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Resolutions or Goals?

Dec 26, 2019

With each new year, many of us start thinking about setting their new year resolutions, because … that’s “what we do,” right? What if resolutions drain your motivation, rather than firing you up? Despite the millions of people who set resolutions, they may not be the best option for you. If you struggle to keep your resolutions year after year, its time to ditch the resolutions and set some S.M.A.R.T. goals!

Psychological well-being is directly connected to our emotions. Motivation and feeling like you are working toward something fuels our brains and increases the release of dopamine. This increases the feeling of happiness and naturally decreases perceived stress. Basic human psychology has proven that shorter timeframes that return regular moments of positive feedback are more motivating. Because your happiness is directly connected to your health, it is important to understand whether you are motivated by goals or resolutions!

Resolution means resolving to do something. A goal means simply setting measures to achieve our desires and wishes. For some, a resolution is the only way to drive us toward desired achievements. For resolution people, the shorter timeframes associated with goals is not very motivating. They thrive by using longer timeframes. For these individuals, achieving resolutions year after year is exhilarating. For others, resolutions seem impossible and feel like you are trudging through a tar pit, rather than feeling like an adventure or a positive, uplifting experience. Working toward achievements should not be torture! 

If you struggle with resolutions, then maybe it is time to shift your focus and look at goals. Goals are an excellent way to help you establish parameters and stages for those things that you wish to. A good rule of thumb when creating goals is to follow the concept of S.M.A.R.T. The acronym means smart, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Being smart and establishing goals that are realistic for your life, your abilities, and your desires is an excellent way to motivate you through obstacles that are guaranteed. With goals, you get to set the parameters and designate the timeframe by which you will achieve them. These timeframes are typically shorter and trigger more of a repetitive pleasure center process than resolutions. 

Now ... this does not mean you get to go easy on yourself!  Setting goals that are easy and require minimal effort are not motivating. They can actually feel deflating long after you achieve them. When deciding whether you are driven by resolutions or goals, it is crucial to be completely transparent with yourself. Long-lasting motivation is possible for everyone, regardless of whether you are motivated by resolutions or goals.

What are you driven by?


Woolley, K., & Fishbach, A. (2017). Immediate rewards predict adherence to long-term goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin43(2), 151-162. doi: 10.1177/0146167216676480

 *Originally published in The Sigma January/February 2019 edition


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