The New Year has come and gone, and so has our resolution to keep our New Year goals. What happened? We were so committed to going to the gym every day, meditating and writing in our journals consistently. Sobering up. Gaining or losing that weight, spending more quality time with those we love. Learning to cook, or whatever your individual goal may have been.

Why We Fail: We Rely Too Much on Willpower

There are various reasons that people are not able to, or do not, keep their New Years goals for the entire year. But I want to focus on a very common one: willpower. We tend to rely too heavily on willpower to accomplish things in our lives. We determine that because we want our goal so badly when we make it, that our willpower/motivation will carry us through. We don’t take into account or prepare for the challenges, roadblocks, or simply the fact that our willpower often decreases for a variety of reasons.

In order to make our lives easier, our brains create pathways so that we do not have to think about everything we do, but instead it kicks into auto-mode when we begin a habitual behavior. This auto-mode often overrides our willpower to reach a goal. Have you ever planned to go to the gym after work, but find yourself in front of the television with a bag of chips? Have you ever said you no longer plan to drink alcohol, but find yourself sipping a drink on a social occasion? Have you ever set any goal, and felt extremely committed, but returned to your habitual behaviors before you even realized what you were doing?

If so, there is a good chance you can blame it on too much reliance on willpower. When this happens, we often determine that we are failures and give up. It can be even MORE frustrating when you don’t give up, try again, and find yourself still falling short of your goal.

How We Can Increase Our Likelihood of Success

You might be thinking, “Well my friend Bobby quit smoking on willpower alone. She determined she was going to do it and did.” You may even have an experience like that. If you do, I offer you my congratulations and assure you that you are the rare exception of success! For those of us who have not been able to find success with willpower alone, here are some tips on how to finally reach that goal.

  1. Accept that you will not be perfect in your journey towards reaching your goal.
  2. Prepare for setbacks and failures.
  3. Implement safety nets.
  4. Make yourself accountable to others.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up when you aren’t perfect; remember, you’re an imperfect human being and that is beautiful!
  6. Set an appropriate timeline for your goal.
  7. Make sure your goal is measurable.
  8. Make sure your goal is healthy
  9. Focus on what you are doing well and work on continuing that.
  10. Try talking with a therapist or other expert that may be able to offer advice specific to you and your situation.

If you’re goals are positive and feasible, don’t give up on them! You can reach them, just not alone. Be aware that willpower may only get you so far and be willing to make some adjustments to your process. Many goals aren’t accomplished easily, but with most it is possible.