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Failing at Goal setting? Why not try something new!


The new year is still upon us as we enter into the month of February. Many people have set new goals with large intentions to make this new year the best year yet. They start with fire in their bellies, excited and motivated to do something different and positive changes starts to occur. They start developing momentum after a few weeks and they feel great. Suddenly, a few of life’s stressors come into play and the feeling of overwhelm becomes all too real. Slowly but surely consistency starts to fade and excuses start setting in. That passion for change that once was, is a thing of the past and life resumes as it did prior to setting those audacious goals. Does this sound like you?

Why Do Goals and resolutions fail?

Planning for positive change in your life is always a good thing, but when it’s done incorrectly, changes are short-lived followed by disappointment, feelings of being a failure, and abandonment of the process entirely. Here are some of the most common reasons why resolutions fail:

1. People’s goals are not specific enough to make a noticeable change

Having clarity is very important in order to strengthen the reasons why the change you seek is inherently valuable. For example, if your goal is “I want to get to healthy.” That could mean an infinite amount of things from losing body fat, eating more vegetables, improving your energy by developing a better sleep schedule, improving stress management strategies, etc… If you don’t define exactly what you want, it’s very hard to stay consistent.

2. People set unrealistic and unattainable goals

We live in a society where we want everything RIGHT NOW and in feeling that way, we make our goals so much bigger with shorter deadlines. To the rare type-A personality, maybe this is attainable. But for the majority of us, we fail miserably. If we do not have previous experience of accomplishing massive goals in a short period of time, choosing something major will only bring about lots of stress and overwhelm.

For example, one of my patients put on 60 lbs in the past 2 years. She has a vacation coming up in 3 months and wants to lose it all so she can feel comfortable in her bathing suit. She gets off to a good start, training and eating better. Within a few weeks, work gets hectic and demands at home increase, so she starts missing workouts and her diet starts to slip. Eventually one missed workout leads to 2, and 3, and as her workouts diminish, her motivation to cook healthy meals starts to fade. She is effectively back to square one.

3. People fail to track their goals regularly.

If you don’t track it, the probability of success is very low. Most people have high hopes for the new year and put in the time to plan the year ahead. The unfortunate part is that the next time they review those goals may be a few weeks, months, and in my experience when working with clients – the next time they write their next New Years resolutions, which are usually the same goals!

Goal setting is a great way to get started and it can definitely work if done correctly, however, there may be a better method if you have tried and failed over and over again.

How to create long-lasting changes that actually stick: Setting Habits

A Habit is defined as a behaviour or routine that is repeated regularly.

Initially, when we start the process of repeating a behaviour, it may seem a little foreign at first, but when we stay consistent it gets much easier to repeat.

We all have habits whether we know it or not and they have been developed over our lifetime, some positive (ie. Brushing your teeth, meditating, cleaning the cat litter box, calling your mother, going to the gym, etc…), and some negative (ie. Smoking cigarettes, biting your nails, emotional eating, spending excessive time on social media, spending time with toxic people, etc…). In many cases we are unaware of our automatic habits, especially the ones that do not serve us, so it may be worth assessing yourself and taking inventory of what actions you repeat regularly.

There is a tendency that we overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis. Incremental changes that are repeated over long periods of time can have a profound impact on the direction of our lives. Life is not a sprint but rather, a marathon and setting long-lasting habits can set you up for a life beyond your dreams.

The amount of time needed to make a habit stick is controversial. One common myth that you’ve probably heard about is that it takes approximately 21 days. You’ll probably find a lot of articles and blog posts that support this, although it is not accurate at all. Habits “can” form in as little as 21 days, however, the research says that on average, it takes more than 2 months for a new behaviour to become automatic – 66 days to be exact.

Habits can take you further than any goal you may have set because they do not have a deadline. For example, if your goal was to lose 30 lbs, once you reached that goal, what then? Do you stop going to the gym? Do you eat cheeseburgers three times a week? If we don’t set new goals there is a tendency to lose focus and motivation and take your foot off the gas. Alternately, if you set a goal to go to the gym 4 days a week and was consistent with this habit, when you lose the weight you will continue to resume your typical 4 days of exercise per week, which will take you way farther than just losing 30 lbs.

Here’s another example. If your goal was to finish reading a book that has been collecting dust on your shelf for years, what do you do after the book is read? Do you give up on reading altogether because that one book was finished?  Rather, if you set a habit to read 15 pages everyday before going to bed and remained consistent for a whole year. That’s 5,475 pages in 1 year and if the average book is close to 300 pages, that equals more than 18 books in 1 year. Now that’s impressive!

Setting yourself up for healthy habits: follow these first steps

1. Visioning: Who do you want to become in the next 5 years?

Imagine if everything worked out and you were living your best life.  What exactly would that look like?

  • What would you look like physically, emotionally, psychologically?
  • Where would you live?
  • How much money would you make?
  • What would your career be?
  • What kind of relationships would you have?
  • How often would you travel?
  • What would you do for fun?

Answering these questions will help you move closer to the life that you want, which will help you cultivate the proper habits to get you there.

2. What are you currently doing to support that vision?

If your actions are completely aligned with who you want to become, that’s amazing! If not, what are some of the things that need to change in order to steer your ship in that direction?

Think about 3 things that can have the most impact on bringing you closer to your vision. Out of 3, choose the most important one. Start small, you can always add more things later. For example, if losing weight was your goal, what would be 3 habits you would need to start to move closer to that goal? Maybe it’s exercising 3 times a week, eating more vegetables, and drinking more water. Now think about the most important habit and start with that.

3. Choose one action that you can perform with ease that is in line with who you want to become and REPEAT!

Remember, to start a new habit we have to choose something that we can be successful at doing regularly. If the behaviour is too big, we may fail. We always can start small and as we gain more confidence and momentum, we can slowly add new habits.

If you find you are failing it is always possible to scale back and start from step 1. The most important thing is to not stop performing the habit. It takes over 2 months to solidify a new behaviour so keep on repeating that action and things will get easier.  

Give habit setting a try and you’ll be surprised at how small incremental improvements over time can create massive change in your life.

Dr. Alex Mailis, Chiropractor and Life Coach