Why your New Year's resolution is likely to fail
The tradition of setting New Year’s resolutions dates back almost four thousand years to the ancient Babylonians. Promises were made to the gods in return for good things to happen that year. While the practice has evolved significantly over the millennia and centuries since – becoming almost exclusively secular and personal growth in nature – it has endured. It is reported that around forty-five percent of Americans make resolutions to start the new year and that only eight percent actually follow through on those commitments.
Why is that? Why is it so hard to follow through on the commitments you make to yourself? In my book Master Your Code, I write about the work of Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey, professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. They have developed a model they call Immunity to Change, which asserts that what stands in the way of what we want and what we actually do is a psychological immune system that makes it very hard to change who we are and how we behave. Essentially, the source of resistance to change lies in the hidden beliefs and assumptions that we hold about ourselves, others, and the world. This is what I call your program – the subconscious, safety-based beliefs, values, and rules that automatically drive your behavior and limit your results.
For example, I may be committed to spending time with my daughter, but subconsciously hold a belief that the most important thing in life is work and getting ahead. If that belief isn’t surfaced, examined, and shifted, the odds of me being successful in spending more quality time with my daughter is going to be very low.
Given this, some time ago I began to experiment with my approach to New Year's resolutions. Rather than exclusively focusing on a new behavior, like going to the gym five times a week, or a specific achievement, like running a marathon, I started by focusing on the underlying belief that might be getting in the way of that new behavior or achievement. My New Year’s resolution became a new year’s belief that I would practice adopting and reminding myself of constantly.
The most powerful example for me was the commitment I made to write my first book. Rather than just focusing on the act of writing itself, I started by surfacing all of the limiting, sub-conscious beliefs I held that had been getting (and would likely continue to get) in the way of this goal. I discovered that I didn’t believe I had anything original to say, and that I needed another five years before I was ready. Most importantly, I didn’t believe I was an author. I realized that, until I really took a look at and shifted those beliefs, there was no way I was going to write a book.
So this year, rather than becoming part of the ninety-two percent of Americans who fail to achieve their New Year’s goals, start by asking yourself the following questions. What is it that I really want to do or become this year? What hidden beliefs do I currently hold that would get in the way of that goal? And what new belief would I need to hold for that outcome to materialize? Understanding and shifting your psychological immune system is essential to change and growth, particularly for the things we want most in life.
Happy New Year!