Breakthroughs, Careers, Close Your Power Gaps, Empowerment, Following Your Dreams, Impact, Inspiration for Change, Knowing Yourself, Most Powerful You, Personal Growth, Support for Change Why The Vast Majority of New Year’s Resolutions Fail (And a Better Way To Set Critical Goals) Written by: Kathy Caprino

Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Becoming The Most Powerful You”

As the year comes to a close (and what a year it’s been!), many of my clients and course members begin sharing their New Year’s resolutions, and what they hope to create and achieve in the coming year. And this time of year always prompts me to think about what I want to experience more of in the coming year, and what I wish to let go of.

I hear this question frequently:

“Why do so many New Year’s Resolutions peter out and and fail to materialize and why do I always give up on these goals within a few months?”

Studies have shown that approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail and most fail by February. Many people over the years (including myself) have written about new approaches that are needed to achieve our big goals and visions, including naming them differently, approaching them differently and viewing them with a different lens.

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 is the biggest key theme 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 in the form of an accountability structure when I need it, to continually assess these plans and steps. This is the approach that works best for me.

For 2022, my personal theme is “spirituality in practice.” (Here’s a webinar I conducted last year on Spirituality and Small Business Growth: How to Infuse Your Work and Success With Spirituality and Heart-Connected Practices). In the coming year, I’m excited to focus on bringing forth a more spiritual approach to conducting my business, servicing my clients and course members, and engaging with my communities.

Over the past 16 years of career coaching work and my time as a marriage and family therapist, I’ve seen that most of us simply cannot 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 what you’re getting out of behaving as you do. This involves 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 and power gaps, 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 statement is so rich and full of truth. 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 key 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 (and I was one of them, in my 18-year corporate life) have been also experienced mistreatment in other ways, in their lives. It’s typically a problem that’s very old and very familiar 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. 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.

Further, if you’re experiencing any one of what my research has shown are the 7 most damaging power gaps that keep us from reaching our highest potential, achieving big stretch goals is harder and more elusive than we expect.

#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 typically comfortable with) 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 essential it is to have outside accountability help, especially over time as the initial juice and excitement of the goal fades and the going gets tougher.

Whether your goal is to be happier, healthier, wealthier, stronger, more successful or more fulfilled, to achieve those goals requires you to become someone who is different from who you are today. To do that, outside support is so critical. 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 biggest goals before they’re “hatched,” and serves as an honest and true mirror that reflects back to you how you’re currently approaching things. And the right partner helps you expand your toolbox and capabilities so you can react to challenges differently, and in a more intentional, empowered way.

We don’t generally make big change alone or in a vacuum. Most of us need empowering and effective help and a stable ongoing accountability structure to keep going towards our highest growth just when we want to bail.

#3: You are actually scared of, and resistant to, achieving this big goal and you won’t let yourself

You may consciously think you 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 my blogs 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 highly 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 in your family or circle 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. And as I discussed with award-winning financial planner and certified financial coach Catherine Morgan on my Finding Brave podcast this week (about How To Build Financial Wellbeing Into the Heart of Your Life and Work), millions of us have unconscious beliefs, ideas and mindsets that were generated by outside forces often from our childhood about wealth and money that keep us stuck in unproductive relationships with money and prosperity.

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 going broke. There are all sorts of outer, behavioral reasons for this phenomenon, certainly, but in my work, 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 create a strong and 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 recognize your own dominant action style and what motivates you to achieve sustained progress toward a particular goal. Then, proactively address your greatest fears about reaching this goal. Figure out what’s in the way of believing: 1) you are truly worthy of it, 2) that you can actually sustain it, and 3) you will be able to handle other people’s reactions and judgments when you finally achieve what you long to.

For more information and hands-on support to achieve your goals, visit The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, and The Most Powerful You course.

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Kathy Caprino, M.A. is a career and leadership coach, speaker, educator, and author of two books including her latest The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build rewarding, successful careers of significance through her Career & Leadership programs, Most Powerful You and Amazing Career Project courses, Finding Brave podcast, and her new monthly newsletter Your Path To Career Bliss.