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5 Common New Year's Resolution Mistakes and How to Fix Them

12/26/2013 10:43 am ET | Updated Feb 25, 2014

Every new year we make a list of resolutions, hoping to better ourselves and our lives, only to abandon our efforts entirely by Feb. 1 (if not by Jan. 2). Such failures are not mere disappointments, as they can create emotional wounds that impact our psychological well-being. Indeed, too often the annual ritual that is meant to strengthen our self-esteem and improve our lives leaves us concluding we're "lazy," "weak," or incapable of change and feeling even worse about ourselves than before we started.

But are we lazy, weak, and incapable of change, or are we judging ourselves unfairly?

Studies show the reason most of us fail to stick to our New Year's resolutions has nothing to do with our strength of character or our willpower. Rather, it is because we neglect to think through how we plan to achieve our goals. Indeed, we tend to make five very basic but crucial errors that put the kibosh on our efforts before we even start.

The good news is that addressing these mistakes can radically increase our likelihood of sticking to our resolutions and finding success. Some or even all of them will be familiar to you, but don't beat yourself up about past mistakes. As I said, these are very common errors. Instead, invest your energies in fixing them this year.

1. Goal Binging: Many of us compose a list of New Year's resolutions that is longer than our child's list to Santa. New Year's resolutions are not bucket lists, they're statements of short-term intentions. Therefore, choose one or two items at most, and focus on completing those.

2. Vague Goals: Our goals have to be measurable in some way. For example, a goal such as "Try harder at work" sounds good but provides no specific benchmarks by which we can measure our progress. To avoid this error, make vague goals more specific: "Never be the first to leave the office at the end of the day," "Complete all assignments on time," or "Ask for more responsibilities."

3. Unrealistic Goals: We would all love to write a bestselling novel, start a viral blog, or found the next big startup. However, when our goals are unrealistic (or highly improbable) we are only setting ourselves up for failure. Instead, focus on the aspect of the goal you would enjoy for its own sake and remove the unrealistic aspect of the resolution. Joining a writing group, starting a blog in your area of interest, or pursuing novel ideas for a start up are great goals as well as attainable ones (remember to choose only one of them).

4. Inadequate Planning: One of the most common mistakes we make is to state our resolution but put no thought into how we will attain it. Then Jan. 1 rolls around and we have no idea where or how to start. Therefore, invest time and thought into how best you can reach your goal. Break it down into sub-goals, be specific about what you will need to do to reach each one, and figure out how you to deal with setbacks and distractions (especially important for health and fitness goals as setbacks and distractions will happen). Studies found that thinking things through in this way will increase your likelihood of success exponentially.

5. Lack of Timelines: Ironically, despite New Year's resolutions being associated with Jan. 1, an extremely common mistake is never deciding when we will actually start. We might intend to begin a new diet and exercise routine but unless we make a firm decision about what day we're starting it, we probably never will. Write out clear start dates and when relevant, timelines for starting and completing both overall goals and intermediate sub-goals.

Good luck and Happy New Year!