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7 mistakes to avoid for New Year’s Resolutions (or any other goal)

How to make your New Year’s resolutions stick

It’s a new year and the ‘new year, new start’ energy is galvanising many of us to finally make new habits stick.

But what will it be this time that finally, FINALLY, might mean you look back on 2024 as the year you followed through on your goal and didn’t let it go by March?

In my coaching practice over last 9 years I’ve helped hundreds of people achieve their goals and I’ve also seen a fair few fall short.

Failure is the most fertile ground for learning so I thought I’d collate the most common mistakes I see when people make New Year’s Resolutions (or any goal for that matter) so you can put yourself in the strongest possible position to have your resolutions stick.

Befriend failure

Please know regardless of how well you try to avoid these mistakes, set-back and failure are going to become old pals by the end of a year-long commitment.

Take comfort: failing doesn’t determine whether you’ll stick to your resolutions.

Instead it will rest on how thoughtfully you responded to the question: “what wisdom can I take from this set-back? How can I take action differently as a result?”

Mistakes to avoid:

1. Telling yourself you’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’.

It’s week two and you’ve already missed that meditation practice/avoided that networking event/ didn’t post/didn’t speak up in that meeting/didn’t make the invitation/didn’t make the call.

At this point there’s often a shrug, a defeatist sigh and the words ‘what’s the point, I’ve fallen off the wagon, better than I just give up now’.

If this is you, I have some excellent news. You’re not on a wagon. There is no wagon. There’s also no piste (if you’re concerned you’ve gone off it).

Instead imagine you’re in a rocket ship and for one day you’ve gone 1 or 2 degrees off your original trajectory but given that you are the pilot, you get to re-direct, re-route and make a different choice tomorrow. Or next week.

Once you’ve fallen off the wagon, we often get into this ‘game over’ mentality. Stay in the game and know that your success is going to be the sum total of the cumulative choices you make over the long term.

A blip is just a blip, unless you make it something more serious.

2. Getting side-tracked by fear

As humans, our pre-occupation with protecting ourselves is something that has:

a) ensured our survival for thousands of years and b) held us back from goals and dreams…probably also for thousands of years.

We don’t need to worry about being eaten by predators anymore, but our brain is still scanning the landscape for potential threats.

Instead of fleeing a lion, we now run from failure, rejection, uncertainty, disappointment and even success (I call these the Fearful Five).

When we know we’re self-sabotaging from fear, we can make the process less overwhelming or seek professional support to dial down those fears.

What’s far more challenging, are the unconscious fears that sabotage our resolutions without us even realising it. We simply find ourselves scrolling on our phones, having successfully avoided another opportunity to be visible, telling ourselves that we were “too busy”.

If you’re aware your resolution isn’t going to plan, ask yourself: am I protecting myself? Which of the Fearful Five has snuck up on me? What I can I do to help myself overcome that fear?

3. Big dream rather than process

Maybe 2024 is the year you’ve decided to commit to a big, exciting dream. That might be running a marathon, reaching an ambitious income goal in your business, finishing an exciting project or gaining a promotion.

It’s a dream that gives you butterflies. And you know it will probably take the best part of a year (or maybe more) to get there. But you don’t mind that because this goal is SO EXCITING.

If this is you I am thrilled you’ve discovered something that you’d love to work towards. It’s also going provide focus and direction for the year ahead and who knows what you’ll discover along the way.

Equally, don’t clutch on too tight.

Pitfalls of the big dream

  • The big dream can fuel an initial rush of unsustainable action which leads you feeling tired and demoralised further down the road. This is why gyms are so crowded in January and by the spring, normality returns.
  • Our brains need shorter term, realistic and achievable goals to feel rewarded and motivated. As gross as this sounds, chunk down the big dream to shorter term goals (such as daily habits for example) that will give you the dopamine reward you need to keep you on track.
  • You unwittingly create a belief of “I can only be happy when I’ve achieved this dream” because there’s too much emphasis on the end result and not enough attention spent on how to fall in love with the process of getting there.
  • Your become rigid and inflexible about what the big dream should look like. Those who stay open throughout the progress respond to set-backs more creatively, are more accepting of what they cannot control and sometimes end up achieving something different or even far better than what they initially envisaged because they were open to the dream evolving and changing as they learned, grew and responded to their ever-changing environment.

By all means get excited by the big dream. Life’s too short not to. Just hold onto it lightly and focus more on the process habits that will lead you to it.

Answer this powerful question: “which habits can I do daily [or weekly, or monthly] which would make this big dream inevitable?”

4. Vague implementation

The more specific you are about how you will implement the habits you want to stick to, the more successful you will be in making them happen.

Ask yourself:

Where will I do it?

What time will I do it?

What do I need to do it?

With whom will I do it?

How long will it take?

Who do I need to tell?

For even better results, use ‘habit-stacking’, which is when you stack your new habit on top of an existing one.

For example:

  • writing that Linkedin post as soon as you’ve opened your laptop.
  • 10 minutes of meditation after you’ve brushed your teeth.
  • Reading a book for 15 minutes after your morning shower.

The habits you already do daily are opportunities for you to ‘piggy-back’ the new things you want to prioritise.

5. Not writing your New Year’s resolution down

Studies have found that writing your goals down will make them 42% more likely to be achieved. Enough said.

6. Waiting to feel confident

You don’t need to believe in yourself or feel confident in order to start a new commitment. I say this as someone who makes a living from helping people feel more confident!

To make your New Year’s resolutions stick you are likely to need courage, discipline and commitment.

Confidence and self-belief are a by-product of taking action. They are not a pre-requisite.

Think about when you were child. Did you wait to feel confident before you learned how to walk? Or ride a bike? Or swim? Or learn an instrument? Or a sport?

You just went for it, your persevered, maybe you cried sometimes, but you didn’t wait until you felt confident.

It’s not realistic to feel confident about something you’ve never done before.

Instead, think about those times when you’ve demonstrated courage and know that you can grow that courage every time you take a step towards what you want.

7. The New Year’s resolution isn’t meaningful to you

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.” – Iain Thomas

Too often I see people make resolutions they feel like they ‘should’ make but in fact it’s societal pressure or expectations of family, friends or partners have led them to it.

Part of what makes new habits successful is being connected to the deeper meaning, also known as the ‘deep why’, a concept popularised by Simon Sinek.

Ask yourself: why am I making this resolution? What will it bring me?

If you’re drawing a blank, it’s time to have a re-think about which habits would bring you something truly meaningful. Less anxiety? Better relationships? More time with your family? Only you can say.

Work with me

I’d love to know how you get on with your new years resolutions now you know the traps to avoid.

If you’d like help with the art and science of goal setting, either for individuals or your organisation, you can book in for my free clarity call and we’ll explore how to set you up for success.

22 January 2024