Fear of failure behind uncompleted goals

By Rebekah Devorak | Opinions Editor 

Every January without fail, my dad complains about how crowded the local LA Fitness becomes. He’ll come home after working out to relay frustrated tales of waiting 20 minutes for an open treadmill and skipping the stationary bikes altogether because the line was unbearable.

But by mid-February, the complaining stops. The gym’s capacity returns to normal as the number of people who vowed to exercise more New Year’s Day dwindles to zero.

It’s frustrating and bewildering that people give up so easily on their New Year’s resolutions. According to the University of Scranton, a meager 8 percent of men and women actually achieve their yearly goals. That’s a pretty small number when you consider that only around 40 to 50 percent of Americans actually make resolutions in the first place.

So why do the large majority of go-getters surrender after the first few weeks?

Some say it has to do with the psychological makeup of the human body. According to a 2001 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, those who exercise are more likely to be moderate drinkers, which is defined as having about one alcoholic beverage a day.

For anyone wanting to exercise more and indulge less, this is problematic. A psychological study on the same topic published in Frontiers in Psychiatry showed that this trend is related to a reward system. If you work out for a certain amount of time or burn a certain number of calories, then you might think you deserve a reward. Whether it’s a glass of wine or a cupcake, this subconscious way of thinking could be a possible cause lurking behind the downfall of so many resolutions.

But the problem is rooted much deeper than that.

This reward system wouldn’t be as detrimental – treats in moderation is a decent rule of thumb – if people were not so discouraged by mistakes. They skip early morning spin classes because the winter frost becomes too excruciating to get out of bed. People throw strict diets to the wayside when a beer and a plate of game day nachos become too tempting. It quickly spirals from there into failure. They chalk smaller slip-ups as a loss and quit working toward the big picture.

It’s almost like people are afraid of making worthwhile progress. I’m not sure whether it’s the fear of letting go of a past lifestyle, the dread of what it takes to get there or perhaps something else unspoken. Anything familiar is comfortable and easy because change is the exact opposite. So many New Year’s resolutions fail at the first sign of struggle because retreating to an old routine is simpler than battling through the tough times.

The worst part of it all is not that people fail, which is a natural part of life, but that they don’t keep trying to achieve their goals after that. There’s a phrase that most kids learn when they are little: It’s not about how many times you fall down, it’s about how many times you get back up.

That phrase still applies today. It doesn’t matter how many times it takes for you to accomplish something. What is important is that you accomplished it in the end. When you keep trying, you avoid making empty promises to yourself, which is what resolutions become when they are abandoned.

Perhaps, then, more people would begin making resolutions because it wouldn’t be viewed as something you start without sincere dedication to finish.

Whether it’s your resolution to drink less, exercise more, stop smoking, get better grades or a plethora of other options, be determined. Don’t back down in the face of failure. And most importantly, don’t feel like you need to wait for the start of a new year to make a change. Any time is the perfect time to start doing something good for yourself.