How is it already February? Did I hit my head and miss a week!? Regardless, it’s here and this is the time of year where a whopping 92% of New Year’s Resolutions taper off and people return to their unwanted habits. I’m interested in why goals fail and the psychology behind how we might be setting ourselves up for potential failure. Wellness Women Radio is a fantastic podcast on a myriad of health and nutrition topics from two Integrative Chiropractors who really know their stuff! If you’re not already listening, I strongly recommend checking them out. They feature fantastic doctors and authors who have dedicated their lives to long-term wellbeing. Great for road trips or long walks! They had a fabulous January talk on why goals tend to fail. Listen here.
I believe that every effort we make to live a long-term healthier lifestyle is WORTH IT. Even if our goals end up changing, it’s all about the journey–I truly believe this–and there are always learning experiences along the way if we’re attuned to them by tracking our experiences. So even if something does end up “failing,” I think making the effort is always a fantastic choice and failure isn’t something that negates the initial intentions at all. With that said, I think knowing more about how to properly ignite those intentions so that we’re not overly focused on end results alone and engaging well in the process itself are key. What are the two biggest reasons goals fail?
Finding Your WHY
Problem numero uno is that most goals are far too generic in nature and are not value-based to last long term. Think back to the commercials and ads we started seeing around November and December. Just as most of us geared up for holiday travel (and gluttonous, yummy indulgences), Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and gyms galore were touting their membership discounts and entry level opportunities. They choose a perfect time to target the population when we’re feeling the most vulnerable and desperate to get back on track (or start for the first time). You know I’m never anti those programs if they’re a piece of the larger wellness puzzle for someone’s long-term well-being, but it’s so easy to fall for the gimmick of a program after the holidays by setting superficial goals for ourselves, such as, losing holiday weight! or get ready for swimsuit season! (Self Love Reminder: Your body is always a swimsuit body!)
When a client tells me something like “I want to lose weight and be a fit 50 year old,” I’ll ask them why. I often get a confused look because surely being a fit 50 year old is enough, but unfortunately, it’s not. That idea might excite us, but it’s not enough to carry us through the many ups and downs of building those healthy habits. So I’ll ask them to elaborate. In essence, I’m trying to get to their deeper “why.” Maybe they want to be a fit 50 year old to stay off pharmaceuticals that they otherwise would require if they keep up their unhealthy habits or maybe it’s because they want to be able to engage with their grandchildren in fun and physical ways. One client teared up and said she really wanted to meet her great grandchildren one day and teach them about her family history before it’s lost. Now that is a deeper WHY. Doesn’t mean her goals suddenly become easily attainable, but that level of WHY is much more likely to motivate her longer so she can build those healthier habits.
Your goals matter regardless of how deep or short term they might be. I encourage you to ask yourself “but why?” more and more until you find something closer to your inner most self. It needs to come from the heart or it won’t last. It’s easy to justify giving up on nutritious meals, for example, by saying “I don’t really care if I lose that 20 pounds,” but when it’s a deeper why like “I want to be around for my spouse so we can travel and explore the world together,” it’s more likely to stick.
Replacing Negatives with Positives
You’re going to give up some comforts in order to build healthier habits, and you might experience some serious withdrawals or, at the very least, discomfort. It’s so vital that we replace a negative habit or situation we want to get rid of with something positive. Otherwise, the pain of getting rid of that negative habit will make it really easy to go back to the old habit and not take the unknown leap to something new. You might be familiar with the ever-growing research on neural pathways and how choosing the same thing over and over again creates neural “grooves” in our brains. It’s challenging to get away from these grooves, but forcing ourselves to take a new path, through new choices, is the only way to rebuild new grooves.
Unfortunately, it’s not just enough for us to state what we do not want; we also have to state what we do want and then we must actively pursue the more positive action again and again. A prime example of this is me not wanting to mindlessly scroll social media as much as I did last year. So I will say that I want that and I will set the intention, but if I don’t replace it with a new habit, something that makes me happy and feels positive, it’ll be so much harder to quit doing that mindless habit.
Of course we might need to adjust the replacement habits–that’s part of the learning process so stay open to that. I decided that I wanted to meditate more and I wanted more time in nature, for example, so I added those items to my calendar with small reminders throughout the day where appropriate.
Because of how our minds work and how emotionally tied to our habits we are, it is vital that we find our deeper purpose behind our goals and then make sure we replace negative habits with more positive ones. Dig deeper and find the WHY that’s close to your heart; set goals for things that bring you joy and that make you feel good so that reaching those goals are that much easier and lasting!