The Sneaky Way You’re Sabotaging Your Own New Year’s Resolutions

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Every new year, we pledge that this will be the year we keep our resolutions—and then we don't. Why is that? Inspirational author Jon Acuff's book, Finish, has the answer you never saw coming.

A whopping 92 percent of people don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. While we fail for any number of reasons, New York Times bestselling author and speaker Jon Acuff thinks he knows what the real problem is—and it has everything to do with the expectations we put on ourselves.

Acuff built an entire career of motivating people to achieve their goals and live fulfilling lives. In 2013, he encouraged readers to begin to do work that matters with his book Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters. At the time, he believed the reason we never reach our goals or keep our resolutions is simply that we fail to begin. Starting helped Acuff for a while, but when he examined his own motivations and successes more closely, he discovered the problem wasn’t getting started—it was finishing. Here’s more life advice from top life coaches.

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Acuff pinpoints exactly what keeps us from taking it over the goal line: perfectionism.

Acuff tells Reader’s Digest that perfectionists often look like the people who care the least, when in fact, it’s the opposite. “You see perfectionism come into play in simple things like having a clean car or a clean office. The person with the messiest car is often a perfectionist. This seems counter-intuitive, because shouldn’t they be neat freaks? They can be, but if a perfectionist can’t clean their car down to the toothbrush level with every inch covered, they won’t even start,” he explains. “A perfectionist would rather get a zero than a C minus. They’ll say, ‘My goal is to run five miles a day, but today I only have time for three—so I’m not going to do any.’ Is three more than 0? It is, but if it can’t be perfect, they won’t even start.”

So how can a perfectionist beat the odds and keep their resolutions? Acuff recommends preparing for the inevitable imperfections that are bound to happen along the way. He says, “One way to beat perfectionism is to prepare for what I call “the day after perfect.” This is the day after you’ve broken your diet or dropped the ball on some goal. This day is critical.”

According to Acuff, the secret to keeping your New Year’s resolution might be to make it a fun one. “When a PhD and I studied nearly 900 people for six months, the people who made their goal fun were 46 percent more successful,” he says. Whatever goals you decide to set, make sure you avoid these popular New Year’s resolutions experts say to never make.

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Jen Babakhan
Jen Babakhan is an author and credentialed educator living in California. She writes regularly about advice and culture for Reader's Digest. She is also the author of Detoured: The Messy, Grace-Filled Journey From Working Professional to Stay-at-Home Mom (Harvest House Publishers, 2019). She earned her BA in Communication Studies from California State University, Stanislaus. You can follow her on Instagram @JenBabakhan , Twitter @JenBabakhan, and Facebook @JenBabakhanauthor.