Setting Goals: What Types of New Year’s Resolutions are Most Attainable?


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What is the key to keeping a resolution? Image by jdurham.

What is the key to keeping a resolution? It’s not luck, but intrinsic motivation. Image by jdurham.

After the confetti settles on New Year’s Day, for many folks, it is time to set new goals.  Traditionally, New Year’s resolutions involve building better physical habits.  Many people start the year off with good intentions, only to find themselves hanging laundry on the exercise bike by President’s Day.  Who meets their goals?  And what type of resolutions are likely to be fulfilled?  Are there downsides to goal setting?

Self-determination Theory (SDT) and Goal Contents Theory (GCT)

The ability of individuals to maintain motivation and to set and meet goals is a topic that interests psychologists. Self-determination theory seeks to explain intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation comes from within an individual rather than from outside the person, such as rewards offered by teachers, bosses or coaches.

According to Self-determination Theory: An Approach to Human Motivation and Personality, Goal Contents Theory (GCT) is one of five theories within the broader frame work of Self-Determination Theory, originally developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan.

The motivation behind a person’s goal setting affects the outcome.  The Self-determination Theory notes: “Extrinsic goals such as  financial success, appearance, and popularity/fame have been  specifically contrasted with intrinsic goals such as community, close  relationships, and personal growth, with the former more likely  associated with lower wellness and greater ill-being.”

In general, if you are trying to lose weight to improve yourself in your own eyes, you will probably do better than someone who is just trying to be eye-candy for someone else.

Bigger is Better When It Comes To Weight Loss Goals

Convincing someone to set an exercise goal may be problematic.  A Finnish study followed older women over eight years and discovered that those who were already active were four times more likely to set exercise goals than those who were not.

Surprisingly, bigger is better when it comes to meeting weight-loss goals.  Researcher Emely De Vet of Ultrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues discovered that bigger goals lead to bigger efforts.  They found “higher weight loss goals did not predict dissatisfaction but predicted more effort in the weight loss attempt.”

So, the more weight you need to lose, the harder you are likely to try to lose it.

The Downside of New Year’s Resolutions

What happens if something interferes with meeting a life goal?  We call such events ALEs or adverse life events.  Italian scientist Alessandro Couyoumdjian and colleagues found that when something occurs that interferes with meeting a life goal, depression may result.  Failing to meet different types of goals seem to be associated with different feelings.  The researchers report that “worthlessness and anhedonia were prominent following failed efforts, while sadness was prominent following affective losses…”

Or in layman’s terms, feeling bad about yourself and not enjoying things the way you used to may result from not meeting your a goal, but failing at a relationship results in sadness.

Meeting Your Goals in 2014

The lesson?  Make your resolutions align with your own desires for personal growth. Aim high, and work hard, and you will avoid feeling bad about yourself this spring.  And you will fit into that bathing suit.

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