Why we keep setting ourselves up for failure.

It is around this time of year we start thinking about what we want to achieve and set ourselves New Year Resolutions. However, the vast majority of people fail to keep their resolutions. And it is not due to a lack of willpower or self-control. 

The thing that derails us is succeeding is our own critical inner-voice. This inner-critic gets in the way without us even realising even from the beginning when we are setting our goals.  Here are 3 ways our inner-critic gets in the way and how to overcome them so you can set resolutions for 2021 that you can stick to!


Our plans for improving our life and ourselves should come from a compassionate, accepting part of us, not from our negative inner coach.

Lets look at some of the most popular resolutions:

  • Losing weight. Is your desire to lose weight fuelled by your inner critic (e.g. none of your clothes look good anymore) or your compassionate self (e.g. lets get healthy)? 
  • Exercise more. Creating a goal to exercise more because “you’re lazy” is already set up for failure, compared to being inspired to exercise more because “it is fun and I feel good after I get moving”.
  • Make more money. Critical goals are motivated by our inner-voice telling us things like “you’re not where you should be, you need to make more money/get a better job” etc. Whereas your compassionate self could make goals around finance that focus on supporting yourself and being responsible.

When it comes to change, you will be much more successful when you maintain a kind attitude toward yourself – your expectations will be more realistic and attainable too.


The moment a setback occurs, our critical inner voice is ready to let us know it… “You’re failing, may as well give up in it now”. Instead of giving in, bring out your compassionate self. What would you tell a friend if they didn’t get that job? You wouldn’t say, “well, see there you go! Told you you wouldn’t get it!” No, instead  you would comfort them and encourage them to try again. Practicing self-compassion will enable you to recover from setbacks faster and continue towards your goal.

Why do we even have setbacks?

Our well-established behaviours are not easy to change because they have been hardwired in our brains over a long period of time. 

Setbacks and failures are a natural part of developing. Our behaviours lay down neural pathways in our brains which is why we automatically behave in certain ways. The longer we’ve done the behaviour, the deeper the pathways. 

However, modern research in neuroscience has discovered that the brain is not stagnant but continues to create new neural pathways and alter existing ones as it adapts to new experiences, learns new information, and creates new memories. As you can imagine, it takes effort to resist taking the well-worn pathway by falling into old habits. 

However, when you change your actions and take the neural pathway less traveled, you will be remapping your brain and bring about real change.


Another way that our critical inner-voice tries to sabotage our efforts is by attempting to seduce us when it comes to changing difficult behaviours like addiction.

For example, when you’re quitting smoking and you’ve had a particularly difficult day, your inner-critic may encourage you get the short-term hit, “You’re so tense. You can have just one cigarette, just this one time. It will help and you can stop again tomorrow.”

The thing is, when you do give in, the inner-critic turns on you “Look at you. No willpower. Weak!” It is a awful feeling being caught up in this cycle of self-enabling and self-attacking.

Stop this cycle by listening to your compassionate self – “You’ve had a stressful day. Instead of smoking, lets do something else to relax and unwind.”

Remember – you are good enough the way you are. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with you. Making changes takes time and there will be stumbles along the way. 

Rather than listening to your critical inner voice, remember the lesson the maid in The Help tried to instill in the little girl she took care of: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”