Resolving New Year’s resolutions


Graphic by Angelina Zheng

Kellie Liu, Staff Writer

At the beginning of every year, it is considered tradition for many people to construct New Year’s resolutions. Although it is a delightful way to make a positive change in one’s life, only a fraction of us keep our resolutions.

A study conducted by the University of Scranton states that only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s resolutions, and according to a study conducted by US News, 80% of New Year’s Resolutions fail by February.

So why do our long-term goals often result in failure? A multitude of reasons contribute to this. Social studies teacher Amanda Ganas explains one key reason for backing out of your goals.

“People struggle with completing their long-term goals because their motivators are not strong enough to keep people focused on accomplishing what they set out to do,” Ganas said.

An important factor to consider when setting goals is what is motivating you towards your target. The type of motivator when it comes to working towards your goals is very important. There are two primary types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is geared toward external rewards, such as money, praise, and awards. Intrinsic motivation is being internally motivated without a reward to accomplish a task.

Intrinsic motivation often results in a greater sense of self-fulfillment. When it comes to your ambitions, Ganas points out that people tend to accomplish their goals, more often, when they are intrinsically motivated. Motivation is strongest when we do it for the feeling of accomplishment within ourselves.

Social studies teacher Heather Schroeder confirms this observation and expands on the specific benefits of intrinsic motivation.

“Intrinsic motivation far surpasses extrinsic motivation in considering the success rate of achieving our long-term goals,” Schroeder said. “Since the drive comes from within, a person doesn’t have to rely on someone else to fulfill the reinforcement. The aspiration is self-chosen, self-endorsed, and growth-oriented while the reward is biological, adaptive, and self-sustaining. This strategy is supported by psychological principles that drive human behavior and forces a person to have to make mature life changes allowing them to take ownership for their achievement.”

When people form their resolutions, most tend to set overly ambitious and restrictive goals. Initially, you might feel excited to follow through on your far-reaching goals, but the motivation to keep these resolutions fades quickly when you realize how difficult they are to keep. When resolutions are too ambitious, we struggle to change our habits. We become discouraged when we fail, and then we ultimately give up altogether.

Ganas explains why it’s so easy to lose sight of long-term goals.

“People usually have good intentions of beginning and completing a goal, but more immediate things in their environment need their attention and they forget about their long-term goal unless they are intrinsically motivated to do so.”

A lack of intrinsic motivation leads to procrastination. On the note of procrastination, Ganas explains why it’s so easy to procrastinate, especially for long-term goals.

“Many use the pressure of a deadline as a motivator to get things done, while other people procrastinate out of anxiety and fear,” Ganas said.

However, there is no deadline or timeframe for resolutions. You give yourself a starting date, and time after time, you push back that starting date until you realize that it’s too late.

Willpower is another key factor in long-term goals. One of the most classic experiments known to test willpower is the Stanford Marshmallow experiment, conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel during the late 1960s. In the experiment, five-year-old children were presented with a marshmallow and given two options: eat the marshmallow now, or wait 15 minutes and be rewarded with two marshmallows.

Follow up studies revealed that children who can delay this gratification often wind up being more successful academically and socially. But new advancements in technology make access to our needs and wants almost instantaneous. Nowadays, many people fail at achieving their long-term goals because they have a hard time at restraining their impulses since they are not used to waiting for anything.

Schroeder addresses how modern technology and media have conditioned diminished attention spans.

“The fast-paced, media-rich, constant stimulation lifestyle seems to negatively correlate with patience, self-control, attention, and flexibility,” Schroeder said. “The potential for one to experience relative deprivation increases with the access to social media, and it drives people to want results faster which could lead to depression more readily.”

When we give ourselves unrealistic expectations, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Rather, we should make smaller, more realistic changes in our lives, and slowly work up to the final target. We need to make sure that our motivation is intrinsic and that the goal is truly meaningful.

Ganas simply points out how we can become more successful through manageable goal setting.

“Unless it’s something that is important to you, long-term goals are hard to accomplish,” Ganas said. “Usually, if you set up more manageable “smaller” type goals to use as a check along the way can help you accomplish your long-term goal in the end.”