Resolution Folly

Why 'change my life' goals usually fail. Resolving not to make New Year's resolutions.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published January 7, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

It's barely the new year. Like most people, you've probably made a few resolutions about things to change—tackle some personality quirk, your physical appearance, your activity level, the way you relate to others, the amount of time you spend with the family.

We get a flash in our brain of the way we could look or the life we could lead or the time we will have, bite the bullet and set a goal of saying no or exercising more.

Unfortunately, studies show that the new-year's-resolution approach to goal-setting—you get a lightning vision of how things could be different, decide on a goal based on what you want to get away from and invoke brute will power to act on it—rarely lasts. Your good intentions may even have evaporated already. The change you willed doesn't survive the first challenge to the smooth deployment of your new routine.

There is a better way. You set the same goal and make the same changes to your routines. Only they stick, no matter how much stress you encounter, no matter how many times you are thrown off track by life's everyday challenges. You are motivated to pick yourself up and work on that goal-and you get there.

The difference between doomed resolutions and sustained change isn't something magical that you lack and everyone else seems to have. No, it's your relationship to the future, insists Ti Caine, a hypnotherapist and life coach based in Sherman Oaks, California.

New-year's-resolution-type of goal-setting usually involves a one-shot connection to the future. To create lasting change, on the other hand, you don't tackle change right off the bat; you first look at where you want to go. You need to build a complete vision of the future that you want so that you can live with it every day of the present.

Most resolutions are made out of fear and desperation; those energies, however, can drive motivation only a few weeks. The only energy that can sustain success is falling in love with your future. Like building a house, you start by creating a blueprint of the finished house; only then can you begin building. You don't just decide to build a house, run to Home Depot, buy whatever materials are on hand and start building. Unfortunately, that's how most people build their lives.

"Successful people have an ongoing, passionate connection to their dreams for the future that keeps them motivated to take the steps everyday to create what they want," says Caine. "They see their future in its wholeness, visualize its extension into all the domains of their life. That allows them to create lots of mental paths to it." You make a commitment to change your whole life; that's what makes Caine's FutureVisioning process so powerful.

It's like cleaning your house. "The fastest way to get it done is by getting excited about the future," says Caine. It's easy to clean the house when you've got someplace exciting to go."

Having a clear vision of a wonderful future is the first necessary action step-but it typically stirs up a set of emotional roadblocks. These come at us in the form of fears both of failing and of succeeding, and in doubts about our own worthiness for success.

So the next critical action step is to identify your fears and doubts about success, then look under them to uncover the core beliefs you hold about yourself that are sabotaging your efforts at change. Earlier articles in the series, archived on the website, can help you through the process.

Then you are ready to map out the path. You define the sequence of bite-size steps that make the difference between here and what you want. Starting on the first one, you look at the resources and strategies that can be developed to help fix that particular circumstance.

Imagine a future three years from now where you have achieved the success you want and everything in your life is working the way you want it to be. Visualize all the domains of your life: physical, emotional, financial, career, relationship, social and spiritual. Take the time to write down what you really want for yourself; it helps you greatly clarify and stay connected to your goals.

Then, working back from that future, fill in the steps to get there. Consider what elements would need to be done in a year to be where you want in three years. Then look at what you need to be doing in six months, one month and one week. Then tomorrow. And today; you start doing today what you can. You can't go from couch potato to marathoner in a day, but if that's what you want in a year, you can start today by walking three times a week, and build a program in increments.

"Pretend you are your future self and do what they are doing," says Caine. "The qualities of being where you want to be define the steps to get there. What you do must be in keeping with who you will become."