When Tina took her first German class, sixteen people paid for the class. They all said they wanted to learn more German. By the end of the class (ten weeks later), only three or four were still attending. Some dropped out almost immediately ("too hard"). Others lasted a few weeks and then stopped coming ("too busy"). Some had legitimate excuses (deployed to Afghanistan) but most just gave up. Initially, they all had good intentions (I'm assuming that somebody who did not have good intentions would have been unwilling to pay to take this class). But by the end of the class, almost all of the students in this class had been unable to meet their goal.
So why are most goals (New Year's resolutions or otherwise) unrealized? First, notice that 48% of those in the study were not themselves confident that they would meet the goal. Why might this be the case? Maybe the goal was not immediately achievable. Or maybe the person only made the goal because everybody else was doing it. Or maybe they lacked the support structure that would need to be in place to help them succeed. Whatever the case may be, I think it is safe to say that the goal is likely to be unrealized if the person setting the goal is not absolutely convinced of his or her own ability to meet the goal.
What about the 52% of people who were confident in their ability to meet the goal? Even if every one of the 12% who successfully met their goals were in this group (unlikely), it would still mean that more than three-fourths of those who were confident in their ability to succeed were ultimately unable to do so. The actual percentage is probably higher. This can probably be explained by many of the same reasons already mentioned.
I was disappointed that the study did not say anything about the people who did meet their goals. What did the people in this group have in common? I think it is pretty likely that they were all able to find ways to connect their goals to the things that they did (they were people of action who worked to meet their goals). The fact is that goals don't usually meet themselves. Rather, successful people find ways to meet their goals (it is important to point out that successful people do not always meet their goals on the first attempt).
As you set goals for 2011 and beyond, consider the following quotes (two of my all-time favorites). Regardless of whether your goals are about your health, your finances, your career, your education, or self-improvement, commit yourself to also creating a plan of action that will connect your goals to your life.
"No New Year's resolutions...There ought to be no occasion for...the general making of resolutions of improvement on New Year's day. Every day should witness...a determination to lay aside weaknesses and take on more of the graces of godliness. Each day furnishes opportunity to look closely into one's habits, to examine and discard the worthless and cleave unto that which is elevating and holy...Not alone on New Year's, therefore, but on every day, should people seek to effect an improvement in their habits of life." -- George Q. Cannon, Juvenile Instructor 32 (January 1, 1897), p. 23
"I have yet to meet a businessman, educator, artist, or athlete who has attained a high level of excellence in their chosen field who has not successfully been able to connect the vision of their future to their everyday life. It is very likely that a goal or vision not connected to everyday life by specific action will become just another unrealized dream with nothing more than hope to support it." -- Richard J. Maynes, "A Celestial Connection To Your Teenage Years", October 1997.