It’s great … in theory.
But then, when we try to stick it out long-term, we fail. But why?
Work from the inside out
Around 60% of us will make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% of us will be successful in achieving them. And this is because we don’t tend to approach them in the right way. Often, the biggest issue with making grand plans for the new year is that we don’t tackle these changes from the inside out.
If you don’t start by looking at the internal factors that got you into the position you’re in today, then you will be relying on nothing more than sheer willpower to change your external life. And willpower is like a battery; it needs to be restored and will eventually run out altogether.
The biggest difference between those who succeed and those who don’t, in anything, is consistency. And expecting to change purely from the outside isn’t sustainable. I always say it’s like trying to polish a turd. You can’t stay consistent that way. If the internal landscape doesn’t change, the external landscape doesn’t change—or at least it won’t change long-term.
The only way to work toward a new you is to take a long, hard look at how you became the way you are now. Now, this isn’t an exercise in beating yourself up. It’s an exercise in looking at what you need to succeed, why you feel a need to change, and what hasn’t worked for you so far.
In many cases, large-scale changes come about when something big happens—a huge internal shift that pushes us forward. For example, the child in school who was told they wouldn’t make it grows up with this big motivation to prove people wrong, manifesting in their hard work and success. Or the unfit dad who smokes suddenly realizes he can’t even play in the park with his kid anymore and decides to kick the habit once and for all.
It’s about suddenly recognizing something about ourselves—a turning point—be that a photo that shocked us, a death, one putdown too many, or an opportunity being waved at us. Something happens and we suddenly see something we don’t want for ourselves or something we want. At that moment, something shifts inside us, and we start doing things a little differently as a result. And it empowers us toward success.
Ask yourself why
Say your resolution this year is to drink less alcohol. It might be easy enough to succeed at this, just changing your weekly schedule slightly. But if you can’t, and you’re finding it more challenging, you need to ask yourself why. What does the drink do for you that you’re not addressing?
When the internal isn’t shifted, the root cause of why you’re drinking more than you’d like doesn’t either, so you can’t expect the behavior to change. Ask yourself why. Is it boredom, emotional needs, a lack of inspiration, or stress? Why have you gotten to a point where you feel a need to change this about yourself? What have you lost along the way?
Sometimes, you can engage in new behavior and feel so good about it that it helps clear this blockage. But usually, you need to unblock it first, uncover the root cause, and change the behavior that way. Your behavior and the result you currently have to live with are only the symptoms. The root cause is what you need to identify to change.
Similarly, we need to hold strong to our goals. We all say “ah, fuck it” from time to time and engage in behaviors we know we shouldn’t. That’s normal. But it’s when we don’t get back on the horse and we allow all the progress we’ve made to come undone that we stay where we are, or worse, go further backward.
If saying “fuck it” means one step forward, three steps back, it’s going to be a long time before you get anywhere, and we’ll have increased feelings of failure to deal with for not succeeding. It’s a way to ensure we feel worse about ourselves, not better. Identify what triggers you to say it. What makes you put off the changes you want to make? It might be a lack of willpower, an overwhelming sensation, or feeling worn out. But whatever it is, you want to get down to those root that created the situation you’re now trying to deal with.
New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to establish better habits and start the new year as healthily and happily as possible. But they take a lot of hard work and internal progress. You can’t just change behavior overnight and expect it to stick. You need to change your internal landscape first. Once you identify why you want or need to change something, your resolutions will become a lot easier to stick to. When the internal landscape shifts, the external one soon follows.