self-talk can be either positive or negative.

Either way, your thoughts feed your feelings and motivate behavior choices. If you tell yourself, "I blew it...I'll never do this," you will discourage yourself and give up.

On the other hand, if you tell yourself, "I can do this," then you pave the way to success!

For more information about Felice Block, MA, LCPC, please visit her website at to learn about her counseling, public speaking, and training services.

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