Why Your Resolution Has An 8% Chance Of Success...And How To Fix It

Happy New Year to all of our readers! Hard to believe we’re already halfway through January isn’t it? As of tomorrow SenchaFit will have launched exactly 3 months ago. It’s been a wild ride but I promise I won’t get too nostalgic for this blog, let’s leave that for our one year anniversary! Today we’re talking about resolutions and goal setting!

Did you know that approximately 40% of Americans make at least one resolution for the New Year? If we do some quick estimates let’s say that’s roughly 128 million people who on January 1st commit to making some sort of change to better themselves in the New Year. If you’re reading this at or around the original publishing date 60% of those people will have already given up. That leaves about 51 million people still keeping to their resolutions by the second week of January. In only 3 to 4 more weeks, over 80% of those remaining will have given up. That brings us down to about 10 million people still pursuing their resolutions and we are only in February.  By the end of the year, only 8% of those people will still be progressing towards or will have attained their goal for the year. From 128 million well intentioned people on January 1st, only about 800,000 will succeed. To put that into perspective, you have a better chance of winning a few dollars playing the lottery than you do of achieving your resolutions.

There are a lot of theories as to why, well-meaning as we are, we just don’t make it to the goal line. Did we set the bar too high, were we not so committed to begin with? Making changes is usually uncomfortable. People are by nature creatures of habit, we like consistency and predictability in our days; even though outwardly a lot of us complain about that same routine, it gives our brains a sense of comfort. It seems that subconsciously we are almost hard wired to fail in any endeavor that forces us to do things differently. Add on the pressure of setting a goal that was so high to begin with, now we were not only subconsciously sabotaged, but our lack of achievement creates a conscious disappointment which has us flocking back to the same comfort of our old routine. As the old saying goes the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So what’s the point, why do we continue to do it year after year and is there a better way? I’d like to propose a different idea all together.

Given that the odds are stacked against us from the start, how do we use our brain’s natural programming to swing the odds back in our favor? We can do this by taking two separate approaches and combining them in a way that meets both our subconscious and conscious needs. The first step is to approach our problem with a series of small, tiny steps. Progress feels good; we like to know that we’re heading in the right direction. If you want to lose 10 pounds or learn to speak a new language, it feels good to lose that first pound or be able to form very simple sentences in your new tongue. The problem is when we set imaginary time constraints for these goals. I want to lose 10 pounds in two months, or I want to speak fluent Mandarin in six months with no prior background. This creates a sense of pressure and while those first few baby steps feel good, subconsciously you realize the imaginary clock is ticking and you’ll begin to doubt yourself even if you don’t realize it at first. Naturally progress always stalls as the wall to climb becomes higher. It’s always harder to lose the second 5 pounds than the first 5 or to take saying hello and turn it into something more. Now it requires bigger changes like exercising harder or understanding grammatical rules instead of simple vocabulary. The thing to remember is that progress is quite simply progress. You’ve still taken steps in the right direction, even though it will take longer to take another step, you are still moving towards your goal. The time constraint is almost always self-imposed and serves no real purpose. If you’re dedicated you’ll achieve your goal and if you aren’t putting an imaginary time boundary in place won’t help you. So what does this mean practically, take baby steps and don’t worry how long it takes? Essentially yes but what about that second piece I mentioned earlier?

If it’s sounding so far that I’m saying set more easily attainable goals the next sentence will be a bit surprising. “Easy” goals are actually a waste of time; the second piece is to set the most wildly ambitious goal you can think of. But wait doesn’t that contract what you just said about taking small steps? You see, our brains are hardwired to think that big equals big and small equals small, it’s counterintuitive at a subconscious level to realize that a huge goal is really just a continuous series of small steps in the same direction. No one loses 50 or even 100 pounds overnight; a large reduction in fat is the result of a series of small habitual changes maintained for a long period of time. That’s it, no magic required. Your brain will still get the euphoric feeling when you progress and when you eventually do attain this goal you’ll realize that your opportunities are only limited by your own desire. There’s one more reason we should set these wildly ambitious goals though, and it also speaks to the wiring of our brain that we might not even realize is there. There’s less competition for big goals than there is for small goals.

Humans are by nature competitive even if we don’t realize it. That’s not to say that we want to see others fail, that’s not it at all. It’s that subconsciously we crave the need to do things that are extraordinary. No one wakes up in the morning and thinks about all the things they can do to make their day mediocre, they think about what they can do to make today fantastic! It’s our natural fear of change though that stops us from pursuing the bigger things and gravitating towards the smaller things. There are less people who truly, deep down, believe that they can attain a huge fantastic goal they set for themselves than an easier goal. This is why we naturally love to read stories about fantastic endeavors, about Olympic champions and not Olympic runners up. It seems so otherworldly but really it’s the culmination of a series of small steps taken over a long period of time. Achieving big goals feels wildly better than a small goal because it’s so hard and uncommon. The key is to change your perception of what a “big” goal truly is. A big goal is simply a bunch of smaller goals added together over time. That’s it, that’s what separates the 800,000 from the 128 million.

By changing our perception we are playing to all of our brain’s desires. We want to be rewarded, so we track the steps we take along the way as our rewards. We want to be successful, so we stop placing imaginary time limits on our path to greatness. We don’t like big changes, so we trick our subconscious hardwiring with many small changes until we establish a “new normal”. Last we like to feel extraordinary, so we shoot for the moon and don’t settle for less. No magic, only an understanding of how our brains work so that we can finally bring the odds on our side. Set a huge goal, take small steps, and don’t limit yourself with time. As long as you get there does it really matter if it took longer than you expected?

I’ve set my goals too, but they aren’t particularly resolutions, simply things I want to achieve in time. For SenchaFit, I want to continue growing, learning, and meeting new people. We’ve had the pleasure to collaborate with some great people and I want to keep that going. One that stands out is Ana Christie at www.bellanachristie.com. If you all haven’t check out her blog, you’re really missing out! I also want to work more closely with you all and find out what you want SenchaFit to be. How can we keep bringing you more of what you love? One thing I’d really like is to launch a new tea, Sencha based of course but with some other tea leaves milled in as well. It’s always fun to try new blends and I hope we will be getting to do more of that in the not too distant future. Big things are on the horizon here and I hope they are for you as well. Have a happy and healthy New Year and remember, the best time to plant a tree was yesterday, the second best time is right now.