According to US News and World Report, about 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them by about mid-February, or sooner. Many people make the distinction between a resolution and a goal. (I’m in that camp, too. I totally believe in SMART goals.) But in either case — and whether you’re trying to lose weight, pass your IBCLC™ Exam, get your dream job, breastfeed a baby, or something else, here’s what I’ve learned about why you might not be meeting your goals or resolutions.
We “set” and “achieve” with different parts of the brain
This was a huge revelation to me. We set goals by using our conscious mind; our intellect is in charge. But we achieve goals or resolutions by using our subconscious mind.
That makes a lot of sense to me. My “smart” brain knows what I need to do. But my subconscious brain hasn’t really bought into the idea.
Our brains are hardwired to resist change
We are creatures of habit. Good habits as well as bad habits; we subconsciously resist change.
By setting setting goals or resolutions, we’re asking our brain to do something that will require “a lifestyle change, a habit change, a thinking change, delayed gratification, going the extra mile” and more. Hmph. Sounds like pain, not pleasure.
Further, if you believe in the Adam and Eve story, you’ll see a superb example of how people instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure. Yep, it’s the human condition.
Also, anyone who has a fear of failure will find this whole hard-wired resistance-to-change thing a double whammy.
Making goals is not a one-time event
Most people think or verbalize their resolutions shortly before the new year begins, and that’s it. People who set goals might take the time to write them down, but then they seldom revisit them, and then they wonder why they’re not meeting their goals.
Because of that whole subconscious thing, it’s important — perhaps critical — to frequently revisit those goals. I make it a point to revisit my goals every weekend. Otherwise, they become out-of-sight, out-of-mind — even the subconscious mind — and I don’t accomplish them.
Why? Subjectivity overrides rationality. Emotions create the fuel to get the job done.
Dr. Joe Dispenza’s book, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, taught me that emotion is energy in motion.
Neurons that fire together, wire together
Here’s another concept I learned from that book. He says it repeatedly: neurons that fire together, wire together. Later, in a weekend workshop, I saw Dr. Dispenza show images of how the brain literally created new pathways when those neurons fired together — and consequently, wired together. Fascinating.
James Clear, in his outstanding book, Atomic Habits, explains it a little differently, but yeah, it’s the same idea. (He talks about stacking and syncing.)
We have too many goals or resolutions
I often want to require myself to accomplish this and this and this and … then the list of what I am expecting from myself just seems to grow. But as humans, we cannot focus on a massive list. I find I can’t get more than about five goals finished in one year.
We often don’t realize that habits aren’t exactly goals. We might want to develop the habit of exercising 150 minutes a week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A goal would be losing 20 pounds. A new habit is what we “do” each day, whereas the goal is achieved when we do an activity to support the goal.
Is it too late to make a recovery?
It’s never too late to try or try again even if you are not meeting your goals now. Here’s a simple suggestion.
Melinda Gates reportedly uses one word several times a day to remind herself of her primary goal. You might call this a mantra, or a prayer. Whatever it is, it seems to work. Why so? Because it is nestled into your subconscious, and helps you to achieve your goals. My word this year is clarity.
I’m writing this partly for you, and partly for myself. The more I think about goals, the more I’m aware of my own behaviors, the more emotionally pumped up I get … the more likely I am to succeed at developing new habits and reaching new goals.
Have you wondered why you are not meeting your goals, or having a hard time meeting your goals? How do you go about setting goals?