New Year’s Resolutions Failing? Revisit Your Core Personal Values

By BlessingWhite , a Division of GP Strategies

We are only a few weeks into the New Year. How are you doing with your resolutions? Forty five percent of Americans make a New Year’s resolution but only one out of five of those people actually stick with them, according to the University of Scranton Journal of Clinical Psychology.


Why do so many of us feel compelled to make such resolutions in the first place, especially when we know they are not likely to survive into February? We want to make a change in our life, a difference that seems important to us. We look to the new year for a fresh start, one in which we are better than our previous selves — a noble undertaking for sure.


“Six weeks after people make their New Year’s resolutions, 80% have either broken them or couldn’t remember what they were.” — Marti Hope Gonzales, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota


So why the high failure rate? Maybe because we zero in on a specific deliverable (get out of debt, lose weight) without always asking ourselves why we feel the need to make such a commitment. Why pick that specific objective? Might there be a number of other things we could do to achieve that broader goal?


Take the list of most-frequent New Year’s resolutions. Each can be tied back to — and is driven by a need to fulfill — a personal value. Maybe it’s time to toss the resolution and focus instead on Core Personal Values: instead of one specific goal, look at it in a broader sense and understand the deeper driving need behind the resolution. This is a powerful technique for informing not only our New Year’s decisions but the year-round choices we face around work, career, and other life issues.


Why values?


Your core personal values are the ones that motivate and fulfill you; that make your life worthwhile. They represent the things you cherish. And unlike spur-of-the-moment commitments, values are deep-rooted and very constant.


Short of a major life event, your core personal values will be the enduring guide that informs your behavior and decision making, and which will be the first to sound the alarm if things are out of synch.
Take a look at the following study results, based on over 15,000 participants in BlessingWhite’s flagship program MPG®: The Success Connection. In this program we invite participants to explore their own values through self-assessment and input from people who know them well. As the graph below indicates, Family Happiness has long been the top value people pick as the driver of their decisions. 60% of us select this value among our top five.


personal values from blessingwhite research
[Graph: Top values self-selected by participants during a development working session, 2004-2013. Percentages exceed 100% because participants picked their top 5 values — so cumulative total equals 500%; n=15,000. See Appendix at end of article.]

So, let’s consider the values which — apparently — would be behind a list of common 2014 Top 5 New Year’s resolution ideas (see


  1. Lose Weight — Health
  2. Getting Organized — Order
  3. Spend Less, Save More — Economic Security
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest — Pleasure
  5. Staying Fit and Healthy — Health


“Health” certainly makes it to the top of the list at number 4 with 36% of participants picking this as a top 5 value. But “Pleasure”? That ranks 15th with only 15% including it. “Order” is even less popular in 24th position (8% include it in top 5). So it’s quite possible that most of us fail to stick to New Year’s resolutions (or any kind of well-intentioned self-promise) because the underlying value was not as strong as we thought. Or the pursuit of the goal is not supported by one of our strongest values.


For example, if the value “Order” is generally rated low but a top resolution is to get organized, what does this tell us? In reality few of us place a lot of value on being organized, so it is worth asking why this makes it onto so many people’s lists of New Year’s resolutions. Maybe the lack of order makes us feel that we are not as productive as we should be, and that this lack of productivity is hindering our advancement. Maybe “Advancement” is actually the underlying value?


In this case, we should be making a New Year’s resolution to fulfill our value of advancement. Getting a bit more organized may be a way of removing barriers to advancement, but there are many other ways we could be fulfilling that value: networking, taking on more visible projects, investing more time at work and so on.


Picking your core personal values


Spending some time reflecting on and clarifying your core personal values will help you become more aware of what truly motivates you in life. This, in turn, allows you to make more informed decisions related to life, love, or work.


Look at the values below. This list is not all-inclusive by any means, so feel free to refine or build on this, but keep the values specific. The descriptors next to each value are meant to spark your thinking; they are not dictionary definitions.


If you see one that’s not listed, feel free to add your own — make them personal and relevant. These will help you consider a range of values and their importance to you.


Think about all the aspects of your life, then pick 8 or 9 values that you feel are of the highest importance to you. Next, go back and really think about which of these values you believe define who you are. Not ones you think you should have or what you wish you had — but those that truly define who you are. Pick 5 (and only 5) that you think are most important to you. You may also want to run these by somebody who knows you well — seek his/her input on what he/she thinks are your top 5 values.


  • ACHIEVEMENT (attaining goals, sense of accomplishment)
  • ADVANCEMENT (progress, promotion)
  • COMPETITIVENESS (striving to win, being the best)
  • ECONOMIC SECURITY (steady, adequate income)
  • FAMILY HAPPINESS (close relationships with family members)
  • FREEDOM (independence, autonomy, liberty)
  • FRIENDSHIP (close relationships with others, rapport)
  • HEALTH (physical and mental well-being)
  • INTEGRITY (honesty, sincerity, standing up for beliefs)
  • LOYALTY (commitment, dedication, dependability)
  • ORDER (organized, structured, systematic)
  • PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT (learning, strengthening, realizing potential)
  • PLEASURE (fun, enjoyment, good times)
  • RESPONSIBILITY (accountability, reliability)
  • SELF-RESPECT (belief in your own abilities, self-esteem)
  • SPIRITUALITY (faith, strong spiritual and/or religious beliefs)
  • WEALTH (abundance, getting rich)


Carry them with you


Once you have identified your top five values, write them down (mentally or otherwise) and carry them with you. It will help you evaluate your life choices on an ongoing basis.


Becoming aware of your top five values is an essential step in reaching any goal — it will inform you on where your energy comes from and what will fuel your effort. If you go against your values or fail to tap into your top values as drivers, you will find yourself retreating from or procrastinating about goals that don’t have enough meaning to you.
You may find this to be a useful exercise for ensuring that those New Year’s resolutions stick. This is also equally beneficial in your future career choices. Discovering how to satisfy your core personal values in your work makes you a more engaged employee — more satisfied in your work and more committed to the organization’s goals.


So if you are one of the 45% that made New Year’s Resolutions (and if you remember what they were), we invite you to revisit that promise to yourself and find out if it’s tapping into your top values. Happy New Year!


Appendix: top 13 values based on a population of 15,000 participants in the MPG®: The Success Connection program. (Note: percentages across all 28 values used in the program add up to 500% as people were asked to select 5 top values.)


Value Rank Score
HEALTH #4 36%
LOYALTY #7 23%
FREEDOM #13 14%