Do You Make These 7 Mistakes When Trying to Keep Your New Year’s Resolution?

“Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath.  Today, we are a pious and exemplary community.  Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever.”
Mark Twain

Mark Twain was right about the problem with the New Year’s Resolutions. Most of them are forgotten or abandoned and then we are on the old trampled and familiar paths a month later. But how can we avoid it and actually make lasting changes in 2009?

Here are seven common mistakes when trying to keep New Year’s resolutions. And some thoughts on how you can solve each of those problems.

1. You don’t really want it that much.

It’s easy to tipsily declare your New Year’s resolution for 2009 when you got a glass of champagne in your hand. But do actually want it?

Maybe you don’t really want it that much. But the world around seems to want it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve it. But it might be better to focus on what YOU really want. Both to steer your life in the direction you yourself want and to create positive internal motivation instead of external pressure you feel you should live up to.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t use looking good at the beach as one motivation to get in shape. But do it because you want to look good. Not mainly because you want other people to validate you.

How do you find out what you really want to do? By thinking and by experimenting and just trying things out (the image you have of something in your head can be very different from the actual experience). Get to know what you really want in your life.

When you have figured out what you really want take out a pen and piece of paper. Write down all the reasons why you want to achieve this.

You can use this paper later on to solve some the other problems that may pop up.

2. You confuse homeostasis with “time to give up”.

One problem with sticking with your resolution is homeostasis. What that means is that any system wants to be stable. That goes for you. And for the people around you.

So after the initial enthusiasm wanes it may not feel as that much fun anymore. It’s sort of enthusiasm backlash. This is the homeostasis kicking in within your mind (no matter if the goal/habit etc. is actually very positive for you). It’s a resistance to change to keep the system (you) stable. If you are simply aware of this being what it is – rather than a signal to give up – you can persevere, be patient and keep going more easily.

You should also be aware that the homeostasis may appear in the people around you too. Sure, you getting shape might be great. But it means changes in the lives of the people around you too (perhaps new food and nights spent running instead of watching TV with the family etc.). So the people around may react negatively in some way. Realize that it is the homeostasis in them, not that they are being mean. It’s their brains doing what’s natural to keep the system (the family, circle of friends etc.) stable when “scary change” intrudes.

3. You don’t know how to handle your bad days.

We all have bad days, days when we don’t feel like doing anything about our resolutions. That’s normal.

But it can be dangerous to just go with how you feel and think on those days. It can lead to more days with nothing getting done. So you have to help yourself to keep moving on those days too to be consistent and stick with establishing your new habit. You can do this in a couple of ways.

  • Pump up your enthusiasm/motivation. There are many ways to temporarily pump up your emotions for a short while. Two of my favourite ways is to act myself in to an enthusiastic state of mind and to get an enthusiastic vibe from other people (in person or via CDs/DVDs). One great way to remind yourself why you are doing all this hard work is to pull out your piece of paper from tip # 1 and review it. This might be what you need to feel better for the moment and be able to take action again.
  • Acceptance. On some days those things won’t work. Then it might be better to go for just accepting how you feel. By accepting you stop resisting, for instance, going to the gym. Your focus is now on acceptance and you are no longer feeding more energy into the resistance and making it stronger. Most of the time your negative feelings will lose so much power when you are in an accepting frame of mind that after a while going to the gym doesn’t feel like such a burden anymore.
  • Just do it. So you can’t get acceptance to work either? Well, you are still in control. Your emotions or thoughts are not in control. So just get up off the couch and do what you know is the right thing despite how you feel right now. Just go and do it and soon – as you start doing – you’ll feel better again.

4. You’re not changing your environment to suit you.

I think this is an important and sometimes overlooked point. To be able to change you may have to change parts of your daily environment to better support you when establishing your new habit.

  • Make it easy. The weather can be pretty bad this time of year. So it becomes very easy to rationalize to yourself that you don’t have to go to the gym because of the snow or rain. So make it easier. Buy some free weights and/or an exercise bike and work out from home. This can really help you to improve your consistency.
  • Make it fun. You don’t have to go running if you never really liked it. You can play soccer if you think that is more fun. Try different activities to find what fits you. And find a workout partner if you think that will help you to get things done (and have more fun).
  • Remind yourself. You memory is often not that good when you are doing something new, at least for the first month. So put a reminder on the fridge to work out after supper. Put out your training clothes and running shoes so you notice them (instead of having them tucked away in the closet where you forget about them). You may even want to put up your note with all the reasons for sticking with your resolution by your bathroom mirror to get a motivational boost at the start of each day.
  • Remove easy availability. If you are going to eat healthier this year then one simple but effective tip is simply to remove the easy availability. So toss out all the cookies and then fill up that vacuum in your life by filling your cupboard and fridge with healthier snacks like fruit and nuts.

5. You don’t have a realistic plan and expectations.

It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm and think your resolution will be taken care of within a few weeks. In reality, however, things tend to take longer than we may have hoped for. Especially if you haven’t done anything similar before and lack actual experience to draw understanding from.

To make a realistic plan you need to educate yourself. Not just draw up some random plan. Have a look at some well respected books ­- for instance by checking the Amazon rating/reviews for them – and websites on the topic you’re interested in. Talk and listen to people who have actually done what you want to do.

I would also recommend focusing on making the activity the goal, not the result. If you focus on losing 20 pound and misjudge the time and effort it will take to do that then it’s very easy to become disheartened and give up.

So focus on the process, focus on – for instance – working out 3 times a week instead. Make that your habit and adjust the difficulty along the way. You should still have your goal of losing those pounds in your mind and measure from time to time. But keep your main focus on just going to the gym or running track consistently, week in and week out. The pounds will come off as a side effect of that habit.

With a realistic plan where you focus on consistent action it become easier to be more patient. And also not to give up when you are faced with homeostasis or the inevitable mistakes and temporary failures along the way.

6. You’re focusing on too many resolutions at once.

If you have too many goals, to many habits to implement directly at the start of 2009 it may wind up in little being established as a natural part of your life two months later.

Enthusiasm is great. But it can make you so unfocused that you just bounce around like Tigger. Or drain you after a while as you try to create too many new habits at once. Especially if you are not used to it. Or in great shape energy wise (keep an eye on what you eat, how much you sleep and the exercise you get).

It may be better to just focus on your most important habit/resolution for January. It will be less of a drain on energy and focus. And you still have 11 more months to establish other habits you want to incorporate into your life.

This may sound like a slow and boring way of going about things. But it’s whole lot better – and more effective – than becoming fatigued, feeling down on yourself for not being able to keep up with all your resolutions and finally giving up completely.

7. You let temporary failure or mistakes lead to giving up completely.

I failed and gave up three or four times before I could establish a habit of working out three times a week. I think read that Steve Pavlina failed four times before he was able to switch to a raw diet and finally stick to it. And Edison failed several thousands of times before he got the light bulb to work as he wanted.

So you got to understand that failure is normal. And the best route is to keep going and gain understanding from your failures or mistakes. Social conditioning and homeostasis often seems to lead us to believe that if you fail you should go home and not ever try again.

But the most successful people are so successful just because they failed, learned and tried again. And again. Because they viewed failure and mistakes as something valuable and pretty positive instead of something dreadful and painful.

2009 will pass no matter what you do. You will arrive at New Year’s Eve this year too.

So if your fail or make some mistakes, so what? Since the time will pass no matter what you do you might as well try again. By doing that you can make 2009 your best year ever.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I never used to be a fan of visualising but I think goals are a place where it is useful.

    Visualising yourself at the end state of your goal is a great way to provide motivation. Seeing and living it in your mind provides a lot of positive movement. If you are visualising and it doesn’t make you remember why you wanted that goal then you probably don’t to really care about it. Drop it.

    Thanks for the useful tips.

  • Hi Henrik,

    On regards to point number 1, I believe that sometime people create goals that seem “flashy” to show off to their friends or to receive validations from people around them. This is a sure fire way to cause them to give up on their resolutions half way because there is no hunger in getting them. We need to be able to set resolutions that is what we truly want and also align it to our values.

    Personal Development Blogger

  • Great advice Henrik!
    The majority of the world’s population seem to make new years resolutions, and just as many quit them within a month. I think it is mainly due to your number 1 suggestion – not wanting it enough.

    It seems that you have to have a resolution, and so you make one without having the desire to complete it.

  • Hi Henrik

    I also like to set up times for celebration – so to have little goals along the way with “rewards” or rejoice-time.


  • Hi Henrik — Thanks for this piece. On #1, I agree it’s important to separate what you authentically want from what your culture or whoever else tells you that you ought to want. One thing I find useful for doing this is to go down my list of goals, breathe deeply, and pay close attention to how my body feels — do I find myself relaxing or tensing up? That’s a good way of finding out what I want on a deep-seated level. — Best, Chris

  • Great article Henrik.

    What I particularly find important is the ability to have fun doing whatever your goal is.

    If it aren’t fun, why the hell do it? That’s just what I want to know :-)

    Have a great new year everybody.


    Happiness Cafe

  • Personally, I prefer the idea of making challenges instead of resolutions. Read about this on one of my recent blog posts ‘Make Challenges Instead Of Resolutions For The New Year’ here:

    I find that challenges are more motivating than resolutions. When it’s a challenge, your ego and pride are involved, thus, you’re more likely to take it seriously than a resolution.

    Most people don’t give a shit to their own resolutions because their ego and pride are not at risk even if they fail to follow through.



  • ShapinUp


    I think you left out “You’re not keeping track of your progress”. This is the first year that I’ve actually stuck with my resolution to get in shape and a lot of it has to do with me using a daily tracker for food, exercise, weight, sleep and some other things that effect my overall health. It has really helped me make my goal a daily habit. I’m using an app on my iphone by which works really well, but I’d like to hear what everyone else is using to help avoid the mistakes you pointed out.

    Thanks for the post!

  • GREAT article! So I recommended your post to my readers:

    Thanks for sharing your fine and usefull ideas!