The biggest problem with resolutions is that a vast majority of people never achieve them. Statistics show that 20% of Americans will drop out after just one week of trying. At best, only 8% ever reach their goal.
What’s the problem?
In general, we over-commit and under-perform. We try to do too much. We underestimate the time, effort and willpower it takes to meet our commitments. We don’t understand the power of our old habits. We give up too easily.
How can we end the resolution failure loop? The answer is to create new habits.
“The golden rule of habit change: You can’t extinguish a bad habit, you can only change it.” Charles Duhigg
The importance of habits – In the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Pulitzer Prize-winning business reporter Charles Duhigg provides a comprehensive analysis of why habits exist and how they can be changed. He explains the key to making lasting change is understanding how habits work.
Duhigg describes the habit process as automatic. “When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard or diverts focus to other tasks. So, unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.” This is the reason why willpower alone is insufficient to keep us on track towards our goals. We need to create good habits to replace the bad habits.
“Change might not be fast and it isn’t always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.” Charles Duhigg
How small changes establish new habits – The secret to creating good habits is making small, incremental improvements every day. Another book by Dr. Robert Maurer, a psychologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, shows the solution to making great and lasting self-improvement is through small and steady steps.
“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” Robert Collier
In the book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Maurer demonstrates how the Kaizen practice of small, continuous improvements can help people make significant and lasting life changes.
The concept is to get started with very small steps. For example, if you’re trying to get fit, just start by walking in place during the commercials of your favorite show. If you’re trying to drink more water, start with one glass before supper. Choosing a very small step is the key. Dr. Maurer says, “The criteria for the smallness is that the step is so ridiculously small that it requires no willpower, self-control or discipline. There’s not going to be any pushback. That’s how you know it’s going to be a small enough step.”
In essence, Dr. Maurer is showing us how to create new habits by taking small, incremental steps in a new direction. By doing this every day, we begin to develop a new habit.
The problem with perfectionism – If new habits are the superpower to gain long-lasting personal change, then perfectionism is the kryptonite. Perfectionism is the reason we quit. When we have a cheat meal, perfectionism tells us we are not good enough and we “might as well” eat whatever we want that day. When we miss a workout, perfectionism tells us we are failing and we “might as well” give up. Perfectionism tells us to quit if our performance isn’t completely perfect.
“The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goals.” Jon Acuff
Creating new habits while also defeating perfectionism is important if we want to make sustainable change in our lives.
If you are looking to defeat perfectionism, a good place to start is the book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, by Jon Acuff. Here, Acuff provides humorous and practical advice on how to beat perfectionism and learn how to make long-lasting change. He stresses the secret to hitting our goals is to keep moving forward, especially the “day after perfect,” when our results underperform our aspirations.
Acuff tells us that we will be more successful if we simply relax and develop a tolerance for imperfection. If you skip a workout, no problem, just start again tomorrow. If you cheat on a meal, don’t cheat again that day. The key to finishing is to just keep moving.
If you want to be part of the 8% of people who achieve their annual goals, ditch the New Year’s Resolution. Instead, focus on creating new habits to replace your bad habits, take daily incremental steps toward your goal, and develop a healthy tolerance for imperfection. These three actions will help you finally end the resolution failure loop.