January 19, 2019

The Problem with New Year's Resolutions

“Yes, it’s that time again—the turning of the page, the stretch of a brand-new year, and, hopefully, a whole new you, right? Well, I happen to be a believer in the whole new page thing, especially as it applies to the beginning of a month or a change in season because you can psyche yourself into gearing up and getting off whatever hamster wheel you happen to find yourself on. But why is the New Year’s thing just a bust for most people? Shouldn’t a New Year energize the hell out of all of us?

Well, yes but no.

It’s been thirty years since John Norcross and Dominic Vangarelli conducted a study of what happens to all that New Year’s resolution-making and discovered—surprise, surprise! —that most of us are abject failures at it. At one week’s time, 77% of those questioned were still hanging in but only 55% were left standing at the end of a month. Two years later, only 19% had actually succeeded.

Let mosey on down the road and see why that is precisely.

What’s really motivating you? That’s the question

Most of our resolutions aren’t things we actually want to do deep down in our hearts but things we feel we ought to do. Intrinsic goals—ones that reflect our inner selves and our truest aspirations—tend to be those we actually set our minds to achieving; studies show that people display more resilience when they’re thwarted in their progress when a goal is intrinsic, in contrast to one which is extrinsic. Extrinsic goals are those we may go after but we are motivated to achieve them because they’re set by other people (our parents, spouses, or friends), the culture, or society as a whole. It’s not often that I love a quotation from scientific research but here’s my own fav on the difference between intrinsic goals and extrinsic one, courtesy of Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, who note that extrinsic motivation is “a pale and impoverished (if powerful) form of motivation that contrasts with intrinsic motivation.””

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