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Are You Finally Ready for New Year's Resolutions That Stick?

Here are six common traps and how to overcome them.

Key points

  • Only a small percentage of people are able to keep their New Year's resolutions, but analyzing the culprits is helpful.
  • Whether your goals relate to career advancement or your personal life, there are six common pitfalls you can overcome.
  • Avoid overachiever syndrome, embrace your fear, stay focused, say no to procrastination, and welcome positive support and self talk.
Paradee Paradee/Dreamstime
Paradee Paradee/Dreamstime

It may surprise you that of the 41 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year, only 9 percent feel they are successful in keeping them.

Here are six common traps and some options to consider:

Whether your New Year’s resolution is to change jobs, get a raise, change careers, or modify your personal life—it’s helpful at this time of year to recognize what keeps most mortals from achieving their goals and learn what to do about it.

1. Overcome the overachiever within.

Although hustle culture is being re-examined, it still lives today to the detriment of many in corporate America—as underscored by a recent Deloitte study. The inescapable articles about people making their first million at 25 years of age seem to stoke the flames.

There’s a difference between hard work and an unhealthy obsession. When you’re an overachiever, your work is never done.

If never-ending, challenging goals continue to seem elusive—and you feel you may have perfectionistic tendencies—consider taking a bold step. Adjust your mindset. Aim to accomplish just 75 percent of your normal level of work. That can help you achieve a) more balance in your life and b) greater satisfaction that your goals are actually being realized. Your work output will likely remain above average by most standards, and the quality may actually improve. Brene Brown has said, “I’m a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring ‘good-enoughist.’”

2. Embrace fear.

If overcoming the barriers you face instills fear or seems daunting, you’re not alone. Change is not for the faint of heart. But the new year presents a unique and empowering opportunity to reflect… and reset.

This may be an opportunity to view fear as a useful emotion—and even a steppingstone for growth. Writer Rachel Huber has said, “Fear is the brain’s way of saying there is something important for you to overcome.” As with many emotions that are perceived as negative, such as fear, anger, sadness, and so on, there is usually a reason.

It’s always helpful to put your thoughts and fears to paper and journal. For example, if you have anxiety about reaching the next level of success (however you define it) because you feel it will trigger stress in your life—you may rationalize that it’s just not worth it to go further. In reality, your resourcefulness and intuition may make that next step manageable in some form, and you might just thrive. Try listing each fear and “sub-fear,” then respond to each one objectively. Seeing it in writing will allow you to put each concern to the litmus test.

3. Stay focused.

As the weeks and months fly by after the new year, another common barrier to reaching goals is distraction.

It’s easy to put off an important task when becoming busy with other activities. It’s also easy to spread oneself so thin that it seems legitimate to move a primary goal down the priority list. Simple, unrelated tasks that are easily doable can be far more appealing than focusing on the elephant in the room. But sidestepping the big picture can create a cycle of frustration.

Ask yourself each day what you’re doing to advance the big-picture goal. Record how many hours a day you’re spending on certain types of tasks: social media, the news, administrative tasks, and other pursuits. Keep your eye on the big prize.

4. Avoid procrastination.

Procrastination is the cousin to distraction, and it can put you in a constant state of inertia. By randomly moving less important priorities higher, almost anyone can justify why a goal has not been met. Common traps are to a) escape versus confront and b) think versus act.

You can counter this by establishing realistic deadlines and by making sure they’re specific, visible, and reviewed daily.

Also, consider creating bite-size” sub-goals. It’s easy to say, for example, “I’m going to land a new job in 90 days.” But it might be more effective (and less daunting) to say, “I’m going to update my résumé in 10 days,” and after that, I will contact 20 employers each week.”

5. Engage with positive people.

A new year is a good time to clean out the cobwebs in your life and work. It’s important to surround yourself with those who are supportive and positive about your aspirations. It’s much easier to succeed when you’re around people who believe in you.

If you have been associating with those who doubt your success or are envious, you can fall into a trap of believing them. Conversely, there are people who want to see you advance and flourish. There are mentors and professional associations, your network, LinkedIn contacts, and others who can help you move forward in 2023.

6. Commit to positive self-talk only.

Part of achieving one’s goals is to be your own best advocate. But sometimes, there is a nagging imposter syndrome to overcome. Or a voice telling you it’s easier not to try. Try giving yourself the benefit of the doubt as you would for a dear friend. One thing is for sure. It’s easier to succeed when you regularly hear yourself say, “I got this,” “Today nothing will stop me,” or “I am invincible.” It may feel unnatural or forced at first, but there are many studies that support this proactive approach.

Change does not come naturally to most. But a little effort goes a long way. By taking notice of the barriers you experienced in 2022, you can make sustainable, even life-changing, strides in the new year.

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