Why resolutions fail and how to set yourself up for success in 2020

Women working out in exercise class

Happy New Year, bosses! Welcome to 2020.

I’m so excited to be on this journey into the next decade with all of you. Here at Bossed Up, we’re focusing on seeing this new year as an adventure. Part of embracing adventure means anticipating that while often things will be exciting and inspiring, there will also be times when things go awry.

When we see life as an adventure, we acknowledge that sometimes sh*t will hit the fan, and we will need to recoup, recover, and make some kind of plan to get back on track.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail

Today, I want to talk about the psychology behind resilience, because part of the reason new year’s resolutions fail is because people set their expectations way too high. Too often, we expect perfection from ourselves, which I can definitely relate to, as a recovering perfectionist myself.

Here’s something I want you to think about instead: if you understand that our intrinsic systems of motivation have a natural rhythm to them, it becomes easier to capitalize on when your motivation is high and have a little self-compassion while your motivation is low.

This is something I talk a lot about in the Bossed Up LifeTracker Master Classes – I’ll be hosting 3 live online workshops for everyone who bought a Bossed Up LifeTracker Planner to better understand the psychology behind how to use it.

Regardless of whether you buy a planner from us this year or buy a paper planner at all this year, you can put these little nuggets from psychology to good use for yourself and how you’re thinking about the year ahead.

Capitalize on the fresh start effect

The first thing I want you to know is that we should all capitalize on the fresh start effect. Research in cognitive science and psychology finds that we as human beings are more likely to take aspirational steps towards our goals around temporally significant landmarks, meaning New Year’s Day, your birthday, the start of a new month, or start of a new week, etc.

As motivation theory holds, when we take a longer view, it inspires us to behave how we want to behave given the long-term goals that we’re striving towards, not just based off that short-term desire that wants to keep you sitting on your couch watching crappy reality television and eating potato chips (all of which are things that I’ve done on many occasions).

The fresh start effect helps you take the long-term view into account in order to take action towards making progress on those long-term goals, instead of simply satisfying your short-term desires.

At the end of the day, what we’re really talking about when it comes to New Year’s resolutions or goal-setting is having the discipline and energy to prioritize your long-term goals over your short-term desires. And, that’s not a simple system. Our brains and bodies are complex in how we balance those two kinds of desires.

But, capitalizing on and even just knowing about the fresh start effect can really help. When you want to take aspirational steps toward your deepest desires and goals, schedule it for a fresh start.

While I have yet to read it myself, I’ve heard that Daniel Pink’s new book, When, is really good when it comes to thinking through timing and how timing matters in our workplaces, lives, and worlds. It relates back to this concept that Monday mornings are a good time to be productive, and Sunday evenings might be the time to check-in on your goals and think through with your partner, if you have one, or your family, or whoever you’re sharing life with – maybe that’s your bestie who is an accountability buddy from afar, to think aspirationally about where you’re headed with your life or career next.

Prepare for the middle dip of motivation 

My second point, which is kind of a corollary to the first, is to be prepared for the slump that follows. Motivation research has identified something known as the middle dip of motivation. You’ll see this show up in a lot of different time-use studies and productivity guides.

The theory holds that while we’re really excited when a new project starts and our motivation naturally spikes again when we are nearing the finish line, there’s a natural slump in motivation in the middle of a long-term goal pursuit.

This is the slog in the middle that leaves us in the psychological dumps – which keeps our motivation low. When the novelty wears off and you’re not yet nearing the finish line, if you feel unmotivated, call it what it is – it’s the middle dip of motivation!

Be prepared for it. Simply calling it what it is and acknowledging that your brain isn’t broken and you’re not a lazy person will help you find the motivation again without feeling bad about your currently-low productivity.

Know it will happen and identify it when you’re experiencing the middle dip of motivation so that you can externalize it as not some fixed trait inherent to who you are, but rather something that everyone experiences. It’s universal and it can be managed. Whether that means you get up and go for a walk and give your brain a break or you make a plan to hit it hard in the morning with the fresh start effect the next day.

Just knowing what the middle dip of motivation is can really help set you up for longer-term success, because part of the reason that New Year’s resolutions fail is because at the first stumble, people start feeling shame and guilt and they think they’ll never change, and then we make a much bigger deal over the inevitable, momentary failures that we will face on the road to long-term success.

So, have a plan for what you will do when the middle dip strikes.

Have a plan and an accountability community

That brings me to my third point: none of us can do this alone. You don’t get there faster by going at it alone.

Squad up. Surround yourself with bosses who can help motivate you when you’re in the middle dip of motivation. Find folks who can empathize with you when you’re feeling down on yourself, or people who can help you brainstorm, talk things out, and give you encouragement.

If you have trouble finding those accountability buddies in your world, join us in the Bossed Up Courage community on Facebook. It’s full of bosses who are willing to help keep you accountable. It’s a beautiful place where we’re supporting one another, championing one another, and troubleshooting career conundrums with one another.

You may want to join our LifeTracker Planner community, too, because the LifeTracker Planner is designed to be the same structured toolkit that we all can use in our own way. It provides a common vernacular for tackling these problems of sustaining your ambition and motivation without experiencing burnout that so many of us can use. Plus, the master classes this month and the quarterly accountability calls we host live on videochat all year long are a wonderful space to find an accountability buddy near you or a virtual accountability buddy who you can check-in with when the going gets rough.

I invite you to be part of our accountability community by picking up a LifeTracker Planner today, while supplies last.

Stay focused on the big picture

At the end of the day, let’s take the long view. On the brink of a brand-new decade, let’s think not only about where we’ll be in a week or where we’ll be at the end of this month, or what we want to achieve this year, let’s think about the habits that we want to start developing for the next decade.

This is a time to commit to yourself and to have compassion with yourself. Know that you’re not going to get there overnight, and focus on taking small, consistent steps to set yourself up for long-term, sustainable success.

As I always say at Bossed Up BootcampI’m not interested in you having a revolutionary amount of progress in the next week, month, or year. I’m interested in how you’re investing in your long-term success, in your vision for radical transformation that you want to be a part of in this world, in your life, in your community. Because this world needs that. This world needs you.

We have big problems to solve and we need you to not burn out on the road to making that happen.

I hope today’s post is helpful. If you put any of these tactics to use in your life, your career, or in how you’re planning for 2020, I want to hear from you in the comments below!

This article first appeared on BossedUp.