Why We Fail to Achieve Our New Year Resolutions

Image Credit: Athena Lim

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New year, new us. A motto that we continuously mutter under our breaths when the new year approaches. Similar to most people at the beginning of 2022, I was filled with relentless optimism about the goals and ambitions that I will achieve this year. Will I finally be able to finish the partly crocheted top that has been left hanging pathetically at the corner of my room? Will this be the year I finally gained abs? Or at least stop complaining about my goals long enough to actually do them?

The Beginning…?

It seemed that I was not the only one that was suddenly struck by motivation to become the next productivity queen/king amidst the approaching new year. Alongside fellow The Ridge writers, Kennice, Aiken, and Wan Qin, I set out to walk 10,000 steps every day for 14 consecutive days. In hindsight, the challenge felt simple enough: just a healthy challenge that could help kickstart and motivate us to complete our other possible new year resolutions. Solution: simply walk more everyday. What’s so tough, right? Unfortunately, we did not become the next tale of inspiring productivity gurus like author James Clear or YouTuber Ali Abdaal. In fact, we failed so miserably we couldn’t help but look at one another and laugh sheepishly. None of us could even manage to walk 10,000 steps for more than four days straight. How on earth are we supposed to write an article on a goal that we did not even feel motivated enough to stick to for 14 days? Yet as we discussed our thoughts and feelings over the past two weeks, we noticed things we did not do which caused us to be set up for failure even before the challenge even began.

With hopes that harvest can still be reaped from our failure, we hope this article serves as a cautionary tale to those who might be embarking on their own resolutions. So here are some reasons why you may be failing your new year resolutions, and possible steps you can take to make sure that this is the year you finally succeed.

Reasons Why We Failed The Things We Learnt

Perhaps you have heard of his name or even read his New York Times number one bestseller Atomic Habits. Regardless of whether you’re familiar with the name James Clear, he is often referenced to be one of the best when it comes to learning how to continuously improve oneself and maintain long-lasting habits. According to him, there are four laws of behavioural change that are key to cultivating good habits—making the habits obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.

Step 1: Making it obvious

On the surface level, there is a clear action that needs to be taken in order to achieve 10,000 steps every day. 10,000 steps is a clear numerical value that could be measured with the use of a phone health tracker application. Yet it is not enough to just clearly state the goal in mind. We must also have clear and obvious intentions of how this goal will be achieved. For instance, we could decide that from the moment we wake up, we will have to walk at least 5,000 steps before allowing ourselves to eat breakfast. Unfortunately, instead of incorporating this habit into our daily routine, we often waited until the last minute before trying to fulfil the task (do not try pacing up and down your living room, not unless you want to induce dizziness and terrible headaches) or only chose to attempt to complete the task when it would have been integrated into our plans for the day (shopping is a great way to get your steps in). 

Step 2: Making it attractive

Although we created a group chat aimed to motivate each other throughout the 14 days, the fact that none of us found the challenge particularly attractive to begin with made it hard to push ourselves to complete the task. Sure, the challenge had felt exciting at the beginning, but our enthusiasm soon died down as we quickly lost our interest. We saw the challenge to be something we were required to do instead of something we wanted to do. Instead, we should have paired an action that we enjoyed doing with this particular activity as a way to incentivise us, because apart from bragging rights (is it even something you’d openly brag to other people?), we didn’t really have any attractive rewards that would urge us to continue the challenge.

Step 3: Making it easy

Although completing 10,000 steps a day sounded easy enough, in hindsight it takes a lot longer to complete. As we often tried to envision the completion of our challenge with this huge number in our heads, the challenge just sounded like an unnecessary bother. Rather, what we should have done was to try to make the habit sound as simple as possible, breaking it down into small steps (no pun intended!) that can be completed within two minutes. Instead of making a drastic change to our lifestyle, we should have tried to slowly implement this habit into our daily routine. For instance, we could first tell ourselves that we would just wear our sneakers. Next, we tell ourselves that we’ll just take a two-minute walk. Then, since we’re not tired yet, we can try walking for another ten minutes more…you get the idea. Once you begin to start a habit in an easy and digestible format, it becomes a lot easier to continue making progress on the goal itself.

Step 4: Making it satisfying

James Clear warns readers to never miss a habit twice for good reason. The moment I missed a day of fulfilling 10,000 steps, I saw it as an excuse to slack off for the next few days. My thought process was this: since I had already failed the challenge for one day, what much difference does it make to miss a few more days? (Not going to lie, I did try to cheat for the sake of looking better to other fellow The Ridge writers. But sadly, neither waving your arm around nor using a roomba can help you get a higher step count). Similarly, others in my accountability group could not find the motivation to get back on track when there was no immediate reward when we completed our goal for the day. However, the biggest and most obvious reason why none of us could successfully do the challenge was this: we didn’t have any personal motive to begin with. We chose to do a 10,000 step challenge as it felt like a simple habit that can easily be incorporated into our daily routine. Yet apart from being perceived as slightly healthier than the average person and gaining brownie points for walking more than your friends and family, there was little incentive to continue a habit that had no significant perceivable benefits. 

It’s the ✨Journey✨that counts, Not the Destination

As much as we laughed and joked about what an epic failure the entire challenge ended up being, this is not to say the entire challenge was pointless. While we found it to be a troublesome task that we wanted to get it over and done with most of the time, there was also something soothing about just taking a walk for the sake of it. Whether it be taking time to just converse with your friends or loved ones as you roam around the city or appreciating the serenity of nature as you walk by yourself, there is something about walks that allow you to calm down and just appreciate the present moment…or maybe we’re just being sentimental saps. :’)

So you might be wondering, “what should I do to make sure that I actually successfully complete my resolutions this year?” My answer is don’t be like us. Listen to James Clear.