Why your New Year's resolutions aren't working


A month into 2019, are you that brand new, fabulous version of yourself? 

Me neither.

The end of a year serves as a useful time to reflect on what one has (and hasn’t) achieved, and plans to do in the future. For some this is inspirational, for some not so much.

What comes out of this reflection tends to be a strong commitment — “I will change next year!”

For me, the change is to approach my work and daily life with more consistency (for example, an average of 8 hours of work per day and 8 hours of sleep per night). I have a tendency to go all guns blazing for a while, which inevitable ends up in fatigue and being distinctly unproductive. (For more on this, click here).

For other people, the change for the new year might be to lose weight or finally start learning the guitar. 

The story is always the same. We plan out the perfect and most consistent work schedule. We buy chicken breast and broccoli stems by the truckload. We set up the brand new guitar and buy a lifetime’s subscription to the latest guitar-learning app.

For the first week of the year, everything is great — we’re well on our way, taxying down the runway of achievement. By week 2, we are erratically multitasking at our desks with a phone in our ear and a pen in our hand, we’re in the nearest Five Guys with a burger and Fries, and the guitar is still very much brand new. We never quite seem to take off.


This article is about why your New Year’s resolutions aren’t working now, and about how you can right the ship if you want to.

The right resolutions

Most resolutions fail because the goal that was set was either unrealistic, unsuitable, or both. 

Goals must be realistic and measurable. Want to lose 5kg this year? Great! You’ll know when you have succeeded, and will have an idea of your progress along the way. Measurable and realistic. 

Want to lose 10kg in a month? Measurable — yup. Realistic — nope.

The trick is to be ambitious but fair to yourself. Start with a modest change and build on the early wins. Try cutting out a beer or two a week or going to one more run than you normally would. Net week make it 3 beers and 2 runs. It will feel like nothing, but it’s better than running 5 miles every day for a week and then never again for the rest of the year.

That’s the realistic piece. Now let’s talk about unsuitable goals.

It is not for me or anyone else to tell you what a suitable goal is for you, but the very first question you should ask yourself is “Why?”.

Why do you want to lose weight?

Why do you want to learn the guitar?

The answer might be obvious, but explore it a little. If weight loss is your goal, then the honest reason might be vanity. Cool. Nothing wrong with wanting to look good. 

Learning the guitar might be about looking awesome in front of your friends at the next open mic. Again, a very valid desire.

The problem is that this feels like a strong purpose when you look in the mirror on Monday morning and you feel less than your best, but when it’s Friday afternoon and your team are going for drinks, the desire to have fun now will almost always beat your desire for a six-pack.

The desire to be the next Clapton is strong when watching “Layla” re-runs on YouTube. But when you realise how difficult a chord is to play, the desire to return to YouTube for the rest of the afternoon gets a lot stronger.

What you want, what you really really want

What we’re really talking about here is motivation. Asking yourself the reason for setting this goal gives you an idea about how motivated you will be to stick at it when times get tough.

It is easy to let things slide if the motivation for weight loss is simple vanity and aesthetics, but if you have real health concerns that fear will likely keep you diligently eating healthily far longer.

If you want to learn the guitar because you have been putting it off for years and the regret of not achieving that life goal is getting to be too much, the YouTube will stay closed and you’ll keep strumming when things get frustrating.

Motivation is important. It is the spark that gets you going, and properly setting that motivation — articulating it, clarifying it and reminding yourself why you are doing this will help you on the road to success.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint

But motivation isn’t going to take you the whole way. In an earlier article, I talked about how motivation is the carbs of getting stuff done. It burns out quickly.

Discipline is what will get you there. Sean Fitzpatrick of the All Blacks rugby team tells us that “Success is modest improvement, consistently done”. To do anything consistently — once the novelty has worn off and the frustration and fatigue have kicked in — one must have discipline (as I am finding this year).

Simply put, discipline is keeping one’s own promises to oneself. It is saying — “I will do this” and then either choosing to do it, or not. 

Of course, there are times when circumstances prevent you from following through. Should you skip cooking your children’s dinner because you promised yourself you would do an hour of guitar? No. 

Should you skip guitar to watch the latest season on Netflix? You absolutely can, you are an adult. Just know that you are choosing to postpone achieving the life goal you supposedly care enough about to make a goal for the new year.

Discipline isn’t about guilt. It is about ownership. It is about being able to be honest with ourselves and know when we are not following through on something for a reason, or simply choosing not to follow through.

The good news is that if you have chosen an appropriate goal and have a strong, clear and meaningful reason for that goal, then it won’t be so difficult to be disciplined.

If you want to get in shape for your wedding and you do that by doing an activity you enjoy, it won’t be so difficult to stick to it. 

If you want to lose some weight and take the time to plan out some tasty and lean meals that you enjoy, it won’t be so difficult to walk past Five Guys (most of the time).

So what now?

If you are struggling to stick to a new goal this year, don’t worry too much. After all, there are 11 more months of 2019 left.

Take 5 minutes, a piece of paper and a pen and answer this question for yourself:-

“Why do you want this?”

See what comes out. If the reason is a strong one, you should feel something. Excitement, nervousness, fear. If you don’t, perhaps this goal isn’t quite compelling enough for you. If you do, ask yourself these following questions:

“How important that reason is to you?” 

“When you achieve your goal, what will that success bing you that you don’t have now?”

The other thing to remember is that change and improvement is all about progress, not perfection. Love the process, and the outcome will follow. Keep working at it and you will get there far sooner than if you don’t try at all.

I wish you the very best of luck for 2019.

How Jiu Jitsu can make you better at business and life.

The first and most immediate benefit of a BJJ class is the chance to let go of a bad day at work. I think of sparring as a ‘mental palette cleanser’. But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu’s most valuable benefit is less obvious and more pervasive. It provides the opportunity and environment to practice key life skills in a tangible and practical way.

What's your enough?

We all want more time, more money, more stuff. But how much more? When will we have enough to be content?

Discipline and motivation - the protein and carbs of getting stuff done

Motivation is like empty carbs. It gives us a quick hit of energy, but burns itself out very quickly. Discipline, on the other hand, is our protein — slower to break down, and so keeps us going longer. This is not an article about how motivation is meaningless, but rather about how motivation alone will not get us very far without a good portion of discipline on our plate alongside it.

My (painful) lesson in energy management

We push ourselves to the maximum day in, day out, wasting energy and burning ourselves out. We pay lip service to planning out a more intelligent, sustainable approach but when our backs are agains the wall and deadlines loom, we lose our heads and just make a mad dash for it.

“There’s no time for planning,” we think, “let’s just get on with it”.

But what would happen if we took a more strategic, longer term approach, and applied our energy more efficiently?

'Tactically ignoring' yourself

Much is said and written about the virtues of ‘believing in yourself’, ‘backing yourself’ and ‘ignoring the nay-sayers’. This advice is applied to business situations, to personal relationships, and pursuing your dreams and goals. There is no denying the importance of self-belief. After all, if we don’t take ourselves seriously, we can’t expect anyone else to. But should we always listen to ourselves? Are the voices in our head always right? In my opinion, to make real change in our lives, we should sometimes ‘tactically ignore’ the things we tell ourselves to do; forgoing what seems like the best choice right now, for what we truly want long term.

Why working smarter, not harder, is easier said than done

Time management makes sure you show up to an event. Energy management makes sure you are engaged with that event. After all, what I and the people I coach really seek is not really more hours in a day. What we really want is a way to be more present and engaged with our work and with our friends and family, and to not be so tired all the time. A way to not drag ourselves through each of our many chosen responsibilities. A way to be productive, to achieve, and to be happy, all at once! Working smarter, not harder, as a way to achieve this.