A new year can feel hopeful. It’s a fresh start, and many of us make big plans for what we want to do or do differently. Unfortunately, many of us will also fail to make good on those plans, with 80% of us not making it to the second week of February. “Unlike fairy tales, there is no magic that happens at the stroke of midnight,” says Dr. Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology for the weight-loss program Noom.
If you’re thinking of making a New Year’s resolution, you can increase your chances of sticking to it by avoiding these five things, which probably indicate you should revise your resolution:
1. It’s too much
If your resolution is more of a to-do list or requires several steps to complete, you might want to rethink it. Broad, sweeping changes are susceptible to failure, says Luke Ayers, PhD, a behavioral psychologist and assistant psychology professor at Widener University. “Throwing any single part of a routine off can be aversive, so a large change might be more so,” he explains. “We are stressed out by the experience.”
Small changes have a better chance of becoming habits, says Ayers. “You are constantly tempted to fall back into your old habits, probably through the presence of cues, and so it takes a lot of self-control,” says Ayers. “Self-control is impaired by stress, so it compounds the problem.”
“Start with one behavior and one behavior only,” says Michaelides. “Make that one behavior a habit first—don’t try to take on 10 new things all at once.”
2. It isn’t specific
Another failure waiting to happen is making a resolution that’s too broad or vague, says Jonathan Alpert, a psychotherapist and the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. “For example, resolving to exercise more or lose weight are easy ways to set yourself up for failure, as they lack ways to mark progress and are unlikely to keep you motivated throughout the year,” he says.
Instead, try making your goal specific. For example, “I’m going to run this 5K,” which you circle on the calendar. Or “I’m going to write 500 words a day for my book.”
“It’s easier to drop out when you set goals or resolutions that are vague,” says Alpert. “When it’s really detailed and specific, it’s harder to walk away from it.”
3. It isn’t framed properly
Another problem people face when making resolutions is framing them in negative language, says Alpert. “When people resolve to stop wasting money or stop eating junk food, for example, it often backfires because it makes them think about the very thing they’re trying to avoid,” he says. “It’s almost like if I say to you, ‘I don’t want you to think about what a zebra with pink and blue stripes looks like,’ you kind of have to think about what that would look like not to think about it, right?”
Instead, positively frame your goal, suggests Alpert. “So much of how we talk to ourselves impacts our actions and our behavior,” he says. “We need to feed ourselves positive self-talk.”
For example, instead of saying, “Don’t complain this year,” rewrite the goal and say, “Find something good in each situation.”
4. It’s not tied to a current habit
If you’re adding something new to your life, such as building your network or meditating every day, try habit bundling, which involves tying the new habit with an existing one, says Michaelides.
“It’ll help you remember to do it and also will help you incorporate new, healthy habits into your daily routine,” he says. “Above all, remember that habits take time to build. You need to form new pathways in your brain, which does not happen overnight.”
Introducing a small change within your existing habits often gets incorporated into your routine, adds Ayers. “So now, rather than it standing out as something being wrong or different, it just becomes part of the sequence you go through each day,” he says.
5. It’s not a commitment
People who make resolutions instead of simply stating wishes for the new year talk to themselves and others differently, says Dr. Wayne Pernell, clinical psychologist, leadership coach, and author of Dynamic Transitions: How to Move Boldly and Gracefully Into the Next Great Phase of Your Life. “They’ve got goals with metrics, plans, and they have accountability built in,” he says.
For example, saying, “This year I really am going to do something about my weight” sounds more like a wish than a goal.
Instead, make it a resolution by saying, “2020 is the year to get my body back in shape. I’ve already checked out three gyms, and I’m waiting for the January promotions to decide on which one to join. I’ve done a pantry clean-out, which was alarming. I’ve bought new socks, and I have a special place picked out for my workout clothes and at-home weights.”
And let go of Plan B, adds success coach David Neagle, founder of Life Is Now, Inc. It’s hard to stick to a resolution that has an escape hatch. “We are raised with the idea that we need to have a Plan B in case what we want doesn’t work out, instead of learning how to grow into whatever we want to accomplish, so we learn to settle at the first sign of defeat,” he says.
Your goal is going to get inconvenient—any change is—so identify the patterns of stopping. “Once our goal starts to become uncomfortable, our mind tricks us into agreeing with why we should stop or give up the goal,” says Neagle. “If you can identify your patterns of stopping, you can put a plan in place for when the discomfort sets in and then confidently continue reaching for that goal.”