If you’re hoping for a change this year, the odds are not in your favor.

According to a survey recently published in the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, 92% of new year’s resolutions fail. In fact, 80% of people who make new year’s resolutions have failed by January 20th. Yet we comply to this silly annual ritual every year even though we know it just doesn’t work.

So why do we even bother?

Here’s why new year’s resolutions fail:

They are based on willpower, not systems. 

Physiologically, your brain can’t handle resolutions because it largely relies on willpower. The part of your brain that handles willpower is the prefrontal cortex (your forehead) and is an extremely limited mental resource. It controls other neurological functions and is also responsible for staying focused, solving abstract tasks, and handling short term memory. In other words, abstract goals (like resolutions) that are not tied to a specific behaviour are near impossible to achieve.



They are unspecific.

We say “I want to increase sales this year” but when faced with staff training in May, day-to-day operations in July, and number crunching in October, that goal falls of the radar. Vague goals are overwhelming and what’s overwhelming gets ignored.

They’re unrealistic.

We say “I want to spend 2 hours/day everyday working on social media”. Really? You average 2 hours/month last year. Setting unrealistic goals short term is the quickest way to guilt, failure, and long term underperformance. People grossly overestimate what they can achieve in a day and grossly underestimate what they can achieve in a year.

So yes, we want to change, but don’t know HOW to do it. So we resolve to doing what we know, doing what’s easy, or simply trying harder. In fact, research shows that we would rather continue doing something that doesn’t work rather than try something new that could work – but also could fail. That’s insane!

The worst part is that failing at our resolutions/goals has massive psychological implications…we start to distrust ourselves. If you keep setting the same goals year after year and never follow through, you start to believe that you’re not in control. You become a victim! And you start to believe that success is out of your reach.

Yet, every year we make new resolutions (or the same ones again), saying things like, “Ok this year I’m gonna get serious with _______” and “I totally want to change _______”, knowing full well, in the back of our minds that we’re not actually going to do it.

Having a goal is not enough. We need a plan and a system.

How to achieve your new year’s resolutions

1. Write them down

I’m not kinding! Psychologists have found that people who write down their goals on a piece of paper (and never look at that piece of paper again!) have a 60% chance to achieve them. That’s astonishing! I use this trick all the time and that’s precisely how I successfully achieved many personal goals like: travel for 3 months with my family while doing consulting work, move to a waterfront property, and improve my physical strength.

Instead of expressing your goals as “I want to do _____” or “I will do _____” write your resolutions as intentions.

For example, you could write: “I intend to double our revenues by x date”. “Want” is passive. “Will” is, at best, some point in the future. Neither of those two words make you take action in the present. When you set your goals as intentions, you make a commitment that leads you to take actions – consciously and subconsciously.

2. Break your goals into smaller steps

Your brain is not able to handle more than one goal at a time (or focus on more than one thing) at a time. That’s why it’s important to sequence all of your goals so that you can focus on only one thing at any given time.

For example, if you want to create a promo video for your company, you need to get very specific and identify all the steps necessary to achieve that objective. The steps could be:

  • Determine budget for promo video by February 1st
  • Find videographer by February 22nd
  • Schedule shooting by March 1st
  • Create a storyboard by March 8th
  • Shoot interviews by March 22nd
  • Complete editing by April 19th
  • Launch new promo video by May 1st

And that’s just the beginning! Now, you need to take it a step further and identify all the tasks necessary for EACH objective. So for example, if the objective you are trying to achieve is “find a videographer by February 22nd”, the tasks involved may be:

  • Research and identify 5 qualified videographers by February 5th
  • Contact each videographer to request a quote by February 12th
  • Meet with the top (most qualified/best offers) 3 videographers by February 19th
  • Choose the best videographer and award contract by February 22nd

This method will allow you to take a big (overwhelming) goal like: “Improve our marketing” into actionable tasks that are time-bound and measurable. Tracking your progress will give you the motivation to keep going and will drastically accelerate your rate of achievements.

3. Give yourself a reward

Once you start laying out all the things you intent to achieve, the tasks will add up. It’s important to give yourself a reward, otherwise it will feel like you’re on a treadmill – a never ending to-do list. Give yourself mini rewards on a daily basis for mundane tasks to keep you going and motivated and allow yourself more substantial rewards to celebrate the achievements of important milestones.

Successful people follow a proven system, so it’s no surprise when they get dramatic results.

If you want to increase your sales by 25%, develop 5 new products, or tap into the asian market, hope and willpower isn’t going to cut it. Just like it didn’t cut it last year. Or the year before.

You need a system. Let’s start building one today.