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Why Don’t We Do What We Know Is Good for Us?

Only nine percent of people keep their New Year's resolutions. Here's how to defy the statistics.

Molly Harrison

Americans love the new year, new you concept. As the calendar flips from one year to the next, the pressure is on to establish and stick to New Year's resolutions. We promise ourselves that this will be the year we magically transform into the high-functioning beings we have always wanted to be. 

Yet two weeks later, many people find themselves hitting the snooze button when it is time to get up early and exercise, splurging on nice dinners when they said they would pay off debt, or drinking that glass of wine even though they committed to Dry January.

“The science is pretty clear,” says Lee Povey, a California-based founder and start-up coach. “Only nine percent of people keep resolutions.”

Why Don't We Stick With Resolutions? 

This might be because our resolutions suck. They are often unreasonable, too general, or too strict, with no wiggle room to fit the new habits into our lives. They are also predicated on willpower, which often just does not work.

But something else might be going on. If our resistance to change is detrimental to our relationships, career, health or quality of life, a bigger pattern of self-sabotage based on faulty thinking and limiting beliefs could be at play.

Psychologists say that people self-sabotage for countless reasons: low self-esteem, coping problems, perfectionism and fear of failure, success, ridicule, intimacy and uncertainty, to name just a few. These are means to protect ourselves, but the irony is that they make us feel worse. Not following through on what we say we’re going to do erodes our self-confidence and self-esteem. 

What is even more frustrating is that these self-sabotaging patterns are often going on subconsciously. 

“Self-sabotage triggers become so habitual that our minds hardly notice them — similar to the types of thoughts that take us through our daily routines. We only become aware of their consequences via behaviors that lead to dead-end jobs, chronically poor health, unsatisfactory relationships and broken dreams,” writes Judy Ho, Ph.D., ABRP, ABRdN in this article on Psychology Today.

Self-sabotaging can be difficult to overcome on your own, so professional help from psychologists, coaches or mind-body practitioners is often necessary to uncover underlying patterns and learn healthy coping mechanisms and self-care rituals to overcome and change them. 

“It’s quite hard to recognize limiting beliefs for yourself. You can recognize them when someone points them out to you, but there’s likely to be a blind spot,” Povey says. “It might be necessary to work with a coach or therapist who can more easily recognize your patterns and behaviors.”

If you are not facing detrimental self-sabotage and you just want to make some positive changes in your life, what can you do to make yourself stick to what you say you’re going to do? Here is some advice from two professionals who work in the realm of behavior change.

Set the Goal

First off, don’t set resolutions; set goals, says Barry LaPlante, a behavior kinesiologist, coach and neurolinguistic therapy practitioner at Atlantic Specialized Kinesiology in Virginia. 

“You have to set the GPS to a specific destination,” LaPlante says. “If you don’t know your destination, you can head in that direction in a general way, but you won’t get where you’re going and you won’t know what roadblocks you’re going to face along the way. Get very specific up front.”

LaPlante reminds people to set goals using positively framed language that moves toward what they want to happen (not away from what they don’t want to happen) and to set a deadline. “Put a date on it and write it in real-time like an affirmation.”

Who Do You Need to Be to Achieve This Goal?

After you have set the goal, LaPlante offers six questions to ask yourself:

  • Who do I have to become to achieve this goal?
  • What values do I need, or what needs to be important to me?
  • What must I believe or stop believing?
  • What do I need to learn? 
  • What do I need to do? 
  • What results will I be producing? 

      He says most people start at the bottom of this list – they go for the results first — and that is backwards. First, he says, decide on the person you want to be, what that person values, how they think, what they need to know and how they behave. 

      Act As If 

      Similarly, Povey starts by setting a goal and deciding what kind of person would behave that way.

      “Instead of resolutions, I like to get people thinking about, “What do I want and what kind of person would do that?” Povey says. “Decide how the person you want to be would behave, and then start behaving like the person you want to be. If you want to lose 20 pounds, be the person who says no to dessert. Act as if. Things will happen.”

      Be Patient

      Povey says most people do not understand how long it takes for things to change, so they give up before they make progress.

      “We overestimate change that’s going to happen in a short period of time and we underestimate the change that’s possible over an extended period,” he says. “The people who do well in life are the people who are better at understanding that things take longer to achieve. They are better at understanding that consistency is vital. They look at the long way instead of the fastest way possible and make it as easy as possible to do.”

      Delay Gratification

      Povey says successful people are also better at delaying gratification. “Sure it feels comfortable to lay in bed for an extra five minutes in the morning, but that five minutes is now affecting the quality of the rest of your life. Each time you hit the snooze button or eat the dessert or miss the gym, it adds up and each time, you are choosing to move further away from what you ultimately want to achieve.”

       Molly Harrison loves her life on a sandbar in the Atlantic Ocean. Her home, Nags Head, is on a barrier island as far east as you can get in North Carolina, and she spends as much time as possible in and on the water, at the beach, and in the maritime forests. In between, she works as a freelance writer and editor, yoga instructor, retreat leader, and Reiki practitioner. Her passions are helping people feel their best through exercise, energy healing, and nature. 

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