1 year =365 opportunities

5 Psychological Reasons Why Your Resolutions Fail (what to do about it)

It’s that time of year again, the New Year. If you’re like most people, you have resolved to start making changes in your life. Now that the month is halfway over, how successful have you been at keeping your resolution? If you find yourself already falling short of the goals you’ve set for yourself, you’re not alone.    Making change is challenging. This is the reason why most people’s resolutions fail. We often set promises that fall short.

Why can’t we stick to our goals? Like any form of procrastination, defaulting on New Year’s resolutions is based on an undercurrent of fear of the unknown. What drives our fear?

1. You’re using “All or Nothing”/Perfectionist thinking

Resolutions rely on behavior change and eliminating all other possibilities. When you “decide” ( the word “decide” is derived from the Latin decidere meaning to “cut off”) it means you are resolved to make this work. You may consider any time you fall off or miss a step to equal failure. 

Resolutions may often create judgment around your behavior.  

What to do instead:

  • Recognize that starting any new behavior may have failure built inside. Each “slip up” is a learning opportunity to learn more about yourself and your habits. You are discovering ways to cope with difficulty and discomfort as you rewire your brain.  View each slip-up as an opportunity to practice self-compassion. Adapt the mantra “progress, not perfection.”
  • Explore the intent behind the resolution. If you feel you suffer from perfectionism, you may opt for intentions instead of resolutions. Intentions are gentler and connect with the “why” behind your behavior. For example, consider the intent behind the resolution: “Being healthier” rather than having the resolution to “avoid all sugar.”  

2. You are used to betraying yourself

According to Dr. Nicole Lapera, a clinical psychologist, self-betrayal is behavior learned in childhood as a coping mechanism. We learn at a young age that our needs won’t be met. As a result, we feel unseen and unheard. We discount ourselves and view our needs as invalid.  

When you set a resolution, your “highest self” is looking to improve a part of your life. If you are used to self-betrayal, it becomes easier to deny the part of yourself that requests these positive changes that are seeking to fulfill your needs. This lack of consistency gets in the way of making resolutions stick.

Practice this:

Make a habit of keeping tiny promises to yourself to build self-trust. Train your mind to think of yourself as being “reparented.” Your self-parental figure is helping you create yourself in small habits. When you see yourself fulfilling these small habits and promises, you create self-efficacy and belief that you are worth the changes.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. -James Clear

3. Your self-talk is shaming

We learn to speak to ourselves the way our parents talked to us growing up. If threats and heavy discipline were used frequently as you were growing up, you might use harsh language to “will yourself” into trying to make changes. However, none of this makes you feel good or gives you a positive outlook on change. In this case, changes may feel like something you “ought” to do to gain approval and love. When you inevitably have trouble making new changes, you may think there is something “wrong” with your ability to perform, comparing yourself to a model of how things are “supposed” to be. If you don’t measure up, you may be tempted to label yourself a failure.

 Shaming self-talk is often disqualifying. You see only what you’re doing wrong rather than what is going well or right.

Adjust your self-talk:

Get used to adjusting your “shoulds” and “oughts” to “I’d like to.” You are electing to make changes because you are looking out for yourself, seeking happiness and satisfaction, “check a box.” Recognize that goals are there to be markers and alone inherently mean nothing. Separate yourself from the outcome. If you “fall off” recognize again that this is part of the process. Switch your dialogue from “I am a failure” to “This was an experiment that failed this one time. What a great opportunity for me to grow and learn from it.”  

4. Past trauma can affect your ability to make changes

Any past trauma can stem from situations where you have perhaps felt out of control and not fully protected. When you create new behaviors and new goals, there are parts of your new experience that are unchartered and unknown, which means that you cannot fully predict how to be in control of the situation. There may be potential perceived dangers involved in a new behavior.  

How to move forward:

Make a pro and con list about engaging in a new behavior. What are some of your fears in starting something new? Visualize yourself partaking in new behavior; what will you feel? What difficulties may arise? What is the worst-case scenario? What is the best-case scenario?

Anticipate scenarios that may be challenging. What will you do if these scenarios present themselves? If something feels really uncomfortable or triggering to you, recognize it and have a “pre-loaded” emotional regulation tactic ready to go. Create as much control in the new situation as you can.

5. Your “negative behaviors” have served a purpose

Whenever we initially adopt a “negative” behavior, it is because we feel the need to self-soothe.  

If you have experienced an uncomfortable feeling that was so strong, you may feel the need to escape from the pain of the situation. “Negative” or unwanted habits have served to bring you from pain into relief or pleasure according to your feedback loop: Cue, →Craving →Response→ Reward.

For example, if you are answering a stressful email and feel out of control, you have a craving to feel in control; you seek something in your environment, such as scrolling social media or biting your nails, the reward you experience is a stress reduction.


What’s more, If you have experienced a deeper level of trauma or survival mode, you may experience strong triggers that have called for deeper coping mechanisms. These coping mechanisms have served a place in creating comfort and control in volatile, uncomfortable situations. To move forward in creating new identities and changing habits, we need to develop systems that allow us to feel a deep sense of safety.


Developing positive new emotional regulation systems with body mind approach through a trained professional can help you feel safe and secure enough to create new habits and deeper feelings of security.

What to do:

Instead of feeling bad about these habits, recognize that you are taking care of yourself to the best of your ability. Realize that they have served as coping mechanisms and begin exploring what is at the root of the feeling of your discomfort. If the problem is persistent, consider contacting a professional for help.

ART-trained therapists understand the correlation between unresolved trauma and feeling “stuck”, unable to move forward in making positive changes.

When you work with an ART-trained therapist, you are entirely in control as you process challenging feelings and learn new coping mechanisms. 

You will be in the driver’s seat as you no longer will feel the need to be in a state of reactivity and experience more autonomy in your own life. Your energy can be dedicated to stepping into a new identity and a new vision of who you’d like to be.

Find an ART therapist near you.