Why Resolutions Fail

It’s January 1st. You’re in your comfiest chair, a blank page in front of you, and a few crumpled pieces of paper strewn about. You’re asking yourself: “Who do I want to be this year?” Once you finally jot a few things down, the hard part starts – actually making change happen.  Here’s the good news - the difference between success and failure isn’t complicated. In fact, it comes down to one word.


Often when people make a resolution they end up dropping, they label themselves lazy, undisciplined, and void of willpower. We need to give ourselves a break and understand that we weren’t ready to make that change just yet. We hadn’t done the head or heart work in order for change to take place. We tried running before walking, only to fall on our face (like my one year old learning to walk).  When I try (less literally than him), I tend to fall on my face too.

Since 1977, one of the leading ideas around change-making is the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. There are five stages of “readiness” when it comes to behavior change:

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance

At any time, for any particular change, we are in one of those stages. We can move back and forth between them—and do so often. The timeline could be minutes or years. For change to successfully happen, there are strategies we can employ to move forward from each stage.  There isn’t space here to detail each step now, but here’s how to start:

1. Identify one thing you’d like to improve, stop, or start. Write it down. (Insert that resolution here!)

2. Answer this question: Which best describes where you are right now?

  • I don’t intend to start in the near future = Precontemplation
  • I seriously intend to start in the next six months = Contemplation
  • I plan to start within the next 30 days = Preparation
  • I’ve already started = Action
  • I’ve been doing this for more than 6 months = Maintenance

Once you have a pulse check on where you are, then you can begin to ask what it will take to move to the next stage, one step at a time.

3. Find a coach to walk beside you. This is someone who has some experience in the area and offers accountability, asks good questions, and empowers you. He or she doesn’t have to be an expert or tell you what to do (or not do). Your coach could be a supportive colleague, friend, personal mentor, or someone you don’t know yet.  They are the other voice that helps make that resolution a reality and cheers you on when you make it happen. 

Resolutions fail because we try to jump from contemplation to maintenance without going through the other stages. My son eventually took one step at a time, and now he spends less time on his face, and more time being the “Energizer Baby” he was born to be.  If that change you identified could make all the difference this year, allow yourself the chance to integrate it into your life, not just tweet about it in January.  Trade perfection for forward motion and going solo for seeking support for making your positive changes a success. 

Want to see how to move forward from your stage? Click here to see what the folks at ProChange Behavior Systems have to share. Need help finding a coach? Email me. Feeling brave?  Leave a comment with the behavior you’ve been hoping to change and what stage you think you might be in.

Are you ready?

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