How to Not Set Yourself up for Failure with New Year’s Resolutions

A few months ago, I cussed at the scale in my bathroom. I had been working out and eating well for months and all I’d lost was a measly three pounds.

Bathroom scale
Photo Credit: foshydog via Compfight cc

I didn’t get it. What had I done wrong? After talking to a fitness professional, I realized maybe nothing. It just takes time. However, he did suggest perhaps I had been measuring the wrong thing.

Whether it’s losing weight or writing a book or making more money, most people won’t complete their resolutions this year.

In fact, many will fail within the first month of trying. They’ll get frustrated and throw their hands up in the air, thinking it’s futile. Shame will creep in, followed by guilt and inaction. And before they know it, a whole year will have gone by and the cycle will all start over.

There is a way, however, that leads to breakthrough instead of disappointment when it comes to setting and achieving goals: Measure the process, not the outcome.

Measuring what matters

Instead of setting a goal to write a book this year, what if you decided to write 500 words a day? It may take several months or even the whole year, but if you put in enough time and stick to the schedule you’ll achieve your goal — eventually.

Or instead of saying you want to lose 20 pounds, what if you just decided to go to the gym every other day, no matter what? You might not shed a ton of weight at once, but if you kept up the habit, you’d start seeing the results you wanted — eventually.

Or instead of declaring to your spouse that you want a better marriage, what if you decided to do something extra nice every day without expectation? You might not have a better relationship overnight, but I’m willing to bet that as you stayed the course things would begin to improve — eventually.

And of course that’s the operative word: eventually.

Do you see the difference here? The typical goal-setting mindset tends to focus on the outcome with little to no regard for the process it takes to get there.

That’s like saying you want to drive from New York to Los Angeles without looking at how much gas is in the tank. Just simply saying it won’t get you there. But if you plan a little, focusing on each leg in the journey and what you need to complete it, you’ll get there. Eventually.

As I like to say, if you do the work, you will see the results.

The 20-mile march

In his book Great by Choice, author Jim Collins tells the stories of two explorers wanting to be the first to visit the South Pole. One plans on everything going more or less according to his expectations, and when things don’t, it sets him back. The other, however, decides to march 20 miles every day, no matter what.

The first explorer blames everything, even the weather, for his failure. He and his team do, in fact, reach the South Pole, but sadly they all die on the return voyage home. The second explorer not only succeeds in reaching Antarctica first but lives to tell the tale.

There’s a lot we can learn from this approach in how we set and achieve our own goals.

Collins calls this slow-and-steady planning process The 20-mile March and says it’s a common trait in the greatest of leaders. They don’t set over-ambitious goals or unrealistic targets. Instead, they strategically map out where they want to go and what it will take to get there. And consistently, they achieve their goals.

So will you, if you can let go of the obsession we have with results and pay attention to what matters most — the process. Your daily habits. Don’t neglect those and you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

It just takes:

  • the right attitude: “I will get there eventually”
  • the right process: “Here’s what I need to do every day”
  • and enough time.

When you don’t see the results you want, you either need to change your attitude, the process, or wait a little longer. But the truth is you don’t have control over the outcome. What you can control 100% of the way, though, is the process.

So remember to celebrate small victories along the way, even if it’s a measly three pounds.

If you want to do this with writing, I recommend you sign up for my free 31-day writing challenge to kick off the New Year with a daily writing habit.

And if you want to make sure you set the right resolutions this new year, I recommend you register for this live Q&A with Michael on the secret to setting resolutions that stick.

How do you set yourself up for failure with goals and resolutions? Share in the comments by clicking here.

47 thoughts on “How to Not Set Yourself up for Failure with New Year’s Resolutions

  1. Great post, Jeff!

    I’m currently reading a book by Scott Adams (How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big), and one of the points he mentions is the difference between goals and systems. A goal would be “losing three kilos” but a system would be “eating healthy and working out”. If you don’t accomplish that goal, the failure will demotivate you. But no matter what, sticking to that system will leave you healthier and happier.

    His ideology seems quite similar to yours. If you haven’t already, do give his book a try. It’s a real eye-opener regarding the real path to success (although I doubt you’d need it)!

  2. Great one.. I quit making New Year Resolutions as they always ended up getting broken.. instead I focus on new day resolutions doing today better than what I did yesterday. If it is a big goal I will aim for July instead of January that way the pressure is off and I had an extra six months to prepare rather than creating an obsene goal on Dec 31st just to say I had one.

  3. This is perfectly in line with what I wrote yesterday about not focusing on glamorous milestones, but taking small, supple steps by enjoying the daily, monotonous grind 😉

    Of course, you say it much better. So thank you for reminding us to set realistic goals and enjoy the process. Also, I love that you introduce us to a new book in almost every article! #HUGS


  4. I’ve seen it in my experience too. Those who stick to it steadily making progress are the ones who usually make it in the long run, even if it seems that at first they are the least talented or likely to make it.

  5. Jeff, Great article. Very practical.
    A few years ago I completed the construction of the house I now live in. It took eight years of very steadfast hard work in my spare time. The house is over 3,700 square feet. In the process I noticed a few things about the process. Though I had an overall goal in mind, I had to limit my thinking, for the most part, to whatever small area I was working on at the time. To think about all that lay ahead of me at once would have been too overwhelming and I would have never had the psychological capital to complete the job. So, I focused on the little thing I was doing and just never stopped making progress. I’ve come to believe that if you never stop moving forward, you will always arrive at your goal, eventually (I like that word–thanks for focusing on it.)
    So, here is to persistence and keeping on keeping on putting one foot in front of the other.
    Hope you have a great 2015!
    God bless,
    Dennis Ensor

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Love this advice and I’d like to add something from my experience.

    Instead of getting bogged down in the process or goals – and most do – why not stop and ask yourself, “Am I freaking ENJOYING this process?”

    Like, .002% of the people on earth enjoy the process more than the goal itself. We see these people as being lucky, gifted, talented, famous, blessed, whatever, but they just decided to trim the fat, to let go stuff that felt boring or bad or blah, and their brilliance came out when they fell so much in love with the process that they didn’t give 2 hoots about the process or goals.

    I am *kinda* in that zone these days. Kinda 😉 I do what I love doing and let go everything else and I am detaching from both process and goals.

    Nope, I’m still doing stuff – aka working – but it’s mostly play, and I’m finding that publishing one 7,000 word post weekly is easy when I decide to play all day.

    I also find reading every post I visit and posting a helpful comment is so easy too when I’m playing, and not trying to:

    * comment on X blogs today
    * get blog traffic
    * (insert goal/process here)

    I’m just having fun and I gotta say the more fun I have the more I manifest really neat stuff.

    Focus on the process and focus even more heavily on if the process makes you feel amazing. If you pick tasks/duties which sing with you, goal-setting, process-following and all that stuff melts into joyous actions, and you’ll find yourself doing things that’ll make a ton of folks scratch their heads.

    Jeff, thanks for the smart share and may all of your goals manifest with ease, and from a place of joy!


  7. I agree with this 100%. So many people make New Year’s Resolutions without taking the time to plan. To think of the process and the small steps that it takes to succeed in the bigger goal. Great post!

  8. I’ve never done too well with New Year’s Resolutions, but in 2014 I really started learning how to break things down into manageable steps and enjoying the process of achieving a goal. I actually achieved 75% of my 2014 resolutions. This year I made resolutions that have smaller goals within them and then I broke them down even further into monthly-type goals and daily actionable steps. I’m feeling super confident and not overwhelmed. I’m also not stressed about completing all of my goals because I like to shoot high.

  9. Yes, a great reminder that everything in life happens with consistent effort over time, and nothing happens on its own or overnight. Perfect practice makes perfect.

  10. Great insight into reaching goals – it’s all about the process, the habits and discipline that take us there.

  11. Well said! Isn’t it challenging, even, to continue with & keep up just 20 miles? It requires you consistency & punctuality. One other point is to consider “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what we are busy about?”
    So one must have clear picture in mind what he wants to achieve & then shouldn’t consume all his energy at once to get exhausted or die out but should continuously check himself whether what he is doing is fruitful & OK or not?
    Developing interest, passion, commitment & determination are the qualities which will keep you stick to your tasks.

  12. Thanks Jeff.
    I have written down a few habits for this New Year. One of them is to write 100 words everyday. Saying that, I better go and write those 100 words and not be distracted by your wonderful words. Have a great year and keep up the great work.

  13. I didn’t make any resolutions this year. I know what I have to do. I don’t need to “resolve” to do anything.

    I just need to frigging do it.

    So yeah, the proper planning helps. Having the right basis for strong habits is good. But, you know, Yoda: “Do, or do not, there is no try.”

  14. I have undertaken the “One Word” to guide me through 2015. It is to “Explore.” I know it is a general word, but it gives me permission to look into subjects that I have put off for too long, like putting my poems together for publishing. Making small steps towards a goal can make it reachable and bring me satisfaction each day as I complete a small step.Yours was a practical way to maintain a life that is satisfying and fulfills dreams.

  15. I would usually make unrealistic goals or not have a plan in place to accomplish them. Like Michael Hyatt has said “A goal without a plan is just a dream.” That is where I have been for a long time. I plan on writing everyday, while doing my school work, trying to build my blog/email list and be better with my family. I have already started putting things into play for all of them. Can’ t wait to see what this year brings. 😀

    OAN: I have really enjoyed your book “The In-Between” its helping me to look at the small things a little closer and appreciate them a little more. So thanks for writing it. Can’t wait to read your next book.

  16. Great post, Jeff. Really spot on. What I’ve learned is that BOTH measures are important–the ultimate OUTCOME measure, and the PROCESS measure. To me, it is not either / or.


    Focus only on the process, and often we get sidetracked and are not “facing the brutal facts” (such as, “I’m churning out work, but is this going anywhere?” Focus only on the outcome, and it is very easy to become disheartened and demotivated.

    Balance is key–“Am I doing the work TODAY that I think will get me there, and is the work I THINK will get me there day-by-day… actually doing so? Or am I kidding myself?”

    Any goal worth pursuing has one thing in common–the primary challenge is mastery of the self. It is powerful to keep at least a bit of awareness on that, and not invest 100% of our moment to moment awareness in the work itself. Otherwise, self-deception sneaks in… and the resistance Steven Pressfield writes about in The War of Art, is leading us down the garden path to nowhere in particular.

  17. Loved this post! Baby steps….will get you there eventually. The important thing is not to falter. When you make a grand plan, you overlook the details important in getting you there.

  18. I did both. I came up with crazy “dream goals” for the year and then figured out what I’d have to do to accomplish them. I built in “make up days” and time off so I wouldn’t be running myself ragged. I’ll be THRILLED if I make it (goal is to write a book a month in 2015 while still keeping up with blogs and my serial novels) but if I only get HALF of it done, I’ll feel like a success.

  19. Great points, Jeff. I picked a one word again this year and the word is “small” I want to focus on the the small moments, small intentional steps…because you’re right, these daily choices and habits will add up. As I’ve considered some of my goals for the next year, I’ve been breaking them down into manageable daily achievements and it has really helped me to feel less fearful and more excited about the possibilities.

  20. So true! That’s why I’m not looking at the scale much, but counting steps every day. Small victories, won on a daily basis. With actually no big goal other than moving more, feeling healthier – and seeing if I can. Almost six months and mostly successful!

    Process. That makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways.

  21. Indeed! Great start of the year by great post jeff goins. You beautifully and simply depict the story of goal achievement and failure of the goal.

    Great line :As I like to say, if you do the work, you will see the results.

  22. Great article Jeff. I don’t do resolutions; they just continued to be a setup for failure for me. Instead this year I’m also using just one word…intentional. I’ve decided I’m going to be intentional about what I want to accomplish. I’ve begun calling myself a writer instead of wanting to write. I revamped my blog. I’ve taken on your 31 Day Writing Challenge. I’m launching into eating better rather than wanting to lose x number of pounds and moving more rather than an exercise regimen. And, last but not least I’m going to be careful what I say yes to. If it can fit in after the above things, well then perhaps. Otherwise I’m going to exercise my right to say no. And…off we go!

  23. Thanks once again, Jeff, for your ‘grounded passion’! And rather than resolution, I’m letting myself be taken by Charles Duhigg’s ‘The Power of Habit’ right now. To connect with the theme of your post, I can feel the impact of realising that willpower is like a muscle that can be developed by practice and repetition. Not forcing but allowing and feeling the positive effect as reward. Acknowledging ‘small wins ‘. Thanks for posting.

  24. Thank you so much for this Jeff Goins, Writer! I always enjoy what you write about, this one is so good to read, especially about the scale!

    I have lost and gained weight a lot of weight many times in my life and each time that I had a goal for how long it would take (set a goal weight and date), it caused me so many problems.

    Years ago when I quit doing that and just embraced the process that worked for me, the experience became an adventure rather than a burden. I have been at peace with food for years and really enjoying just one of the benefits and that’s not looking for the next diet (along with being 8 sizes smaller for years).

    Thanks so much!

  25. Thank you, Jeff for posting this. It sounds very doable. It is just what I needed to start my new year.

  26. This is exactly what I was trying to explain to my husband about how to make resolutions that are actually achievable! I can’t control whether my book sells, but I can control the amount and quality of my own writing, and how many agents/publishers I reach out to. Those are process goals that hopefully lead to the product I really want.

  27. Jeff, thank you so much for posting the link to Jim Collins’ article. It’s utterly fascinating. You know what I find really intriguing? It’s the suggestion that we should also stick to our goals in good conditions, and never be tempted to just do a bit more while the going’s good.

    I’ve heard of writers who write X words in a day and no more. And some who even stopped mid sentence! I can see how that might make me eager to come back to the page the next day, to pick up where I forced myself to leave off… And also would avoid the trap of “I did a lot yesterday, so I deserve a break today,” which I think I fall into a lot more often than I admit!

    Thanks, Jeff!

  28. I must say (and I’ve been meaning to say this for some time) that you are one of the reasons I’ve written 30 k words in the last 60 days… Not quite the progress I wanted but I’m enjoying the process so much. Thanks for your words of encouragement!
    Now… 20 k more words to go for my book

  29. I’ve been blogging for almost three years, and love it. I’ve been part of your FB group for quite a while as well. It’s been a great ride. I’m ready for the new year, and I like your goals. They work for me. 🙂

  30. I feel like you know me when you say (and I paraphrase): ‘Shame will creep in, followed by guilt then inaction. A whole year will pass and the cycle repeats itself.’
    So many years have gone by . . . Thanks for the free motivational emails.

  31. When I wrote my book, i said to myself everyday, “just keep writing.” I didn’t have a goal when to complete it. I just knew that if I sat down and wrote, I would get it done. Mind you, the farther I go, the more expectations I have. I find myself getting back to the basics. The simplest tactics work the best.

  32. This is a great post Jeff. Its about “Progress” and being able to adjust your timeline and goals based on the results. Most people just give up when they fall behind, when they just need to reflect and re-hash. I wrote a post similar to this that includes, 7 Keys to Awesome Goal Setting.

    If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, rethink the purpose of the goal and measure a different way. You probably want to be healthier or look better. How about measuring total inches lost than pounds.

    Thanks for sharing the great content Jeff.

  33. I really love this Jeff. I purchased Michael’s 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever course on the day it came out and have found it invaluable. This post about about measuring the right things has amped up what I learnt the course. Thanks for that.

  34. Jeff, thank you so much for posting the link to Jim Collins’ article. It’s utterly fascinating. I really love this post.

  35. This sounds like the compound effect ? By Darren Hardy. I totally agree. Teeny tiny daily goals leading toward a larger goal is less stressful and makes it more likely that you’re gonna succeed.

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