Why We Often Fail with Goals and Resolutions

“The future is completely open, and we are writing it moment to moment.” ~Pema Chodron

Statistically, a lot of people have given up on their resolutions by now. The definition of a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something.”

When I examine the firm decisions I’ve made, I can’t help but notice that we all have the same lists. Why is that?

Could it be that the same media, the same books, and the same friends have written all of our lists? I’m not making a value judgment of these shared desires—I just find it interesting that we all seem to feel the need to include so many of them.

So now I find myself questioning where my resolutions and intentions are based. Did they come from some other source, or do they reflect my heart’s desires?

I hadn’t actually made any resolutions for 2011, but for the sake of exploring this idea, I got out a notebook and pen and began writing.

I looked down and saw—yes, you guessed it—that I had written what appeared to be the universal generic resolution list: exercise more, eat more healthy foods, meditate daily, lose weight, call my mother, etc., etc., etc..

And although all these desires are good—in fact, they are wonderful and I truly would like them in my life—I was surprised that I felt no real energy reading the list.

It just felt like another list among hundreds, written and then forgotten. Of course I would have issues keeping these decisions. They held no passion, no energy for me at this moment. They were just lots of words on a piece of paper.

I’m beginning to understand that for an intention, a resolution, even an affirmation to really rock my boat, to create such excitement that keeping it isn’t a challenge, it has to be authentic. Authentic for me.

Not from the heartfelt list provided by Oprah or even from my favorite blog. Not from what the media tells me I need to change. Not from what my head tells me I need to change. It needs to bubble up from that place inside that holds me.

To write my new list, I’d have to consider what I really want in my life—what would thrill me and make me take a deep happy breath.

It’s not a big heavy bag of shoulds but instead the excitement of coulds.

As I started writing, I was surprised by the first thing I listed on the to-do side: Smile more.

I’m a pretty happy person and I smile a lot, so I let myself feel what this meant. And what I felt was that I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives, and a quick entry point to this is smiling at people.

I love it when someone unexpectedly smiles at me. Who doesn’t?

I could see how this “resolution” would not be burdensome. It came from my heart. It made me feel happy, and it would continue to. Every time I practiced it, it would easily become more entrenched. This is how authenticity feels.

I felt so successful with this that I decided to jump over to the not-do side of my list. Again, I needed to go deeply inside if I wanted an honest answer.

The answer came so quickly that it was a bit of a surprise: I will be happier if I spend less time in front of my computer.

I work from my home and fortunately, I have a choice. Often I just hang out with my best friend Mac because I’m bored and haven’t practiced other choices.

To make this something fun for me, I’ve decided to make a “Yes” list—yes to what I want to have in my life right now.

The computer time decision is getting listed as: Pick something fun to do when I am bored and do  it.

I will love keeping that resolution. I already have a list of things I could do: Go outside and watch the hummingbirds, read a book, pretend bowling on my Wii (my total fav!).  I just need to notice when I am lurking around Facebook because I have nothing else to do.

These were my entry-level steps to creating an authentic list of resolutions. I delved a bit deeper and came up with more that felt full of life for me.  Next came: I will really listen to my husband.

Sounds funny, but we have been together 30 years and it’s easy to get into the habit of just assuming I know what he is saying. I want to really hear him and because this comes from such a true place, instead of feeling the usual “ugh” of change, I feel such expansiveness. I am excited to be more connected.

Some of my other entries are:

  • Telling friends I love them (they know, but isn’t it nice to hear?)
  • Remembering that I love papayas and buying them
  • Wearing yellow socks because they make me laugh
  • Making sure my grandchildren know they are so special to me

As you can see, my list has become very personal, but also very doable.

I don’t think that I will need tools or tips to keep these desires. They are from my truest self, and experiencing them isn’t’ a burden. It feels wonderful!

This is the first time in my life that the word “resolution” has not felt like a gift wrapped in guilt, in shame, in fear.

And who knows, perhaps by picking fun things to do when I am bored, I will naturally start to exercise more.  Doesn’t eating papayas equate to eating healthier foods?  Perhaps I have not thrown out the generic list of universal resolutions; I have just reframed it in my own terms, from my own heart.

If this resonates with you, I urge you to throw out all previous lists and make a fresh start from your heart.

Who knows what exciting “firm decision” is just waiting to be set free.

Photo by kkalyan

About Karen Mead

Karen Mead is an alchemist, an explorer and a fellow traveler on this journey of life. Visit her blog, The Peaceful Journey , or check out her website, A Peaceful Path .

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past & create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Loosing is a way of life for me. Like they say, you wouldn’t have any resolutions left if you achieved them all this year.

  • Brad

    This is very true and makes me happy to read that others feel the same way. I stopped making “resolutions” years ago because I knew as I wrote them down I have no intention of doing them. When something is authentic and something is REAL that’s when we want to do it – and we will do it.

  • Karen

    I want to give a shout-out to Emmanuel Dagher ( ) for asking me this question on his bi-weekly radio program. I was kinda shocked when I started talking about authenticity instead of discipline – but it led me to a whole new point of view!

  • Seeking Peace

    Beautiful!!! Thank you for this

  • Fiona Lundy

    I love this post! Thank you for sharing it with us,x

  • Candice_a

    I’m going to go out and buy yellow socks! And when I wear them, it will be a reminder to be more true to myself. Thanks!

  • Another great article, Karen! I really enjoy your pieces.

    I stopped making “resolutions” a few years ago, because I realized how unproductive it was to have the mentality that I needed to wait until a certain time to work on goals. Now when I see something I want to change, or start, or work on, I immediately think “what can I do NOW to take the first steps to make that happen?”. I don’t even let myself think, “oh, I’ll start that tomorrow”.

    I joined Weight Watchers in 2007 to lose 30 pounds and that same mindset is a big part of what is needed to maintain a healthy diet. If I have a day where I eat a bunch of junk food, I don’t let myself think, “I’ve already eaten a bunch of junk… what’s a little more going to hurt?” and just let it be a free-for-all. Instead I look at it as “I just ate a bunch of junk and now I’m going to go back to doing what I know is right and healthy for me as of this next moment”. I know that mentally if I put something off, whether to the next hour, day, week or year, then it’s never going to be something I will commit to.

    Since the goals and changes I want to make are addressed as they come up in my life, I also know they’re necessary and authentic and not just words on a paper based on things society is telling me I should do. I like the idea of thinking more about the real issue that’s being addressed by the desire to make the changes in my life though… I could definitely benefit from doing more of an assessment thinking through them a bit more to see where they’re truly coming from.

    I loved how unexpected your answers were when you sit down and really thought about what you needed. It’s funny how surprising things like that can be if we let them surface. I also liked your point about wanting to really hear what your husband is saying. In my last long-term relationship, I knew my partner so well that I was often guilty of assuming I knew what he was saying or what he was trying to convey without just being open to listening. That really struck a chord with me and I will be more conscious from now on that I am not bringing my own assumptions into a conversation.

  • Karen

    what surprised me most about all this is just how easy it is! For me, the hardest part was just being quiet enough to hear what my heart was saying!

  • Karen

    Woo Hoo for yellow socks!

  • Love it, Karen! So true! I’m going to have a think about this and see if there’s some new, more authentic goals I can decide on for myself 🙂 Thank you! 😀

  • Airnpar

    This was just what I needed today 🙂 Thank you!

  • yvonne

    Awesome!! Love it! <3 I'm smiling great big!

  • Pingback: Things I Learned This Week()

  • Pingback: Why We Often Fail with Goals and Resolutions « (A Day in the Life) Un Giorno Nella Vita()

  • I agree! In my experience, all of the most helpful “answers” are always easy… like you said, we just have to be quiet to hear them (or be open to hearing them!).

  • Great article! And so true. There is a way to frame all the generic resolutions in our own unique way – and personally I think that’s the only way to really succeed with new habits that we are trying to form.