It’s one sleep away to 2020. You may already have your resolutions for the new year lined up. As much as we love crushing our goals, we have to confess: There might be a few New Year’s resolutions that keep going unfulfilled year after year (no, we still haven’t actually gotten into the habit of making our beds every morning). For many of us, that list can get a little repetitive year after year: floss, get a six-pack, eat better, get to bed before 11 p.m., etc. Somehow, we still find ourselves coming up short.
But rather than beat ourselves up over it, the experts say it might just be time to reevaluate our resolutions. “It’s important to know oneself and be realistic when setting objectives and goals,” says Franklin Porter, Ph.D., a psychologist in New York City. “People often promise themselves they’ll stick to some resolution when a part of them knows that they will likely not do so.”
But if you’re constantly coming up short, the problem is probably with the resolution, not necessarily with you. According to Jonathan Fader, a sports psychologist in New York City and author of Life As Sport, resolutions that keep reappearing on our list year after year usually have one of three traits.
“The first is that there’s likely not a clearly identified internal or intrinsic motivation. You’re saying ‘I need to lose weight’ with a vague idea of having six-pack abs, but there’s no real motivation,” explains Fader.
Rather than make vague or lofty resolutions, spend time thinking about why you really want to meet these goals and how much they matter to you. Do you want to drop pounds because you want to have more energy and feel better about yourself, or would it just be nice to be a little lighter? If it’s the latter, nix it. If you want to keep yourself motivated when the snooze button seems more appealing than that six a.m. spin class, you’ll need a real reason why your goal is important to you.
The second goal killer is a lack of practical intention, according to Fader. “We often make resolutions with zero thought into how we’re actually going to make those goals happen,” he says. So it’s cool you want to run that marathon, but how are you going to make it happen? Creating a practical plan of action is key for any goal you actually want to stick with-if you’re not willing to carve out the time to commit to a training schedule, it might not be a goal you care about enough.
Finally, you need to rethink how you measure progress and success. Pay attention to your level of enjoyment along the way to achieving the ultimate goal. “What really reinforces people is immediate reward,” says Fader. “It’s more powerful to notice what you enjoyed about your workout rather than weigh yourself.” If you’re focusing on the wrong payoff, it will be that much harder to stick to your goal.
Once you’ve really taken a hard look at your resolutions, you may decide it’s really just time to-gasp-give up. But letting go of a goal that’s not truly suited to who you are and what you want is not a bad thing. Even if you ultimately kick that marathon goal to the curb, getting on a regular running schedule and crossing the finish line on your first 10K is not a failure. (And when it comes to fitness goals, cutting yourself some slack can actually reduce your risk of injury.)
“The important thing to remember in abandoning a goal is that it shouldn’t be internalized as a failure and it’s not an indictment of the individual,” says Porter.
So rather than think, “I didn’t make it to that marathon. Yet again. I’m a failure,” think of it as “I reevaluated my fitness goals and realized going to yoga three times a week or taking regular spin classes actually makes me feel way more fit.”
Because the ability to reevaluate and set goals that actually get you closer to where you want to be will always be considered a success in our book.