Jessica Ellis
December 27, 2015 8:24 am

New Year’s resolutions aren’t a new thing; historically, they date back to the ancient Babylonians, who would make promises to return borrowed farm tools and pay back debts to please the gods. However, as ancient and honored as the tradition may be, it’s one that we as a species aren’t actually very good at maintaining.

According to some research, almost 30% of people bail on their resolutions within 2 weeks, and nearly 40% never make it to six months. Amy Cuddy, a Harvard Business School social psychologist, believes she knows why we are so darn bad at sticking to our resolutions.

Cuddy, who is promoting her newest book, Presence, spoke with Business Insider recently about her insight into New Year’s resolution fails. What’s the main reason Cuddy thinks we fail? Well, it’s not because we’re all secretly lazy; it may actually be because we tend to aim for unreasonable goals that set us up for failure immediately.

There are four main ways Cuddy believes our resolutions fail us. First, we tend to make concrete goals with no wiggle room, like “I will write 10 pages of my novel a day,” or “I will go to spin class four days a week.” According to Cuddy, these absolutes are impossible and invite us to quit the first time we make a mistake. “People are making absolute statements about what they’re going to do, and that’s setting them up for failure immediately,because they’re not always going to go to the gym three times a week,” Cuddy told BI.

Secondly, Cuddy believes we should never pick goals that make us feel negative. If we say “I’m so fat, I must lose 10 pounds,” then we’re picking a resolution that automatically makes us encounter negative feelings about ourselves. Cuddy relates a successful past goal for herself, where she focused on a positive: She decided “to fall in love with running,” rather than a goal with negative associations like “I have to get in better shape.

A third important factor is picking goals we have control over. Choosing something like “get a promotion” that depends on other people takes the ability for success and puts it in someone else’s hands. If a boss doesn’t agree or the company doesn’t call for promotions, there goes the possibility for success.

Finally, Cuddy stresses focusing on the process rather than the results: “If you’re focused on walking 100 miles, and you’re just constantly focused on that number 100 miles…You’re going to feel like a failure for so much of that because the comparison is between where I am now versus where I want to be.”

To make more successful resolutions, Cuddy focuses on what she calls “self-nudging,” very small, easy goals that lead toward a larger success. Instead of swearing to run a marathon, focus on a tiny positive goal like being able to jog around the block without getting winded. Also, maybe think about returning those farm tools in case the Babylonian gods are still paying attention.

(Image via Shutterstock.)

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