Why New Years Resolutions Fail – And Why Establishing Implementation Intentions Works

By | January 2, 2015

New Years Resolutions FailWhy Did Your New Years Resolutions Fail Last Year?

Here we go again. New Year, New You? Did you make a New Years Resolution last January 1st? Are you wondering why did your new years resolutions fail last year?

Even with the best intentions and dogged will-power and goal-setting, it’s likely you didn’t stick to your goal nor achieve it. Google tells us that 92% of people who set New Year’s Resolutions will not achieve them – because we lack the knowledge of how to carry out these plans.

How do I know? Because studies show that good intentions account for only 20% to 30% of variance in behavior. One recent study even showed that the more positive we are about our good intentions, the worse results we’ll get.

So, the year is over.  If you look back a year ago today, what resolutions were you planning then?

One year on from January last year, and here you are:

Failed New Years Resolutions

  • still in the same job
  • still carrying too much weight
  • still struggling with debt
  • still in a dysfunctional relationship
  • your kids are failing at school
  • the photos you planned to scrapbook are still on your camera’s SD Card
  • drowning in even more clutter
  • desperately saving for a holiday
  • trying and failing to make more money from home
  • still smoking, drinking or using your drug of choice
  • practically estranged from friends or family
  • paying too much for energy usage, household bills and all the expenses
  • doing so much you’re too busy to achieve anything

The best way to predict how well you’ll achieve this year’s New Years Resolutions is to look back at how you did last year. Not too great, right?

But all is not lost – past behavior doesn’t have to be a predictor of future results. You can change the pattern of behavior with one tiny little trick.

Behavioral Psychologists have a term – “Implementation Intentions” – crazy words, I know. These two words could make the difference between setting resolutions and actually carrying them out. Studies show that people who use implementation intentions have dramatically greater success of carrying out the steps necessary to achieve their goals. So, to increase the likelihood of a goal being achieved, we need to understand what these implementation intentions are.

Researchers Prove Implementation Intentions Work

In a UK Study, 248 individuals were split into 3 groups. 2 groups were given a goal to increase their exercise over the next 2 weeks. The first group were given no input by the researchers, and their results at the end of the study were used to compare to the other 2 groups. 29% of the control group exercised in the following 2 weeks. 39% of Group 2 exercised, and these were the group given the specific goal of increasing their exercise. 91% of group 3 exercised!  What was the magic bullet that sparked Group 3 into action? Implementation Intentions (there’s those silly words again).

Group 3 were given a fill-in-the-blanks form to complete:

During the next week I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on (day or days) _______________ at _______________ (time of day) at/in (place) _______________.

By being specific about how, when and where to action the steps to achieve their goal, Group 3 amazingly achieved a 91% participation rate.

goal completion chart

It’s implausible, I hear you say. How can writing down a fill-in-the-blanks form make someone so radically change their behavior?

“An implementation intention is a self-regulatory strategy in the form of an “if-then plan” that can lead to better goal attainment, as well as help in habit and behavior modification. It is subordinate to goal intentions as it specifies the when, where and how portions of goal-directed behavior. The concept of implementation intentions was introduced in 1999 by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer.” Source: Wikipedia

Peter Gollwitzer has been studying implementation intentions and written many papers on the subject. He suggests that implementation intentions aid performance of behavior because when the speciŽfied conditions are met the environmental cues stimulate automatic activation of behavior. That is to say, the behavior becomes second-nature to you because the conditions are in place.

Let’s Make This a Little More Real

Here are some examples of if/then statements that could solve the problems (move towards achieving the goals) I listed above:

    • still in the same job

If it’s Saturday morning, and I’ve finished reading the newspaper, I will update and revamp my online resume. If I’m on the train to work, checking my work emails, I will stop that, I will log into Seek.com and submit my resume to at least one advertised job.

    • still carrying too much weight

If it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday morning, I will run 15 minutes on the treadmill.

    • still struggling with debt

If I open the letter box and find there is mail, I will take all the coin from my pocket/purse/wallet/handbag and put it in my money box. If it’s the 1st of the month, I will visit the bank to deposit the coin to pay off my credit card. If it’s Tuesday night, after swimming, it’s “budget night” and I will look at my spreadsheet, list my expenses for the week and make sure I’m on track to spend less.

    • still in a relationship you hate

If I hear him say “who did xyz”, rather than this triggering the usual argument, I will calmly respond that “it doesn’t matter who did it, it needs to be fixed” and calmly go about fixing it.

    • your kids are failing at school

If I open my son’s backpack to unpack the day’s stuff, I will sit with him for 10 minutes to walk through what he did today and help him with his homework, reading and writing.

    • the photos you planned to scrapbook are still on your camera/phone

If I’m sitting at my computer and my phone distracts me, I will grab the cable and download the photos to my computer.

    • drowning in clutter

If I walk into a room, I will look around for 5 things to put away. I will not leave that room till I have done 5 things.

    • desperately saving for a holiday

If I get an email from Groupon with a holiday that appeals to me, I will take $10 out of my wallet and put it into my secret holiday savings stash.

    • trying and failing to make more money from home

If I get another email pushing a “Make Money Online” product, I will do one of two things: unsubscribe immediately or review the product that they’re selling – if it looks like good value, I will become an affiliate, review the product on my website, and send an email to my email subscribers.

    • still smoking, drinking or using your drug of choice

If I’m offered a wine when I walk in the door, I will say NO. Until I’m properly “inside the door” and dinner is sorted, it’s not time for wine.

    • practically estranged from friends or family

If I read a friend’s post on Facebook, I will visit their timeline, check what they’ve been doing, then write down their phone number on the “to ring tonight” list. If the dishes are done, it’s time to check the “to ring tonight” list.

    • paying too much for energy usage

If the electricity bill arrives, I will contact the Energy Broker to see if there is a better deal available.

    • doing so much you’re too busy to achieve anything

If I get to 2pm and I still haven’t had lunch, I will stop work, take a break, make a list of all the things that are making me so busy and cross out the things that are not necessary, and which over-complicate my life.

Implementation Intentions Must Relate to a Goal.

Your goal must be written down. I can’t stress this enough – A GOAL MUST BE WRITTEN DOWN and visible to you often. Put your goals on the back of the bathroom door, on the fridge, on your computer wallpaper/desktop, on your iPhone background. You need to be reminded of your goal/s every day and often.

Then all you need is to develop some Implementation Intentions (if/then statements) and you will have automatic queues to do the actions that are going to move you closer to your goals. Implementation Intentions help you to turn those steps you need to take to get to your goals into HABITS. Automatic Habits.

Have you got a blog? Write a post like this one your blog and list your implementation intentions. Just writing them down and putting them on the net solidifies them in your mind. Make sure you also have a copy easily accessible to remind you of what triggers you have planned for yourself (If you plan too many, you’re liable to forget). Putting them online makes your implementation intentions more real and helps you to be more accountable.

Go on! Facebook will love to hear about them too. And come back here and drop us a link below when you’ve posted your implementation intentions.

6 thoughts on “Why New Years Resolutions Fail – And Why Establishing Implementation Intentions Works

  1. Sarah

    I fully agree with this concept. I’ve never been a ‘making new years resolutions’ person because the idea of them has never quite worked with me. I think it takes more than just a simple want, but a complete discovery of change as described.

    1. admin

      Thanks for stopping by Sarah. Many people have learnt not to set New Years Resolutions anymore because they typically fail. It’s not until you find these tried and tested methods that you’ll be able to succeed.

  2. Angela

    Thanks for sharing!! This very true about New Year’s Resolutions but I still find myself making them and hoping for success. I do believe things happen at the time they need to happen or when you are ready for them to happen. Great information.

  3. JP

    Wow, interesting post! This concept is partly familiar to me but the way you explained it made it even more simple. Indeed, everyone should be doing this, as doing one little thing doesn’t take too much effort. Great job!


  4. Michael W Smith

    Good information. I see your point about being specific in the particulars of how, where and when. Having a plan before you start out will definitely create the since of urgency that is required to complete your goals. Thank you for sharing.

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