New Year’s Resolutions...

Özge Üstündağ

The end of the year can be daunting for many of us as we are relentlessly trying to tie up loose ends. However, this is also a time when we find ourselves the most hopeful. Dreaming about the upcoming year may energize us to project forth better versions of ourselves to the world (whatever that may mean for you). Thus, the end of a year harbors within itself both a potential for completion and a new beginning. How we make use of these potentials is, of course, up to us.

Are you motivated?

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci who are world renowned psychologists in the field of social psychology broadly define motivation as “to be moved to do something.” This drive we call “motivation” varies in both quantity and quality. For example, you may have a high level of motivation to stop drinking coffee in the new year and another person may not be motivated to stop at all. Likewise, you may want to ditch coffee out of a health concern or to prove your allegiance to a juice-lovers group that you have recently found. According to research, both the amount and the type of motivation influence the likelihood of achieving goals.

When it comes to setting new year goals, it is crucial that you reflect on why you want to achieve them. In other words, what moves you about the goal that you pursue or the habit you want to adopt?

For instance, we are drawn to engage in some activities because we see them rewarding in and of themselves. To get a clear picture of intrinsic motivation, think about the activities that you are inherently interested in. To what sort of activities do you find yourself drawn unprompted?

At the other end of the spectrum lies extrinsic motivation. Simply, we engage in an activity and/or pursue a goal because it is a means to an end. The activity is not inherently rewarding to us. For instance, you work on a project that was assigned to you because you want to impress your boss.

At this point, intrinsic motivation may seem like a “better” type of motivation than extrinsic motivation. However, that need not be the case. As Ryan and Deci point out in their review, there are levels to each type of motivation. What changes with the type of extrinsic motivation is the degree of autonomy, the extent to which you feel free from external influences.

Research supports the idea that moving towards a more intrinsic type of motivation helps people to commit to goals for a long term. To set and engage in authentic goals – goals that speak to your values - two processes need to happen: internationalization and integration of values and behavioral regulations. Internalization is a process of taking in a value or regulation. Whereas, integration is transforming the regulation into your own, so the action comes from your sense of self. Seeing the value and benefit in an action reflects a kind of personal validation.

Steps to make your new year’s resolutions work

  • Reflect on your intentions for the new year. Is there a behavior that you would like to improve or are you seeking to adopt a new habit?
  • Get realistic. What is your current situation with regards to the behavior you would like to improve or the new habit you would like to adopt? Is there a discrepancy between where you are currently vs. where you want to be?
  • Set smaller goals to get closer to your BIG goal.
  • Get clear on why you are pursuing your goal. Do you values align with what motivates you?
  • Don’t be afraid of failure.
  • Have a plan. Revisit the article, “Does Your Agenda Scare You?” Here, we discuss a potent skill for planning for obstacles when pursuing a goal.
  • Seek help when you need it.

Have a happy new year!


  • 1. Ryan, M. R., & Deci, L. E. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25, 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020
  • 2. Nowack, K. (2017). Facilitating successful behavior change: Beyond goal setting to goal flourishing. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(3), 153–171.
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