Friday, 19 July 2013 10:59

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail: Creating Goals That Last the Distance

Are you enthusiastic about your plans for the new year? Perhaps you want to lose weight, get fit, study, earn more money, improve your relationships, invest in your personal development or uncover more business opportunities. Or maybe you’re a little more cynical about New Year, deciding instead not to waste your time with new “resolutions”, because, like most people, you’ll probably wind up breaking them.

How do you make New Year’s Resolutions and goals that last the distance?

The first and most important question to ask yourself is: Do you have clearly defined written goals? Or are they just in your head? Research shows that those people who actually sit down and write out their goals not only end up achieving them, but have higher incomes and ratings for overall success and life satisfaction.

According to Brian Tracy in his book Goals!, there is a study that reveals just how effective written goals can be. Here is what Tracy reports:

Mark McCormack, in his book What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, tells of a Harvard study conducted between 1979 and 1989. In 1979, the graduates of the MBA program were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” It turned out that only 3 percent of the graduates had written goals and plans. Thirteen percent had goals, but not in writing. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

Ten years later, in 1989, the researchers interviewed the members of that same class again. They found that the 13 percent who had goals that were not in writing were earning twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals at all. And most surprisingly, they found that the 3 percent of graduates who had clear, written goals when they left Harvard were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the other 97 percent of graduates all together. The only difference between the groups was the clarity of the goals they had for themselves when they graduated.

Yes, you read that correctly. The 3 percent who had clear, written goals earned ten times as much as the 97 percent who didn’t have clear, written goals.

Brian Tracy, Mark McCormack, Zig Ziglar, Anthony Robbins, and many other motivational gurus have used various versions of this story. Almost all successful people have goals, and outstanding high achievers have clearly defined written goals. That said, how come so few people actually write out their goals?

Why Not Set Goals

There are four main reasons people don’t set clear goals and write them out. Many people say they can’t be bothered to take the time to sit and write them out, preferring to keep them in their heads. But no one is really that busy, as it only takes a few minutes. The real reasons are probably deeper, involving the fact that if they are kept in “the head,” it is easy to change, revise and ignore them. This avoids accountability issues and facing failure. Looking further into the psychological reasons, we find the following four factors:

  1.     First, most people don’t realize the importance of goals. If you grow up in a home where no one has goals or you socialise with a group where goals are neither discussed nor valued, you can very easily reach adulthood without knowing that your ability to set and achieve goals will have more of an effect on your life than any other skill. Look around you. How many of your friends or family members are clear and committed to their goals? Successful people are all committed to action plans. They set goals out in writing and follow them.
  2.     They don’t know how to set goals. Some people confuse goals with wishes and fantasies. They think in terms of “having a lot of money,” “getting a great job,” “having a nice family,” “getting fit,” without breaking these wishes down into their component parts and the action steps it would take. These aren’t goals but wishes and fantasies common to everyone. A goal is different. It is clear, specific and measurable. You know when you have achieved it or not.
  3.     They have a fear of failure. If goals aren’t written down, we can change them to match what is actually achieved without having to face any feelings of failure. Furthermore, many people make the mistake of setting goals that are easily attained in order to avoid failing. This is a form of unconscious self-sabotage. They end up going through life functioning at sub-optimal levels rather than at the level they are truly capable.
  4.     They have a fear of rejection. The fourth reason people don’t set clear, written goals, is that they fear they will be seen by others as ridiculous if they fail. They don’t want to face criticism be seen as not capable or worthy. This is one reason to keep goals confidential when you begin to start out with goal setting, other than sharing with your coach, mentor or a trusted peer.

3 Reasons Your Goals May not Work

Knowing the barriers to successful goal-setting, you are ready to learn how to set goals that will help you succeed and find the satisfaction you deserve. You may already have in mind three important goals for yourself that you’ve been wanting to achieve for a while. Go ahead and write them down now; save them for review later. Before you can set effective goals, however, you need to consider the three elements listed below:

There are four reasons why your goals may fail to inspire and motivate change.

  1.     The goal isn’t aligned with your highest values— if the goal you set, is not aligned with your highest values, or is really something someone else thinks you should do, or, it may compete with other values you find more important.
  2.     Your goal isn’t specific—it’s too broad and overwhelming. While “getting fit” is admirable, it really isn’t a goal—rather the outcome of attaining the more specific goals of working out regularly, doing sports and eating less junk food.
  3.     Your goal isn’t supported—you don’t have a supportive environment to focus your intentions and reinforce your progress, like a coach or mentor to cheer you on in your little successes, or to help you come back after a setback.
  4.     Your goal is focused on what you don’t want— the subconscious is designed to do exactly as it is told, so a negative goal like “get out of debt” is more effectively replaced with a positive goal like” earn [specific $] by [specific date].

A Climate for Change (2009)  Di Worrall

Each of these elements must be carefully considered in creating goals that you can achieve. Once you have aligned your goals with your true identity, values and life purpose, you will find them easier to accomplish. The energy will flow, because the goals are an expression of your true self. Then, when you have written down your goals in a specific, clear, measurable way that is time-framed, the small steps along the way will become evident. This also keeps the energy flowing, and helps you to remain focused on the goal.

The best way to get support for your goals is from a coach. Friends and family members may be helpful, or not. A professionally trained coach is an expert at helping you to achieve what you want. He or she can also help you with the goal setting process to ensure that your goals are aligned with your values.

Di Worrall (2010)


Cairo, J. (1998) Motivation and Goals: How to Set and Achieve Goals and Inspire Others. Career Press.

Tracy, B. (2003) Goals! How to Get Everything You Want —Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible. Berrett-Koehler.

Worrall, D (2009) A Climate for Change, Life Success Publishing.

Spend some time planning what you want 2010 to look like for you and your business with the help of an Executive Coach.   Book a Complimentary 30 minute Zero Cost “Jump Start 2010” Consultation now.

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