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Why Resolutions Often Fail and What We Can Do Differently

By Teresa Beshwate January 09, 2022 Mindset

Ready or not, 2022 has arrived, and along with it, the usual array of resolutions and the ever-popular notion of New Year, New You.

Yet, just as predictable as a new year arriving is the waning of motivation and the abandonment of resolutions – often before February.

A closer look at this annual phenomenon reveals what’s really happening.

New Year, New Thoughts

As January approaches, many people allow themselves to think new thoughts. They’re willing to consider new possibilities for themselves. It may sound something like this:

Maybe I can lose the weight and keep it off.

Perhaps I could pay off my debt.

This might be the year that I finally write that book.

In this year, I will finally put myself first.

Thoughts create feelings, and feelings drive actions, and actions create results, for better or worse. The current results in your life are the product of multiple actions (or inactions) that were driven by how you were feeling at the time, which was because of the thoughts you were thinking at the time.

Thoughts Create Results

So, our thoughts ultimately create results. Old thoughts create more of the same results. New thoughts have the potential to create new results. But if that’s true, then what happens to new year motivation, and why do resolutions generally fail? In short, other thoughts get in the way.

Thinking new thoughts is the equivalent of stepping outside of our comfort zone, cognitively speaking.

Limiting Beliefs Limit Results

Stepping outside of our comfort zone sounds the alarm in our primitive brain. The primitive brain prefers to stay in the comfort zone, because anything outside of it could mean danger. The primitive brain, after all, has just one job, and that is to keep us alive.

When we think new thoughts, the primitive brain will naturally try to coax us back into our comfort zone. It will counter those new thoughts with old thoughts called limiting beliefs. They sound something like this:

You’ve never been the kind of person who could lose weight and keep it off.

Paying off debt is too hard for someone like you.

You aren’t motivated enough to write a book.

You don’t actually know how to put yourself first.

These thoughts are familiar and well-practiced. In fact, they’ve played out in our brains so often that we simply believe that they are true, and so we stop questioning them. To make matters worse, we then seek further evidence of their truth, a concept called confirmation bias.

The Cycle Repeats

So, the cycle repeats itself: A new year brings new thoughts which are outside of our usual comfort zone, which trigger the primitive brain’s desire to keep us safe. The primitive brain responds with limiting beliefs to coax us back into the comfort zone.

But there are a few people who successfully set and stick to resolutions, right? There are those people who lose the weight and keep it off, write the book, pay off debt, and put themselves first. They too have normal human brains. How do they do it?

Thoughts, on Purpose

These people learn to retrain their brains. They commit to the new thinking with intentionality. They overhear the primitive brain’s attempts, but they don’t respond. They think new thoughts on purpose, multiple times per day. They pause after each thought and notice the feeling it creates. They think these thoughts so often that the primitive brain starts to accept an expanding comfort zone.

Those who make successful, long-term changes also know their compelling why, and they revisit it often. A compelling why sounds something like:

I’m committed to better health so I can be here for my grandchildren.

Being debt free will mean I can travel or donate more to my favorite charity.

My book will help hundreds of women.

Taking care of myself means that those I love will get a better version of me.

It all starts with a thought that rings true for you. New, true thoughts can happen any time of the year, at any moment, including this one.

Allow yourself to consider new thoughts about who you want to be and what you’d like to achieve. Know that your primitive brain will very likely counter with old, limiting beliefs. That’s perfectly normal. Be willing to challenge those beliefs. Consider what else might be true. This is your chance to break the cycle.

Commit to your new thoughts and think them on purpose on a regular basis. With this practice, any result you want for yourself is possible.

What have you always wanted to achieve? What goals have you set for yourself this year? What limiting beliefs hold you back? What new thoughts are you thinking lately?

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The Author

Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH, is an author and life coach who exclusively helps widows to move forward and learn to live and love their life again after the loss of their spouse. Her latest book, Life Reconstructed: A Widow’s Guide to Coping with Grief, is now available.

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