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Why Your New Year’s Resolution Fails?

Updated on February 23, 2020
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Arc is a self-help author/speaker and AI thinker currently working as IT Manager in a tech company. He also make apps as a side hustle.

Photo by: Isaac Smith on
Photo by: Isaac Smith on

It’s February and aside from love month, it’s also the unofficial month of failed new year’s resolution.

Remember how much money you wasted for that one year gym membership, because you only used it for a month?

How about that online courses or books that you bought but never even bothered to open?

Let’s talk about that diet plan that you followed for few weeks, then ended up forgetting about it.

Can you still remember how many times you promised yourself that you’ll start saving money and invest it for your future?

If you’re one of the rare species who can achieve your new year’s resolution every year without going back to previous year’s bad habits, then this article is not for you. How I wish we have the same amount of self-discipline as yours. Because here’s the thing about self-discipline, it’s finite. The longer you use it, the harder it is to control yourself.

Self-discipline is not infinite

Incase you’re still not aware, goals in life whether it’s becoming rich, having a sexy body, or getting that Nobel Prize requires self-discipline or also known as self-control. Most people knows it except for those who are living under the rock of course. But many don’t realize that self-discipline also runs out the same way we use energy in our body.

After being guilty from Christmas and New Year binge, where you eat and drink like there’s no tomorrow, you sign up for gym membership, force yourself to workout 7 times a week while depriving oneself from eating something delicious. February comes and you feel exhausted and demotivated. So you told yourself that you deserve a cheat day where you’re going to eat like there’s no tomorrow again. The following day, you still feel demotivated to workout and eat healthy, because your mind unconsciously think that you have been deprived from all that delicious food. So just like yesterday, you give in to gluttony again, but after that, you forced yourself to workout the next day because of guilt. A day or two have passed and you feel exhausted and demotivated again to workout, so you can’t help but to eat that chocolate to make you feel better. After consuming that box of chocolate in less than 15 minutes, you feel bad about yourself for skipping your workout routine and for consuming that whole box of chocolate. So you emotionally beat yourself without being aware that you’re slowly giving up that workout routine and diet plan. You just woke up one day realizing that you’re back to the same flabby person you were, no exercise, no diet, and this time, with an added “Loser” label in mind.

Hold it right there. I’m not saying that you should lose faith on your self-discipline, as well as not giving importance to willpower for restraining oneself from bad habits.

Also, I’m not saying that it’s impossible to have more amount of self-discipline. Just like energy in your body where you get more eventually if you exercise daily, the same applies to self-discipline when practiced.

My point here is that you should respect your limits, where you also need to manage your finite amount of self-discipline, like the way you manage your finite amount of time and energy.

Speaking of manage, the brain where self-discipline comes also needs some managing.

The spoiled brat in your brain

We usually hear people say “New year, new me.”

If you’re one of those people that believes in that, I hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as “new year, new me”. The only certain thing that changes during new year is the date in the calendar and the solar system’s position in the galaxy (Yes you read it right. Our solar system also orbits around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.). You’re still the same person from December 31 to January 1.

I understand that proclaiming “new year, new me” means that there is a desire to make oneself better, which is great. But the problem attached to this mindset is the belief that inner changes can happen overnight, that we can achieve things in an instant.

“I want it all and I want it now”, something located in your brain is telling you that whenever you’re planning to lose weight, learning to master a new skill, or whatever things you wanted to accomplish. Yes there’s a spoiled brat in your brain that needs to be taught some manners. From a personal experience, I also felt that impulse each time I’m writing an article, preparing a lecture, coding an app, and most of all, when I’m trying to learn a new skill. Then when impatience takes over once things doesn’t go as expected, it leads to procrastination and ended up to quitting.

Sounds familiar? If not, allow me to explain it in a more detailed manner like this:

You stop completing that online training because you’re disappointed that you didn’t get it at first attempt.

You halt hitting the gym because you’re still not seeing any muscles in your body.

You exit investing and saving money because you’re not getting any immediate returns.

You quit practicing your craft because you lose morale every time you see someone doing it better.

The impulse to give up is normal and understandable since it’s difficult to fuel self-discipline each time your brain is not experiencing any rewards for your efforts.

Impatience. That’s how it is describe in one word. As I mentioned earlier, you rely too much on self-discipline without respecting your limits because of want it all and want it now. Then when self-discipline runs out, you immediately stop doing it with a feeling that you lose all the progress that you did.

Feeling vs Thinking

Imagine this scenario, you’re a moral advisor of a supreme dictator that already conquers the world by force. This makes you the only living person that can talk some sense to this ruling sociopath.

During a security council meeting you strongly disagree about the dictator’s plan to commit mass genocide in order to neutralize potential threats. Since you’re planning to stop this dictator (which is ruthless if you’re not informed) from committing a mass genocide, do you think it’s a good idea to fight head on? Of course not, fighting will either send you to a torture chamber, or you’ll be shot point blank. Either way, you lose and a lot of people will die due to mass genocide which includes you by the way.

What if you reason out. Explain the consequence of committing mass genocide. Emphasize the rewards of not using violence. It may change the dictator’s mind to commit mass genocide. Reasoning out may not always work, but it’s still better than the first option.

This is how our brain controls our actions. Emotion is always in charge and logic is just an adviser. Fighting your emotions is like picking a fight with a dictator, you have little to no chance of winning.

So when the body and mind is tired and emotion fails to experience rewards, self-discipline will deplete faster, and when it runs out, emotion will tell you to give up.

But why there are some people who can wake up at 6AM, exercise everyday, eat in moderation, can keep a lot of money, and is so productive at work?Here’s the best thing, they’re happy doing it. In fact, they love doing it.

It’s still the same. Self-discipline or self-control still plays the big role. The only difference is their logic can reason out better with their emotion by providing clear pictures of rewards.

This is how their logic reasons out with their emotion:

Although you fail to understand that online course today, you’re still one step ahead to understanding it tomorrow.

Although you’re not seeing any muscles in you body, you feel better and have more energy after working out.

Although you’re not experiencing any immediate returns to both your investment and savings, you still feel more secured when thinking about the future.

Although someone does it better than you, you’re still better today than yesterday after the practice.

The emotion just need to see the benefits of doing it. It just happens that the rewards are often blur because you’re too hard on yourself.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

Some of you may say... Now what? I’m fully aware of the consequence of bad habits and the rewards of good habits. But no matter how hard I try, why am I still going back to the same bad habits?

That is because you emotionally beat yourself up.

It’s time to explain things deeper. There are 2 kinds of people who wanted to change their life for the better:

The first one is when they fail, they beat themselves for failing.

The second kind is when they fail, they forgive themselves and start over again.

Here’s the interesting result. Those who forgive themselves and start over again has higher chance of making their life better.

Because those who beat themselves up succumbs to shame, thinking how horrible person they are for not committing to their resolution. Believe it or not, it’s much easier to emotionally beat yourself up, because that’s the best excuse to give up and not to take responsibility for your actions. Like there’s always one annoying person in a group who self proclaims how horrible person he or she is, so that there’s always an excuse not to take responsibility.

Resolution is about taking responsibility.

The sad part is, shame takes over for escaping from responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong, the temporary feeling of shame is necessary to correct your own wrongs. Shame helps you prevent doing the same wrong or foolish behavior. But just like medicines, too much of it is bad for you. The only way to let go of shame is self-acceptance. First is to accept own flaws, then patiently work on it. Once the burden of shame is gone, forgiving yourself for failing is easier, which let’s you start over again.

Now here’s the best part once you resolve your personal issues. No matter how many times you fail, it becomes easier to get back to the point wherein you’re already creating good habits. Not sure if you notice, but I mentioned the word habit a lot of times. If you didn’t notice, I won’t blame you because habit sounds boring compared to goals.

But here’s the thing, resolution in a form of goals is not for long term. When goals are achieved, the good habits end. Like losing 30kg this year. When the goal is reached, the workout routine ends. When the workout routine ends, gaining 30kg begins.

Let me clarify, there’s nothing wrong with goals. But it should not be in a form of resolution. Goals should be the reward for continuously executing good habits. Because the ultimate purpose of having resolution is to form good habits that will last for a lifetime.


P.S. Forget new year’s resolution. Just make your life better with good habits.


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