New Year’s Resolutions Fail Because We Focus On The Image, Not The Habit

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, sticking to them is certainly not the norm. We enter the new year bloated and beaten by the celebrations of the season, swearing that we’re ready for a new leaf. And yet, estimates from University of Scranton Psychology Professor John C. Norcross suggest that less than 10 percent of these resolutions are actually achieved. Why?

Science has a lot to do with it. Namely, the science of habits — and “self-stories”.

Self-stories are exactly what they sound like. They’re about who we want to be — the story we tell ourselves about who we are. And we like to think that if we imagine ourself as this person, if we really believe the “new year, new you” mentality enough, that the resolutions will come naturally.

But resolutions aren’t about narrative — they’re about habit.

“A lot of New Year’s resolutions have to do with making new habits or changing existing ones,” Psychology Today explains. “If your resolutions are around things like eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time ‘unplugged’ or any number of other ‘automatic’ behaviors then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, ‘conditioned’ responses. You get up in the morning and stop at Starbucks for a pastry and a latte. You go home at the end of work and plop down in front of the TV.”



If you really want to tackle and succeed with a New Year’s resolution, you need to ditch the narrative and embrace the science. You are not magically going to become the type of person who loves to get up at 4 am for the gym and spend the rest of the day working on a bullet journal. You either are that person or you’re not — and no amount of looking at organization inspiration and fitspo on Instagram is going to change that.

You can’t change who you are, but you can change your habits. The science of habits its own fascinating realm, focusing on timing, dedication, and routine. Walking into the gym with a smiling face and new gear on January 1st is not the same thing as going every Tuesday and Thursday for six weeks, come rain or a shine. But it’s the habit that will stick, not the story.