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5 ways to get failed New Year’s resolutions back on track

By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts

Resolution, who? If it’s a few weeks into the new year and that goal has long been abandoned, we’re in good company: more than 80% of New Year goals fail after just one month. But if resolutions get a bad rap, maybe it’s because the majority of them are designed to fail. Failed New Year’s resolutions aren’t the result of us lacking the skills or know-how to succeed. We might just need to approach the goal, and our measures of success, from a different perspective.

Mindfulness helps us reframe our resolutions with a calmer, gentler mind. From that starting point, we can become clear on our intention and motivation. As we move toward our reframed goal, we bring self-compassion and acceptance, without judgment or getting lost in inner commentary about how “well” we’re doing. In fact, mindfulness can also help us reevaluate if we’ve failed in the first place. Because in the same way meditation teaches us to let thoughts go, we can learn to let go of our ideas or stories around what “failure” looks like related to our New Year’s resolutions.

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Why New Year’s resolutions fail

Big dreams can be a good thing. But sometimes we can focus so much on the end result that it creates more stress and self-doubt, because we start to fear we can’t achieve our goal. And it’s possible that the goal was unattainable in the first place. We often have a fixed expectation as to what a New Year’s resolution should look like — lose 20 pounds, meditate for 2 hours every day — without acknowledging and accepting where we’re at right now. If we’ve never exercised or meditated before, it becomes easier to see why resolutions fail — how can we expect ourselves to make such a drastic change right away?

Many times, we can’t meet our goal because we judge ourselves and our inability to achieve the “new year, new me” trend we’re faced with every time January rolls around. We set a goal, falter on one step, and our mind is filled with negative self-talk about our failure. There’s nothing wrong with those thoughts or feelings, but the important thing is recognizing them and gently shifting ourselves away from them. Instead of “What’s wrong with me?” we can ask ourselves “What can I do to get back on track?”

Mindfulness - 5 ways to get failed resolutions back on track

5 ways to get goals back on track

Whether our intention was to commit to a meditation practice or another goal to improve our health and happiness, here are some tips for New Year’s resolutions to stop them from stalling or drifting off course.

  1. Focus on the journey.

Instead of fixating on the end result, the non-striving concept of mindfulness teaches us to bring our awareness to our current place in the journey. With this mindset, we set our goals and aspirations, and then gently let them go and bring our attention to the present moment. That doesn’t mean we forget our ultimate goal — it’s still there, helping us feel inspired and motivated — but it’s about bringing our attention back to the present and where we’re at, thinking about what we can do today, not how far we are from our future goal.

  1. Break it down.

If we set a big goal for ourselves, such as “I want to run 3 miles without taking a break,” it might feel too daunting — and easier to abandon — if we’re starting from a place of, say, not having run in several years. First, it’s important to acknowledge and accept where we are before we can move on to changing. Next, we can break a larger goal into smaller, more attainable steps like “I want to run 1 day every week for 2 minutes.” After that, the results that follow are the results that follow, removed from any kind of target or expectation. When we make this shift in perspective, it’s amazing how different a resolution can feel, devoid of a greater pressure or sense of failure.

  1. Find support.

Research shows that group support can help us stick to our resolutions. It can be helpful to be held accountable, whether by loved ones, a professional, a course, or an app. By declaring our intention to someone else, it can help us to follow through with that goal. And if our resolution is to meditate, the Headspace app offers real-time group sessions, every 30 minutes, every day, so we can practice as part of a community.

  1. Be patient.

Forming a habit takes time — anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to 66 days, depending on who you ask, and sometimes even longer. The key to setting ourselves up for success is consistency, finding a time and a place to create a routine surrounding our resolution. Once we’re settled into that routine, we might find that we still fall short, and that’s okay. As Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe says about creating a meditation practice: “We all miss days, and that’s okay. In fact, some people don’t even want to meditate on a daily basis, and that’s okay, too. The important thing is to realize when we have missed a planned session, and then continue with the next, a little like noticing when the mind has wandered off before returning to the breath.” Meditation introduces us to intention and motivation without expectation; in other words, it teaches the mind to accept whatever unfolds. So let’s not give up on our goals because we’ve made a minor misstep. Life happens, and nothing goes exactly as planned. We can simply let go, and move forward.

  1. Practice self-compassion.

Ultimately, a great way to stay on track is to look inwards and show ourselves the gentle, forgiving support we would show a friend. When we’re trying to achieve something new, sometimes our biggest challenge can be convincing ourselves that we’re capable of it. Meditation makes it easier for us to let go of our inner critic and create a softer, more gentle mind where positive change can flow naturally. Self-compassion is simply treating ourselves with kindness and remembering we’re all human, and we all make mistakes. If we’re motivated by seeing the number drop on a scale, or a meditation run streak increase on the Headspace app, then we can use those tools to help our motivation and engagement. But if following this data makes us feel disappointed or stressed, then we can and should turn them off. As Andy once put it, “Forget the idea of progress, let go of the need to judge. The important thing is to show up, and as long as you do that, you’re on the right path.”

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Try 7 meditations for how to get failed New Year’s resolutions back on track

Looking for more meditations for getting resolutions back on track? The Headspace app offers members several courses and single meditations to help achieve New Year’s goals, including:

Climb the mountain. Your mind is at the top.

Learn to recognize impatience and let it go.

So long as you show up, you’re on the right path.

Practice treating yourself with unconditional kindness.

Focus on the present moment to be happy now, as you pursue your dreams.

Dr. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist and productivity expert, explains how to find the right mindset for achieving your goals.

Practice staying in the present moment to make choices that move you toward your goals.

Sometimes, we just need a bit of help preparing our mind for change when we’re looking to tackle a New Year’s resolution. And other times, we need to stop setting ourselves up to fail with our own harsh self-judgment or overly stringent measurements of success. After all, we’re the ones who get to set the rules and watch ourselves succeed.

Key takeaways

  • Don’t rush to write off a resolution as failed

  • Self-compassion is key to navigating change

  • Try 7 meditations for getting failed resolutions back on track

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