Why your new year’s resolutions fail and some tips for optimists

Watch above: Psychotherapist Nicole McCance discusses why many new year’s resolutions fail.

TORONTO – It’s Day 6 of 2014. Are you excited to continue your new workout regime? Looking forward to your bag of carrots and murky green smoothie? Pumped for your no-smoke break?

Maybe not.

You could be on a couch somewhere, snarfing down chips or chain-smoking like the rest of us who can’t keep our January goals, despite the liquor-induced enthusiasm built up during the December break.

However, American psychologist Dr. John C. Norcross has been studying self-change and new year’s resolutions in the U.S. for more than a decade. His studies suggest about 40 to 46 per cent of new year’s resolvers will be successful six months later—considerably higher than public opinion, but not quite half.

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Norcross cites research indicating that people who make resolutions are ten times more likely to change behaviour than those who have identical goals and motivation to change, but don’t make their list.

So what are the biggest barriers to achieving your goals?

It’s not me, it’s January

Toronto psychotherapist Nicole McCance thinks it could be the timing: we’re tired, sick, recovering from holiday hangovers, and the weather in Canada is not in our favour.

“I honestly believe that the number would be much higher if it was June 1st. The days are sunny, the days are longer; I think we’d be much more successful—we’d have much more energy in the summer.”

Who likes jogging in January snow? No one. (Scott Olson/Getty Images). Scott Olson/Getty Images

She also thinks we fail because we don’t realize that adding activities to our schedule means clearing some room.

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“In order to succeed in one area of your life, you need to sacrifice in another,” she said. “If I want to start running and get up early tomorrow, I’m going to have to sacrifice an hour of sleep.” And it’s a rare man who prefers 5 a.m. winter pavement-pounding to sweet, sweet slumber.

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Montreal-based Dr. Mitch Shulman thinks the tendency for people to fail applies no matter the time of year.

Failure is ‘natural’

“Human beings do not like to limit what they do with their lives,” said Shulman, who calls resolution failure a “natural thing.”

“Studies have shown that you’re more likely to fail than to succeed if you’re trying to quit smoking or any of these things. Accept it—it’s a possibility.”

Watch below: Dr. Mitch Shulman’s tips for how to make realistic resolutions for the new year.

And if you don’t want to accept it? There are three tactics you can try.

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Replacing the habit can work, McCance said, suggesting eating grapes as a bedtime snack instead of spoonfuls of Nutella for people who resolve to lose weight. It’s still the same habit of nighttime treats—less tasty, but less calories.

One is the loneliest most failure-prone number

Telling someone, or including other people in your new activity or goal is also a good strategy, according to both McCance and Shulman.

“No one can really do this alone,” said Shulman, who suggests going to the gym with others, whether they have the same resolution as you, or if they have been successful in the resolution in the past.

“We will let ourselves down much faster than we will let somebody else down. So if I tell you I’m going to go to the gym, I’m way more likely to go than if I tell nobody at all,” suggested McCance.

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When it comes to planning, Shulman suggests writing down why you want to do whatever you want to do, and keeping your notes with you at all times.

That way, in moments of weakness, you can read it to remind yourself why the resolution is important.

Despite the high failure rate, Shulman said studies show every time you try, you’re more and more likely to succeed.

And if you don’t want to bother with resolutions in 2014, why not take a peek into the old rearview mirror?

“Look back at 2013 and ask yourself: What’s the biggest lesson I’m taking into this year? What did I learn? What’s the biggest thing I went through?” advised McCance.

“I feel like that’s much more inspiring, rather than looking at your life and saying: What do I have to change?”

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