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Why We Quit: A Few Lessons for the New Year

By Anonymous | 10 January 2016 |

Jan. 1 rolls around and most of the Western world becomes obsessed with resolutions.

Lose 10 lbs.

Run a mile every day.

Get out of debt.

Get a promotion at work.

Stop smoking.

And guess what? According to one study, only 8 percent of us will actually achieve our New Year’s resolutions.

Just 8 percent.

The big question is why. Why do so many of us fizzle out before reaching the finish line? Why can’t we seem to follow through even though we often start with a bang?

For answers to these questions, we turned to several different articles and studies and created a list of three reasons why your resolutions are doomed to fail.

You Emphasize Behavior Instead of Thoughts

 Let’s say you’ve decided you want to go to the gym five days a week for the entire year. What does that entail? Waking up (if you’re a morning person), slipping on your workout shoes and clothes, then heading out the door and driving to the gym. Once you’re there, you go through your normal routine: cardio, weights, CrossFit, etc.

Think about each of these actions. They’re behaviors, right? Things we do. Motions we go through. But absent in this routine is thought. How are you thinking about your goal?

This is where most people trip up, according to an article a few years ago in Psychology Today. We get so caught up in the act of working out that we often ignore the thoughts running through our head. In the beginning, those thoughts can be benign….Wow, it’s hot out. I don’t want to work out ….I didn’t sleep good last night and I feel miserable.

In the beginning, overcoming these thoughts is easy because they’re choked out by our enthusiasm. But after a month or so, the thoughts start to alter the behaviors. When it’s too hot out, we stop going to the gym. When we’re too tired because we didn’t sleep well, we stay in bed and turn of our alarm.

Takeaway: Write down your resolutions and put them somewhere visible, whether it’s on a bathroom mirror, on your phone’s wallpaper or at your work desk. Repeatedly seeing your resolutions in front of you will help you win the battle of thought, which will help you win the battle of behavior.


You Constantly Fear Failure

As we create our resolutions, most of us treat failure the same way Edgar Allan Poe wrote about the tell-tale heart – we bury under the floorboards of our conscience. Meanwhile, as we try to achieve our resolutions, that fear of failure is slowly beating beneath the surface.

It plagues us, torments us and reminds us that failure is coming. But for some reason this thought makes us want to run the opposite direction. It makes us close up. It stifles us.

In fact, Dr. Andrew Martin, MAPS, called the fear of failure a “muffler” in his 2003 study in the Australian Psychological Society’s journal. It dulls our motivation in the same way a muffler dulls the sound of an engine’s exhaust.

 In the study, Martin evaluated the different pressures high school students feel. Do you know what the fear of failure does to a student? They “tend to be anxious, pessimistic, and can buckle under the pressure of excessive challenge or stress.”

And that explains why fear of failure can ruin us. When things get tough – and they will get tough – people who fear failure are more likely to buckle.

The question, of course, is how we can reduce the fear of failure…

Takeaway: Take a few minutes to analyse why you fear failure in a particular area in your life? What would happen if you failed? How would you feel after the failure? Answering these questions can identify the source of your fears.

You Tie Your Self Worth to Your Resolution

Martin pointed out that many students who feared failure also felt that their self-worth was tied to their school performance. Sound familiar?

The professional world is no different. In fact, the stakes are much higher and the sense of self-worth is much more acute. Livelihoods are based on salaries, raises and keeping jobs. And what’s the best way to earn more money and keep your job? Performance.

Unfortunately, though, linking self-worth to performance is poisonous. What happens if you fail, if you get fired or you take a pay cut? You immediately feel worthless, like a failure.

To combat this, Martin said we need to unlink our self-worth from our performance. The level at which you perform in the work world isn’t a reflection of how much you are worth. It is a reflection of how well you do your work.

And that’s the key, Martin said. To overcome the dangerous interplay of the fear of failure and self-worth, we need to focus on our behaviours.

“Behaviour needs to be the focus and not so much (you) as a person,” he wrote in the study. “It may seem like a subtle distinction but it is a distinction that has significant implications for (your) orientation to challenge, adversity, failure, poor performance and setback.”

Takeaway: While our actions often reflect our character, those actions are not the reason we have value. Remind yourself that you are more than what you accomplish at work. And to take it a step further, challenge yourself with this question: Who would you be and how would you feel if you lost the job or hobby that defines you?

Heading into the New Year with Success in Mind

To recap, success in your New Year’s resolutions is won through building a base of solid thought and overcoming your fear of failure by focusing on your behaviour rather than tying your self-worth to your job.

In the next few weeks we’ll continue with this theme of resolutions and apply it specifically to your workplace.

In the meantime, check out this statistics page about New Year’s resolutions. They’ll come in handy as you prepare for staff meetings in the new year.

If you’re planning an event in 2016 and you want a speaker who can provide your audience with a powerful punch, take a look at our team of motivational speakers.


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