Know your “Why” for New Year’s Resolution Success

We get a chance every 365 days to make new resolutions and get a fresh start. My clients and I dread the first two weeks of January. The gym is full of newly minted members wandering aimlessly hoping to happen upon an available weight machine or treadmill. The crowds soon dissipate and within 2 weeks everything starts getting back to normal.

Making resolutions and not sticking to them isn’t confined to fitness. Any lifestyle or health-related behavior that needs changing is in jeopardy. There’s a way of knowing which of the “New Year’s Resolutionaries,” as I call them, will fail and who will still be hard at it by Tax Day.

The scientist assigned to my Vermont State Employee Wellness Program clued me in.

I was designing a statewide smoking cessation program and I asked Dr. Len Paulozzi, which programs were most effective. His answer was both surprising and telling. He stated that “it makes little difference what the content of the program is. What matters most is whether the person is absolutely ready to quit.”

I noticed that the successful quitters were deeply compelled to quit and their true reason, or “why,” was more profound than personal concern for their health. I’ve learned in 36 years of consulting that people typically don’t have a problem letting themselves down but when others figure in the equation behaviors change. That concept is as relevant to diet, fitness, or anything else requiring health-related behavior change as it is to smoking cessation.

How to identify your “why.”

It’s critically important that you know exactly “why” you are making the attempt to positively affect your wellness status. In my practice, the reasons expressed during initial consultation seldom reflect their true motivation. Eat healthily, lose weight, and get in shape are some surface “cliché” responses I get when I ask, “why are you here?” People’s true “why” may be trapped in their sub-conscious. They may be aware of a weak, hazy abstraction of their deeper need for change but it’s seldom obvious to them. The true “why” must be teased out and the abstraction clarified to help create a clear, powerful mission statement.

Your “why” reflects your passion for
family, performing, and living.

A real-life “why” from my consulting past includes a client with a cervical spine injury. He insisted his only goal was to walk again. I knew there was a deeper motivation and I finally teased it out of him. He got very emotional and said, “I just can’t stand sitting in my wheelchair watching my wife pick up the table, clean, and do the dishes after she cooks me a wonderful meal.” He absolutely wants to walk again but the guilt created by his inability to contribute was his why.

Your “why” may not be that dramatic but I’ll predict that it’s much deeper than dropping 20 pounds. Other “why’s” I’ve heard include: become a great role model for my children, beat the Alzheimer’s that afflicted my mother and grandmother, and meet and play with (spoil) my great-grandchildren. If I spend 30 minutes helping a client identify and embrace their true “why” it’s always the most important time they spend with me.

Knowing what to do is important, knowing why you do it might be most important.

There are all kinds of articles, tips, and suggestions floating around giving New Year’s resolution advice. I acknowledge that wellness knowledge, skills, and record-keeping are extremely important to success. I maintain that the biggest factor separating successful resolution attempts from those that failed was desire. Without a “fire in your belly” fueled by understanding your “why” you may simply go through the motions for a week or two then complain for the next 50 weeks. Identify your “why,” don’t be a New Year’s resolutionary.


Wayne Coolidge, Jr., M.Ed., CHES is an author, speaker, and innovative Health Promotion Scholar-Practitioner. He owns Wayne Coolidge Health Promotion, a consulting firm specializing in healthy aging, nutrition, nutritional supplementation, fat loss, fitness, and disease prevention. His expertise is designing lifestyle-optimization strategies leading to positive genetic expression, controlled cellular aging, health, and wellness. He has accumulated more than 31,000 hours of one-on-one training and personal consultation experience over 36-year career. You can email him at

7 thoughts on “Know your “Why” for New Year’s Resolution Success

  1. Caitlin says:

    Great article. It is very important to know your “why” to make a lasting change. Writing it down and reflecting on it daily helps as well.

  2. David Dowdy says:

    Great article and perspective. Aligns perfectly with business too, and achievements through change: the brain helps clarify what we want. The ‘heart’, via the ‘why’, gets it done. Need to have a great ‘why’ for sustained change.

    • Wayne Coolidge Jr. says:

      David, thanks for bringing attention to the “brain/heart” connection. I always appreciate a business perspective especially from a business coach as accomplished as you.

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