Six Reasons Why New Year Fitness Resolutions Fail

So here it is. It’s that time of year. The time of year when people full of good intentions flood into the gym. The time of year people devote themselves to a newer, healthier version of themselves. It’s estimated that a third of all New Year’s resolutions will have something to do with fitness:

  • “I want to get stronger.”
  • “I want to lose weight.”
  • “I want to run a marathon.”
  • “I want to be pain-free.”

We hear it all.  I give these people all the credit in the world. I love how they have such great intentions because developing a healthy lifestyle positively influences almost every aspect of your life.

However, we already know most will fail, and this time next year, they’ll be making the same old resolutions. It will feel something like Groundhog Day. Sound familiar?

So for those of you who are looking to lose weight, get stronger, and just feel healthier this year, I’m going to share with you the ONE thing you can do to make sure you hit and surpass your goals this year.

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of it. I guarantee that if you do it, you’ll see results.

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Why New Year’s Exercise Routines Fail

It is common knowledge that somewhere between 81% and 92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail. That’s eight out of ten people. Just take a moment to appreciate that. Eight out of ten people will be stuck in the same rut this time next year.

It’s a sad realization, but why does it happen?

Quite simply, change is hard. There are no two ways about it. People have to overcome existing habits to be able to form new habits. According to habit expert James Clear, he says there are five reasons why people don’t stick to these resolutions:

  1. They try to change everything at once.
  2. They start with a habit that is too big.
  3. They seek a result, not a ritual.
  4. They don’t change their environment.
  5. They assume small changes don’t add up.

I would like to add a sixth reason that’s related directly to health and fitness, and that is:

  1. They don’t actually know their current level of fitness. They guess.
Between 81% and 92% of all New Year’s resolutions fail.Click To Tweet

1. They Try to Change Everything at Once.

We’ve all heard the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none.” You need to pick one thing and do it well. In the world of health and fitness, everything seems to be in extremes. It’s all in, or nothing. But, it simply doesn’t work that way.

For successful everyday athletes, they have mastered tiny habits over several years that are now rituals in their day-to-day lives. Going to the gym isn’t a chore to them. It’s ingrained into their daily routine. Eating healthy isn’t difficult. It’s just a normal day of eating to them. It’s a habit.

According to BJ Fogg at Stanford University, the maximum number of habits you should change at once is three. Three. But that’s three incredibly small habits. Habits like after I brush my teeth, I will floss. Every time I see stairs, I will take the stairs instead of the elevator. When I think I’m hungry, I’ll drink a glass of water first.

In our professional experience, when working with people who are new to exercise, we focus on one thing, and we do that one thing well. This then sets off The Domino Effect elsewhere and allows other habits to form naturally.

As an example, when we work with weight loss clients, we look at how much they walk. If this is below our standard of 10,000 steps a day, we will focus intently on helping people make this their daily habit. We don’t even consider anything else until they have mastered this skill.

2. They Start with a Habit That’s Too Big.

This is something we see time and time again. I’ll give an example:

“I’m going to exercise five days a week, lose 40 lbs, and 25% body fat in twelve months.”

It’s great to have lofty goals. I’m all for setting big goals, but every goal starts with a single step. This is one of the biggest mistakes fitness novices make. They make big goals but don’t actually know the work and effort it requires to get there. They’ve never taken this journey before.

The hardest part of starting a new habit is fixing the behavior.  It takes a lot of motivation to just change one habit, but change more than one? How about fifteen habits at once? It’s nearly impossible.

New habits need to be non-threatening and “so easy, that it’s impossible to say no” (according to Leo Babauta). When was the last time you stepped into a gym? Have you seen how intimidating these places are these days?

Train five days a week? When was the last time you trained once a week?

Have lofty goals, but you need to take that first small step to start.

3. They Seek a Result, Not a Ritual.

We are obsessed with results in fitness. How much do you want to deadlift this year? How much weight do you want to lose? How much faster do you want to run this year? That’s great. We need to see results to keep ourselves motivated.

But as James Clear states, “Here’s the problem: new goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome. It is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better rituals, not chasing better results.”

Rituals will quickly turn into habits. As Tony Schwartz says in his book Maximize Your Potential, “A ritual is a highly precise behavior you do at a specific time so that it becomes automatic over time and no longer requires much conscious intention or energy.”

It boils down to this – if you want to see results, you need new habits, but to develop new habits, you need to fall in love with a new ritual first.

4. They Don’t Change Their Environment.

It is virtually impossible to change habits in a negative environment.

Habits are a response to the environment we put ourselves in. We are responsible for the environment around us, the people we surround ourselves with, and the food we buy and store in the cupboards.

According to James Clear, “The lifestyle you have today is largely a product of the environment you live in each day. The single biggest change that will make a new habit easier is performing it in an environment that is designed to make that habit succeed.”

5. They Assume Small Changes Don’t Add Up.

People love to chase big goals, particularly when it comes to weight loss. I want to lose 40 lbs this year. I want to lose 20% body fat before the summer, and so on. As a result, they assume that in order to do that, they have to do something big, something exceptional, like workout 60 minutes a day, EVERY DAY.

But the habits you have today, good or bad, are the sum of small incremental changes over time. Getting 1% better every day adds up over time. Research has shown that if you’re serious about creating new habits, you need to start small. Start with a habit that’s so easy, you can easily stick to it.

Small changes add up, they create a domino effect in other areas of your life. I’ll share a specific example here at Strength Matters.

When working with weight loss clients in the initial consultation phase, we now ask this simple question:

“Do you make your bed every day?”

A trivial question, you may think; however, it was a question that Admiral William McRaven posed in his viral 2014 graduation speech to The University of Texas at Austin. The importance of this question has stuck with me.

Here’s a transcript of the part that really stood out to me and why I think it’s such a great insight into the lives of weight loss clients:

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack—that’s Navy talk for bed. 

It was a simple task—mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. 

If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right. 

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. ~ Admiral William McRaven

And here’s the video version:

This speech got me thinking if our clients make their beds? We categorize our clients into two sections: Lifestyle (that includes weight-loss) and Performance. We surveyed 97 people, every one of our clients. The results from our performance clients showed:

  • 8/10 people made their bed every day.
  • Our lifestyle clients: 2/10.

We now include this as part of the strategy for working with weight loss clients. You’ll be surprised by the impact it has on people.

6. They Don’t Actually Know Their Current Level of Fitness.

You are what the scoreboard says you are. But you can change the score. ~ Bill Parcells.

We see this time and time again, from experienced everyday athletes to novices. People love to guess where they are in the game of fitness. Staring back at yourself in the mirror can be tough. I know. I hate it, too, but until you know the score, you can’t play the game.

When it comes to January and making an exercise resolution, most people have no idea where they are in terms of their current level of fitness. They automatically choose a workout from a popular magazine and go from there, or worse, they just make it up as they go along.

When it comes to January and making an exercise resolution, most people have no idea where they are in terms of their current level of fitness.Click To Tweet

If you know the score, you can play the game. Knowing the score leads to results because it’s not the least bit subjective. We know exactly where we’re starting, and when we’re in the game, we know we have a finite end in sight. This means we can always do something to affect the outcome.

We take the assessment phase very seriously at Strength Matters. We leave nothing to chance, and it can often take up to two weeks to assess experienced everyday athletes.

We start with basic health and longevity tests that lead into movement tests, which then lead into strength, cardio, and performance tests. Everyone follows the same routine that we’ve honed over the years.

More often than not, people jump into exercise routines that are far too advanced or way beyond their own capabilities. If you are serious about making a change this year, you need to know the score.

How To Actually Stick To An Exercise Routine This Year

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. ~ Benjamin Franklin

Now that you know why most New Year’s resolutions fail, I’m going to share with you our number one strategy for helping people commit to an exercise routine and actually stick to it.

This one formula is for people who don’t regularly exercise. However, it can be easily adapted to other aspects of your training.

This formula has been researched and proven to significantly increase compliance, from 35% to 91%. Researchers refer to the formula as an “implementation intention,” a plan you make beforehand about when, where, and what you will do to implement a habit.

Countless studies have shown that this formula is highly effective for sticking to goals and will significantly increase the odds of sticking to them.

By using the power of tiny changes and the theory of 1% better every day, combined with the work of James Clear, here’s what we ask people to say who are new to exercise:

“I will exercise every [insert day of week] for [X] minutes at [X] time in [location].”

Another example would be:

“I will exercise every Monday for 60 minutes at 5 pm in my local gym.”

We ask our clients to commit to just one day a week, at a specific time, in a specific location, for the whole year. We ask them to do everything they can to never miss this workout, and we hold them accountable every step of the way.

Our number one priority is to ensure that they never miss this one workout. We want this to become a habit, but as you now know, habits will only develop if you change your behavior.

If life gets in the way—which it inevitably does—the rule is “Never miss twice.” (Thanks again, James Clear.)

No big lofty goals. No gigantic habit changes. Just one simple rule to follow that easily fits into your current lifestyle, and particularly, your routine. That’s the secret. You have to find a way for this new behavior to fit seamlessly into your routine because if you don’t, you’ll quickly fall off the bandwagon.

Countless studies have shown that this formula is highly effective for sticking to goals and will significantly increase the odds of sticking to them.Click To Tweet

Choose a time, place, and location that’s convenient, not somewhere where you have to drive miles. If you have to go to the gym, choose a gym that’s on your way home from work. If you’d prefer to work out at home, set up space and make sure you have the equipment at home ready.

So your formula could become:

“I will exercise every Tuesday for 60 minutes at 6 pm, after work, in the gym opposite the office.”


“I will exercise every Wednesday for 30 minutes at 7 am, before work in my home gym.”

It’s unique to you, and that’s the important thing. Choose a time that you know, based on previous habits and commitments, you can stick to and that you can realistically make work.

I promise you, if you just incorporate this one habit and behavioral change, this time next year, you’ll be part of the 1% who have actually achieved their health and fitness goals and stuck to a New Year’s resolution.

Dismiss this advice at your peril.

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Six Reasons Why New Year Fitness Resolutions Fail
Article Name
Six Reasons Why New Year Fitness Resolutions Fail
The time of year when people full of good intentions flood into the gym. This time of year people devote themselves to a newer, healthier version of themselves. It’s estimated that 80% of all New Year’s resolutions will fail in less than 2 months.
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Strength Matters
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1 thought on “Six Reasons Why New Year Fitness Resolutions Fail”

  1. Hi James,

    Funnily enough, the points you make here are applicable to starting any new habit, i.e. most of us should start out small and build our way up (regardless of what the habit is).

    However, when it comes to getting fitter, losing weight, etc. I notice that most people have extremely lofty goals, which isn’t a bad thing, but often this is destined for failure simply because they’re looking to take on too much too soon.

    I’ve always said you can’t suddenly go from doing nothing to completely filling your day with various tasks that you never normally do.

    Personally, when starting out on a fitness journey, whether at New Year or any other time, it would make a lot of sense to simply walk a couple of times per day, slightly decrease the food on your plate, drink more water, and ensure you’re getting adequate sleep.

    Simply doing these basic things would make a difference to so many people looking to get healthy.

    And once you’re in the habit it becomes easier to start adding things on top of that.

    Great read James and you’re spot on (shame about the fact that you’re a Man Utd fan, LOL, diehard Fulham fan here).


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