Staying the Course: How to Keep Your Resolutions

How are your New Year’s resolutions? Are you still going strong or are you flagging already? When we first make a resolution or set a goal, we are naturally motivated to make progress and so we can’t wait to get out there and make things happen. But, of course, resolutions often fall by the wayside – I recently read an anecdotal statistic that 95% of New Year’s resolutions are never followed through.

So is there any point in making them? Obviously, people do succeed in achieving their goals – 5% at least! There are, essentially, two rules for becoming successful. Set goals, and take consistent action towards them. Most people don’t even do the first part, and of the minority of people that do, most will not follow through. There are many reasons for our lack of resolution. Here are some common ones, and some suggestions for overcoming them.

We set the wrong goals

It is surprisingly common for people to set targets which are inappropriate for them or for their circumstances. Goals should be challenging, though not overwhelming. They should be quite specific and measurable, but you don’t need to obsess about detail. It’s OK to leave a bit latitude and to change the goal if necessary. I am not a big fan of ‘realistic’ goals – who is to say what is considered ‘realistic’? Many people have achieved what may have appeared to be totally ‘unrealistic’ goals through great determination and persistence.

We don’t see results

Things rarely happen overnight. Better health, a slim and toned body, wealth and success in any endeavor usually take time, and yet we are often impatient to see the fruits of our efforts.

Looking into the future, our dreams can seem so distant, and yet when we look back, time appears to have flown by. To paraphrase Charlie Brown, ‘nothing much seems to happen from one day to the next, but pretty soon everything has changed.’ This perspective on time may help to keep you fixed on your goals. Try to see yourself in the future, having achieved your goal and looking back at yourself as you are now. It wasn’t so long ago, was it?

We get bored

We tend to like novelty, which is one reason we set goals and make resolutions in the first place, of course. But as time goes by, our old targets get a bit ‘old hat’ and we become tired with the routine we need to follow in achieving them. So it’s a good idea to keep an eye on why you started in the first place. If you really still want to achieve that goal, then recommit to it. Think about how to make things more interesting; think outside the box. You’re bored with the gym? So go running or take up kickboxing or swimming or speed walking. What you do isn’t so important as persistently doing something in the direction of the goal.

It’s too much effort

If the effort required to achieve a goal really is too much, then it may be that you are approaching the goal in the wrong way. A sailor will use the sails of a boat in such a way that the wind assists the boat to move in the right direction; and in a similar way, you shouldn’t be pushing against anything or struggling uphill to achieve your goals. You should certainly be putting in some work, but if you’re going about things the right way, the work will be efficient, effective and will produce results. If you’re struggling and getting nowhere, it’s time to take stock and think about how you’re going about things.

The goals we set become less relevant

Things change. Our circumstances and our needs change. And so do we. Sometimes, this means the goals we originally set are no longer as useful or relevant as they once were. In this case, change them to fit in with the new situation.

But a word of caution – don’t change your goals just because you get bored or you think achieving them is too difficult. Often, it will be more a case of adjusting your goals in a quantitative way rather than a qualitative one. For example, perhaps in a fit of enthusiasm, you set a goal to go to the gym five times a week but, after a couple of weeks, you’re exhausted and stressed out by all the effort. Instead of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater,’ adjust the goal to something more realistic – maybe three times per week, or shorter visits to the gym.

We go through a bad patch

Maybe for a while, things are going well and you feel like you’re making progress – but then something happens and things grind to a halt. Maybe you go on holiday and your healthy eating plan goes haywire, or maybe you injure yourself so you can’t exercise properly for a while; perhaps you experience some unusual stress and smoke a cigarette or two. After experiences like this, there is often a temptation to simply give up and go back to the old way of doing things.

Even in extremely busy or stressful periods, it’s a good plan to keep on going, if only to a much lesser degree. This will see you through and you won’t feel as if you have to start from scratch (and therefore risk not re-starting at all) in the future.

We are afraid of change

People make resolutions all the time which they really don’t intend to keep. Of course, they think they intend to keep them, but in reality they never will because achieving a goal usually requires some degree of effort and usually some discomfort. We can get stuck in our comfort zone. If you find yourself making excuses – putting action off for whatever reason – then you may be experiencing this problem. Ask yourself – are you really ready to move outside your comfort zone and accept the discomfort that comes with growth?

These kinds of experiences are very common. When we set goals or make resolutions, we should be aware that many pitfalls await us. As with success in any endeavor, it’s vital to have the right attitude. First, expect these things to happen, and second, have a strategy in mind for dealing with them.

Achieving your goals is never going to happen in a straight line – there will be ups and downs. But little blip – or even a big one – isn’t going to ruin things. You need to view achieving your goals as a marathon, not a sprint. So when the diet falls apart or you have that smoke, don’t worry – just get back on track and keep going. The worst thing you could do is quit. As an old teacher of mine used to tell us endlessly at school: ‘A winner never quits; a quitter never wins.’

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