Why our New Year’s Resolutions often fail and what to do about it

The end of an old year and the start of a new year just naturally leads us to be a little more reflective. That’s why so many of us make New Year’s Resolutions. We look back at the past year. Determine areas of our lives that we wish were better and resolve to change in the new year.

But we also all know how effective those New Year’s resolutions often are. A week in. Couple weeks. Maybe by Feb. 1. Most of our resolutions along with all those good intentions are forgotten.New Year's resolutions

Change is hard

We are often talking about habits. Habits are comfortable, even when they are unhealthy. Habits don’t require much thought, and typically they don’t really require much will power. Habits are the default. Habits are like auto-pilot.

Changing those habits requires effort. It may require a different way of thinking. It may require learning some new skills or behaviors. It often means moving outside our comfort zone. While intellectually we know that taking the medicine will be for our longer-term good, that doesn’t change the short-term bad taste. And so it is easier to just slip back into our comfortable routine.

Letting your dissatisfaction drive you to change

I love this quote by Douglas Horton:

Change occurs in direct proportion to dissatisfaction, but dissatisfaction never changes.

Most people only change when we reach the point of being fed up with our current situation, but too often we become comfortable in our dissatisfaction.

Dave Ramsey says that we are often like a toddler with a messy diaper. “I know it smells bad, but it’s warm and it’s mine.”

It feels easier to bemoan our circumstances. We might blame others. If only I hadn’t got laid off from that job or the marriage that ended in divorce or the business relationship that went sour. Perhaps we feel a victim. My car broke down so I had to go buy a new one even though the payments are killing me. I know I should have more saved for retirement, but now at my age it’s just too late. I didn’t want to charge up my credit card, but the water heater broke, and I needed new tires, and the kids needed new clothes for school, and, and, and….

While it may “feel” easier to just complain about the unfairness of life, living in our dissatisfaction doesn’t do anything to help clean up the messy diaper we are sitting in.

Taking steps toward a better year

So perhaps you can’t fix all your problems in one week or even one month. But what if you committed to take at least one step this year toward a better life?

You can’t change the things that have happened in the past to get you to this point. But you can change what you will do in the future.

Are you drowning in debt? Make it a goal to start paying it off. List them all smallest to largest. Start chipping away at that smallest one. When it’s gone take that payment and start chipping away at the next smallest.

No emergency savings? Commit to putting away whatever you can each month. Ideally, you should have at least 3-6 months of expenses, but even if you can start to put a few dollars from each pay away you’ll be better off than if you did nothing.

No retirement savings? Start contributing to your 401K today if you have one at work, or if you don’t, open a retirement account to start saving. If you aren’t sure how to do this, find a good financial advisor to help you get started. You say “But Bob that would be great if I was 20 but I am too old to start now.” Certainly the younger you are when you start to save the easier it is. But there is an old proverb that says the best time to plant an oak tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today. If you are getting started late ask yourself if you would be better off with 10 or 20 thousand in savings or with nothing, which is what you’ll have if you take no action. Any savings is better than no savings.

Where do you want to be one year from now?

So here is the question before you. Where do you want to be on January 1, 2016? How about January 1, 2020?

Time will pass regardless of what you do. You can continue to struggle with the same issues, or you can decide to day to make the hard choice to change.

Consider this. Suppose you set a goal of saving $100 a month this year to start to build some emergency savings, but then life happens and you fail to reach your goal. You manage just half of that. That still means you have $600 sitting there to help you in the case of an emergency that you don’t have today. That’s progress!

Lastly, give yourself some grace. Perhaps you have made mistakes with money that have gotten you where you are. You can’t change the past. But your past doesn’t have to define your future. You can decide today to start making wiser decisions from this day forward. Your financial life may not change over night, but I guarantee you will be better off 12 months from now than you are today.

If you have work to do in some of these areas and would like some one to help walk you through it, feel free to contact me. I would love to help.

What change are you making this year?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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