New Year’s Day is the official start of your resolution—the chance to become a better, more successful version of you. It’s in human nature to always strive for something greater, and the word “new” makes us all the more motivated. We promise ourselves things like, “I will stop drinking,” or “I will lose 10kg,” or “I will be nice to Mom.” But, although you mean well, your resolution never gets off the ground.

By the end of January, it goes poof! Gone. Until next year, that is.

So why do people implement these changes if following through is so difficult? There’s a number of reasons:

  1. The goal wasn’t thought through enough. Random ideas always sound great at first.
  2. You tried changing your behavior but didn’t plan appropriately. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  3. You didn’t use the SMART goal-making steps: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely. Instead of saying, “I will lose weight,” try saying, “I will lose 5kg by February by working out 5 times a week and eating 2000 calories per day.”
  4. You lack self-esteem. This causes pessimism and depression, thus sabotaging your success.
  5. Stress.  The thought of doing something differently and changing yourself causes too much stress, so you remain moored in old habits.
  6. You have not broken the “dopamine effect.”

Scientific advancements have enlightened us about why people behave certain ways and why it’s so difficult to change those behaviors. Think of it like this: Repeated action more or less becomes a habit, whether its correct or incorrect. This is thanks to the “dopamine effect.” For example, does eating chocolate or smoking cigarettes make you feel good? What is happening is that the brain is releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is responsible for things like addiction. In order to overcome this effect, you need to realise that you are fighting that “warm, fuzzy” sensation caused by dopamine.

When you seek to change too drastically, you run into blockade constructed by these first 5 factors and cemented with sixth, the dopamine effect. Is it any wonder then that resolutions never get off the ground?

Contrary to what many believe, smaller changes lead to bigger results. Overwhelming change often precipitates fear, anxiety, and panic. Realistic, doable changes let you stay in control, removing anxiety and apprehension. This is called “controlled incongruence,” and it has been proven to manifest real, lasting changes.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither are people. So this January, take some time and really think about the goals you’re setting. Create multilevel, attainable goals with controlled incongruence that eventually result in the fruition of your New Year’s resolution. Consider what scares you about these changes. Ask yourself what might hold you back. Visualise how the journey and destination will look. Write out a plan or draw a mind map leading you into 2018.

In other words, make your resolution this year one about learning how to set SMART goals. Come January 1st, 2018, you will be ready to launch and will have all the necessary skills required for optimal change that will last and last.