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The biggest mistake you make when setting New Year's resolutions — and how to stick to them

Jen Glantz   

The biggest mistake you make when setting New Year's resolutions — and how to stick to them
  • Jaclyn Gallo is a life coach who helps her clients set and stick to New Year's resolutions.
  • She says the biggest mistake people make is not taking their identities into account when setting goals.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jaclyn Gallo, a 28-year-old certified life coach from Philadelphia. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I became a life coach after taking a strong liking to personal development in my 20s. I had two failed business ventures and felt down about myself, so I turned to self-help books to understand how to improve my mindset and change my life.

I learned a lot about resilience, positivity, and manifestation and started sharing these things with my audience on social media and my podcast. I got certified in life coaching in 2017 and launched my own keynote-speaking and coaching business to help people, especially women, find their spark.

This time of year, many of my clients broach the topic of resolutions. Clients often say they want to improve their health and wealth, start a business, or change a habit.

As someone who used to struggle with keeping my resolutions, and has seen my clients give up on theirs before January ends, I've started to see a pattern with what most people do wrong when they set their resolutions.

Here's how to avoid dropping the goals you set for the year ahead.

The biggest mistake people make with resolutions is not taking their identities into account when setting goals

The No. 1 mistake people make when setting a resolution is choosing a goal that doesn't align with their identity. If someone wants to start working out, they may decide to go to the gym three times a week in the new year. However, right now, they see themselves as someone who's out of shape and extremely lazy.

At the start of the year, they rely on their willpower — a limited resource. In the beginning, they get to the gym, but if something throws them off their routine after a few weeks, such as deadlines at work or cold weather, they could default on this resolution.

Usually, that happens because their identity drives their thoughts, their thoughts decide their actions, and their actions lead to whether they'll follow through on their resolutions. If a person gets busy, their unconscious identity will take the lead and tell them that they can skip the gym, once, twice — and then before they know it, the resolution is broken.

A person with the same resolution who already sees themselves as healthy will wake up on a cold, snowy day and find a solution. Instead of ditching their exercise because they can't drive to the gym, they'll do an at-home bodyweight workout to follow through on their goal.

Change your identity through small daily actions

Our identities are shaped by the actions we take. You can start taking small actions every day until you see yourself differently.

The person who wants to go to the gym three times a week starting January 1 but isn't currently doing any exercise might need to refine their goal to reshape their identity. They could start by going on a 10-minute daily walk or stretching. Slowly, they'll start to see themselves as the type of person who moves their body every day, no matter what.

Increasing consistency then leads them to make their original goal a habit they stick to because daily movement has become part of their identity.

Start small and build up to completing more drastic goals over time

Starting your resolutions by taking small daily steps compounds over time.

If you want to wake up at 5:30 a.m. but are currently waking up at 7 a.m., you can start the year by waking up 15 minutes earlier every week. In six weeks, you'll have been able to reach your goal at a pace that's more achievable and realistic for most people than making a drastic change.

Breaking your goals down like this can help you progress and stick with them.

Mindset and affirmations tie all this together

How you speak with and about yourself matters. We have thousands of thoughts per day, and for most people, 80% of those are negative. If we start to pay attention to what we're saying to ourselves, it can create a domino effect.

Saying things like, "I am healthy, I am fit, and I move my body every day," can help the brain change how you view yourself. You can write these down in your journal or say them aloud in the mirror. When we pair these affirmations with action, the changes we see in our lives can feel like magic.

If you're taking the daily action of walking for 10 minutes and during that walk saying things to yourself like, "You are capable of doing hard things, this is temporary, and you're doing a great job," your unconscious mind starts to believe these things. It then becomes easier to continue with your commitments and goals for the year.

There's never a right time to set resolutions, so don't feel bad if you do them later on

When a client tells me they don't want to set resolutions, I always ask them to pick apart why they don't want to. Usually, it's something like imposter syndrome or feeling overwhelmed. I think resolutions are important because they help a person work toward progress, and progress often leads to inner happiness.

While the new year is a great time to set goals because it feels like a fresh start, you can set resolutions whenever you want. Don't wait for inspiration to hit because you may be waiting your entire life.

Instead, feed yourself motivation daily and take small actions. When you do that, it becomes easier to set goals any time of the year and stick to them.