Whether you vowed this would be the year you'd finally get in shape or you had set out to finally get out of debt, your year-end review may leave you sadly disappointed.

And if you're like most people, you might already be setting your sights on next year. You might think with just a little more motivation, you can finally take control and crush your goals starting on January 1st.

Most resolutions, however, will fail. A study by researchers at Scranton University found that only 19% of individuals keep their resolutions. Most are abandoned by mid-January.

You might be tempted to blame a failed resolution on your lack of willpower. After all, you can't pass up junk food, hit the gym, or save money if you're running low on willpower, right?

The truth is, most resolution failures don't stem from a lack of willpower. They fail because people shouldn't have started them on January 1st.

How People Create Lasting Change

As a mental strength trainer and psychotherapist, I'm well aware that people don't change their lives until they're ready.

Anyone who steps into my office because a judge mandated them to treatment or they're spouse insisted they get help won't change their lives unless they come to agree that they have a problem.

But recognizing the problem is only part of the process. It's not enough to acknowledge you want to change. You have to decide that the pros of changing your life outweigh the cons of staying the same.

For example, does hitting the gym every day so you can get fit offer a big enough benefit that you're willing to give up time with your family to work out? If you haven't committed to that decision, you won't stick with your resolution to get fit.

My work involves recognizing where people are in the process of change so I can help them successfully navigate each stage. The strategies that help in one stage aren't effective in another.

According to the transtheoretical model of change, there are five basic stages you'll pass through before creating a change in your life (like giving up smoking or starting a new diet):

  1. Precontemplation - You deny having a problem, but other people may be concerned.
  2. Contemplation - You think about the pros and cons of change.
  3. Preparation - You take steps to get ready to make change.
  4. Action - You change your behavior.
  5. Maintenance - You figure out how to stick to your change over the long-term.

Newer representations of the model include a sixth stage--relapse. This reflects the fact that mistakes are part of the process and the way you address your missteps plays a big role in your ability to stick to change.

Why Change Doesn't Usually Work on January 1st

When people launch their resolution on January 1st, they are making a change based on a calendar date when they think they are prepared to change their lives. This is the real reason most resolutions fail.

What are the chances that you're going to be ready for the action stage at exactly the same time the calendar rolls over to a new year? They are probably pretty slim.

Perhaps the small percentage of people who do stick to their resolutions are those lucky few whose action stage of change coincidentally occurs on January 1st.

As for the failed resolutions, there's a good chance many of those individuals established a New Year's resolution because they felt pressure to do so, not because they were actually ready.

Individuals with failed resolutions may be contemplative (their change is something they've tossed around for a while but aren't committed to doing the work).

Or they may have been in the middle of the preparation stage (they've thought about some of the steps they'll need to take to equip themselves for the change but haven't really taken the time to set themselves up for success) when they jumped into action.

Start Your Resolution When You're Ready

Rather than launch your resolution on January 1st, decide you'll change your habits when you're ready to commit. Whether that means you wait a few days or you put off launching your goal for a few months, delaying your goal is better than abandoning it altogether.

Set yourself up for success by getting prepared first. Whether you need to get organized before you change your financial habits or you need to do some more research before you commit to losing weight, establish what steps you'll need to take to stick to your change.

Once you've sufficiently prepared yourself, take action. You'll feel as though you have more willpower, and your resolutions will be more likely to stick.

Published on: Dec 20, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.