New Year’s Resolutions can succeed — six goal setting traps you must avoid now!

A whopping 85 percent of people who make New Year’s Resolutions do not keep them. Many people run into trouble after doing well initially in the first week to ten days of January. After that, things start to go haywire. If you want to be among those who do earn their New Year’s merit badges this year, you will need to be prepared with tactics you can use to keep you focused and on track. Your ability to follow through on any goal is dependent on recognizing and avoiding these six common traps.

1) The “Vagueness” trap

Example: “I resolve to get organized.”

This kind of vague resolution expresses a feeling that you want things to be different and better in the new year, rather than a commitment with a workable plan to get it done. Chances are, you have some idea what you mean by “get organized” but you are not sure where to begin, or when to declare victory. 

Many of the good intentions resolved on New Year’s eve through the bubbly haze of champagne, are too vast, too unwieldy and too vague to provide useful guidance for making changes in daily behavior.

Clarify your vision. Imagine that you have already reached the goal. Notice all the vivid details. Once you identify your goal, you can gather momentum toward the lifestyle you envisioned by writing it down and keeping it where you will see it often.

2) The “Intimidation” trap

Example: “I will plan for retirement.”

Change can be intimidating and stressful. To make a commitment to lasting change, you might as well be climbing Everest. To get a grip on those icy slopes, you need a repeatable strategy that you can use for every kind of project. 

For any project that involves venturing into The Great Unknown you may be tempted to hide under the covers. Most worthwhile goals involve new experiences, learning new skills and personal growth. There are few life changing goals where you will know all the steps required from beginning to end when you start out.

To avoid the intimidation trap, make learning and exploration part of the fun. Always start with simple tasks where you can be successful right away. These simple tasks add up and build confidence.  Every successful task you get done along the way strengthens the new habits and contributes to the long range goal.

3) The “Deadline” trap

Example: “I will lose 10 pounds by next thursday.”

At first blush, this looks like a great goal. It is measurable, and has a deadline. Isn’t that what a goal should be?

Not only are you setting yourself up for failure by setting the deadline too aggressively, but it is also possible that the target goal you imagined is not right… maybe it is too high or too low. Could you lose 20 or MORE pounds by the end of the year? What’s so special about 10 pounds or the end of the year? Redefine the goal to “reach your healthy weight,” no matter what amount that turns out to be, or how long it takes. Then devise your plan with some intermediate milestones to track your progress.

If you do use deadlines to create a sense of urgency, do not judge yourself too harshly. If the original goal was unrealistic, there is no reason to sulk if you didn’t reach it. Let’s say that you lost 2 pounds by next thursday instead of your intended 10. Normal guidelines for weight loss are to lose no more than 2 pounds per week, so you might be surprised to find out that you were actually on track toward a more realistically set goal. There are some goals where you might not know what is realistic until you get started.

Jump in. Revise and refine your goals often as necessary as you gain experience. Abandon the arbitrary deadline and strengthen your commitment to the real results you want to see happen.

4) The “Every day” trap

Example: “I will go to the gym every day. I will go on a healthy diet where I eat nothing but salad every day for lunch.”

Righty-o! Because life never throws you a curve a ball… your friends always support your goals, and every day is always the same routine. A variation of this trap is the good old fashioned Cold Turkey change, where you simply declare “no more Tiramisu for you.” Cold Turkey is the removal of an activity “every day”, instead of the daily addition of an activity.  Either way, without a careful plan and a vigilant support system, this trap will gobble up your resolutions with a side of cranberry sauce.

What will you do when  approximately 2 weeks into January, when your husband comes home with tickets to Bermuda? Or your daughter has a cold and needs to be picked up from school?

What will you do when the luscious Tiramisu wins?

Build in some flexibility to handle normal variations in your daily routine.

5) The “Instant Gratification” trap

Example: “I will get organized, lose 10 pounds by next thursday, eat nothing but salad, go to the gym every day, plan for retirement, get a new job and I want to do it all starting NOW!”

This trap, where you try to change everything at once, is a recipe for overload and overwhelm. All major life changes do occur in a dramatic moment of resolute decision, but you will still need to allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to get the details worked out properly. Careful research and experience will help you understand how much time you really need.

Start small. Get one good habit firmly established, or one project started with oomph and momentum before you add another. Rinse and repeat!

6) The “New Year’s Day” trap

Example: “Uh, oh! I didn’t keep my resolutions…. again….I am a terrible person….yada yada”

Fast forward to February. You have stopped going to the gym because you caught your daughter’s cold, the house is a mess, and you just gained a pound from overindulgence in Tiramisu. All your New Year’s Resolutions seem to be in tatters like the mountain of tissue that surrounds your sofa as you watch television and wonder what went wrong.

Stop right there. Lose the debilitating guilt. If it does not serve to inspire you to do better going forward, it does not matter so much where you went wrong. What’s done is done. Will you wait until next year to try again? No, no, no! Not you!

On whatever day you find yourself in this sad state, that will be the day when you will need to have a firm grip on your strategy to keep going. Once you are over that cold, declare it New Year’s day again. Visualize a new sparkling ball of lights is there in Times Square just for you. Countdown from 10, and take the next step toward your goals. You will feel better as soon as you do. Clean up the tissue boxes. Straighten up the living room. Put on your sweat suit for the trip to the gym.

Congratulations, you are a bona fide New Year’s Resolution hero and champion.

By taking the time now to think through how you will overcome each of these common traps, it will be easier for you to be in the happy and smug 15 percent of the population who reaches the goals they made in their New Year’s Resolutions. With patience and practice, you will soon be celebrating your successes all year long using the same techniques.