This month, I had the pleasure of joining my friend Nancy Berk for a recording on her podcast Entertaining Insights about why New Year’s Resolutions so often fail and how to change that in your own life. It got me thinking again about why so many of these resolutions peter out, as most do before the end of February. Studies have shown that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail and many of people over the years (including myself) have written about new approaches needed to achieve our big goals and resolutions, including naming them differently, approaching them differently and viewing them differently.
Personally, I don’t engage in making New Year’s “resolutions” per se because there’s so much hype and pressure around them that I find they rarely work. I choose to approach it more like a year-end review of what’s gone very well and what has not, and what has exceeded my expectations, both in my business and my personal life. I then make some key decisions on what I want to expand on regarding my focus, energy, time and financial investment, for the next year. I think of it more like answering this critical question: What are the key themes that I want to expand on and bring into focus next year, and for what desired outcomes? Then I create a concrete plan with steps and milestones for achieving what I believe will generate more happiness and reward. And I get outside help when I need it, to continually assess these plans and steps. This is the approach that works best for me.
That said, over the past 15 years in my therapy and career coaching work, I’ve seen that most of us simply can’t bring about significant change in our lives if one key thing is missing—understanding at a deep level why you operate the way you do, and recognizing what keeps you locked in specific “negative,” self-sabotaging, or self-limiting behaviors that resist change. Once you understand more intimately your mindsets, values, beliefs, habits and greatest fears, you will begin to realize why certain goals are going to be very hard for you to achieve, and even harder to sustain, unless you commit to a deeper level of change.
What’s going on at a deeper level that makes New Year’s resolutions fail and what are the top 3 reasons they die on the vine?
This is what I’ve seen:
#1: It’s your consciousness that needs to change before your behavior can change
Einstein once said: “We cannot solve a problem on the level of consciousness that created it.” This is so true. As an example, let’s say you’re in a job that you hate, and you’re being mistreated by your boss on a regular basis. And this isn’t the first time you’ve been in a horrible job. You say at year end, “That’s it. I’ve had it! Next year I’ll find a new role with a great boss, doing work I love.”
While that’s a fabulous goal, it most likely won’t happen unless you change aspects of yourself first, so that you will be able to attract—and sustain—positive treatment in your life and your work. So often, people who are chronically mistreated at work have been mistreated throughout their lives. It’s typically a problem that’s very old for them. This chronic condition can emerge from childhood, where our boundaries were violated in some core way and we were never able to speak up and stand up for ourselves because it was not safe to do it.
In these cases, especially where there was narcissism in one or both parents, people grow and develop in ways that make their tolerance for mistreatment greater than those who were raised in a healthy, nurturing manner. My therapist friend and colleague, Janneta Bohlander, has shared that in these cases, “their picker is broken.” These individuals often continue to “pick” or move toward (unconsciously, of course) the wrong people, work cultures, bosses and jobs that are damaging and replicate the same type of dysfunction they grew up in. Sadly, until we are able to heal what has hurt us from the past, we’ll continue to perpetuate the very challenges that we most want to run from.
#2: You don’t have an accountability structure to help you sustain change
Big changes and important goals don’t just happen. They require sustained action (and a different kind of action than you’re used to) that can move you forward towards the goal despite the challenges, struggles and pushback. That sustained action is difficult to achieve on our own because it stretches us way out of our comfort zone and out of our habitual ways of dealing with life. While some people can hold themselves accountable on their own, I’ve seen that the bigger the goal, the more it is necessary to have outside accountability help, especially over time as the initial juice and excitement of the goal fades and the going gets rougher.
Whether your goal is to be happier, healthier, wealthier, stronger, more successful or more fulfilled, to achieve those goals require you to become someone who is different from who you are today. To do that, outside support is so helpful. The right kind of helper (versus the wrong kind), encourages you to see what you cannot about yourself and to connect with the highest version of who you are and can be, and also where you’re sabotaging your own growth.
The right accountability partner believes in you and your big goal before it’s “hatched,” and serves as an honest and true mirror that reflects back to you how you’re currently approaching things. The right accountability partner helps you expand your toolbox and capabilities so you can react to challenges differently, and in more intentional, empowered way.
We don’t generally make big change alone or in a vacuum. Most of us need some great outside help and an ongoing accountability structure to keep going towards our highest growth just when we want to bail.
#3: You are actually scared of, and completely resistant to, achieving this big goal and you won’t let yourself
You may consciously want to achieve a particular goal, but if you’re internally scared to death to bring this goal to fruition, you just won’t let yourself do it.
Years ago, I read Gay Hendricks’ great book, The Big Leap, and learned so much about our “upper limit problem” and the four barriers to achieving what we consciously think we want. I’ve since interviewed Hendricks numerous times (both on this blog and in my Finding Brave podcast) and I continue to learn more about these four hidden barriers, which are:
Hidden Barrier #1: Feeling Fundamentally Flawed
The biggest and most widely-shared fear is that many of us feel there is something fundamentally wrong with us and that we’re undeserving of great success and happiness. This fear causes us to hold ourselves back from fulfilling our ultimate potential because we feel we inherently don’t deserve it.
Hidden Barrier #2: Disloyalty and Abandonment
Another widely-held fear is of being disloyal to or leaving behind people who have been there for us in the past. We pull back from greater success because we fear we’ll end up all alone, abandon our roots, and leave behind people whom we love or care for.
Hidden Barrier #3: A Belief That More Success Brings a Bigger Burden
A third fear is of being a burden; some people unconsciously believe that more success will bring greater burdens, to ourselves and to others.
Hidden Barrier #4: The Fear of Outshining
Common among gifted and talented people, this fear often emerges from a strong subliminal message they received as children from their families that if you shine too much, you’ll make others feel bad or look bad.
I’ve lived each and every one of these hidden barriers, and know firsthand how challenging it can be to revise these beliefs and overcome these deep fears.
As Hendricks shares, most of us have internal upper limits to the degree of success, love, wealth, kindness, health, etc. that we’ll allow into our lives. I believe that this is one of the core reasons, for instance, that those who win the lottery are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American, and that 70% of lottery winners end up broke. There are all sorts of outer, behavioral reasons for this phenomenon, certainly, but in my work as a therapist then coach, I’ve observed that the internal reasons are more potent. In this case, holding and sustaining immense wealth can be extremely challenging for those who haven’t built the fortitude, boundaries, actions, and belief systems that allow them to sustain a high level of wealth.
In the end, it’s an internal job that’s required to sustain your definition of great happiness and success. We can take all the well-advised steps in the world, but without cultivating the positive and empowered beliefs and behaviors that build a solid foundation for success, it will remain very difficult to reach your most thrilling goals.
Do you want to make an exciting New Year’s resolution that you can actually achieve in the new year?
The best step to take to achieve a big stretch goal is to understand very deeply why you want this goal and what motivates you to achieve sustained progress, and then address proactively your greatest fears about reaching this goal. Figure out now what’s in the way of believing: 1) you are truly worthy of it, 2) that you actually deserve it, and 3) you will be able to handle other people’s reactions when you finally achieve what you long to.
To achieve your highest, most rewarding goals, work with Kathy Caprino in her Career Breakthrough Programs and take her Amazing Career Project career growth training program.