THE BLOG
12/30/2013 10:26 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Some People Almost Always Reach Their New Year's Resolutions

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"Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives." -- Viktor E. Frankl

I was at a gathering a while back and overheard someone say, "Oh, I never set New Year's resolutions anymore. I usually don't hit them so what's the point?" Ouch! That's a little bit like saying, "I stopped trying to be healthy because I got sick a few times."

Furthermore, a 1989 study from the University of Scranton reports that only 19 percent of people who make New Year's Resolutions actually stick to them two years later. That means 81 percent of people who set New Year's Resolutions fail to reach their goals. Double ouch!

I doubt that the 19 percent who are successful with their resolutions are smarter, more hard-working, or more worthy than the rest of humanity. But I'm guessing they know these secrets:

New Year's resolutions have to be important to you, more important than what seems to be in the way. Achieving a goal requires some kind of sacrifice always. If you want to finish writing that novel, you might have to sacrifice a bit of sleep or time in front of the TV. If your goal is to lose weight, your sacrifice might be the thrill of pie à la mode or snacking before bedtime.

People who achieve their New Year's resolutions are aware that they'll be sacrificing, are willing to sacrifice, and even plan their sacrifices in advance! Those who ditch their resolutions before Valentine's Day seem surprised that there is any sacrifice involved. "What? You mean if I want to spend more time with my kids I have to give up playing golf every weekend?!"

New Year's resolutions require taking action. That 19 percent who achieve their resolutions don't just jot them down and forget about them. They figure out a plan of attack and take the first steps. They may not know fully and exactly how to get where they want to be but they take whatever steps they know to take. And when they have taken all the steps they know to take, they look around for the next steps.

The 19 percent do not stay frozen in indecision or unknowing! They don't wait for the absolute perfect opportunity or circumstance before getting started. They know that even a few wrong steps are better than no action at all. They try to stay consistent with their action and if they slip up, they don't give up. They start again.

New Year's resolutions must get buy-in from both the conscious and unconscious mind. People who are consistently successful at achieving their goals know that all parties must be rowing in the same direction! They know that emotional health is important. They realize that underlying beliefs and attitudes must all be aligned to the goal or it will be an uphill struggle -- and typically unsuccessful even if you do all the "right" things. If you consciously want to find the love of your life but are unconsciously terrified of being that close to someone, there's no dating site in the world that can help you!

I've talked about this a lot in my other articles. Your conscious mind is the "goal setter" but your unconscious mind is the "goal getter." So the first step to reaching a goal is to get the unconscious mind on board by releasing any unconscious negative beliefs or decisions that could sabotage your efforts.

New Year's resolutions are goals and have to be designed like real goals to be effective. The 19 percent know that if you're serious about your New Year's resolution, it needs to be written and have all the basic ingredients of a good goal. The simplest way to remember these ingredients is to follow the acronym of SMART:

S: Specific and Simple. It's as if you're explaining it to a 7-year-old child. A child wouldn't understand, "I want to be slim and full of zest." But "I am now a size 8 and have all the energy I need to accomplish my work during the day and play with my children at night" is clear.

M: Measurable and Meaningful. "Slim" is not measurable but "size 8" is. "Plenty of money" is not measurable but "$4,000 per month" is measurable.

Your goal must also be meaningful for you. It isn't what other people want, what we think we should want, or what others want for us.

A: Achievable, All Areas of Your Life, and As If Now. By achievable, you have to believe that your goal is possible. If your goal is to speak in front of an audience of 5,000 people but you've never actually spoken in front of any audience before, do you really think that's going to happen? Set up an interim goal that makes more sense.

Your goal also needs to fit into "all areas of your life." Where will the time and energy to achieve this goal come from?

"As if now" is present tense, such as "I have a new house." If you place your goal in the future (i.e., "I will have a new house next year"), your unconscious will always keep it in the future.

R: Realistic and Responsible. Your goal may be technically possible, but given where you are and what's on your plate, is it realistic? If you don't really think so, neither will your unconscious.

Responsible refers to what we in NLP call "ecology." Your goal must be good not only for you but also for others involved, your family, your community and even the planet. Goals that don't meet this criteria will meet resistance.

T: Timed and Toward What You Want. To work on a goal, your unconscious needs a timeframe. It needs a date to shoot for, to plan for. With a specific timeframe, we feel more focused and energized.

"Toward what you want" gives you a more sustainable focus than moving "away from what you don't want." Those who are constant "yo-yo dieters" are often moving away from the pain of being overweight. When they drop a few pounds, their pain lessens -- and so does their focus and motivation.

Follow these tips and join the 19 percent this year!

Mahalo!
Dr.Matt

Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership, where students learn Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna and Hypnosis. To find out more about how to create SMART Goals, we invite you to watch Dr. Matt's free webinar SMART GOALS: Combining NLP, Energy, and Goal Setting to Maximize Your Success.

For more by Matthew B. James, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.