Another Year, Another Failed New Year’s Resolution…or Is It?

In past years, I’ve railed against the annual tradition of setting a New Year’s Resolutions. I stand by the belief that anything worth doing is worth doing today, not on some arbitrary future date. However, I am willing to admit when I’ve overstated a point. This is a recent revelation; please note that I’m incorporating it today, not waiting until next year.

After a recent diatribe on the triviality of New Year’s Resolutions, a friend pulled me aside with her own diatribe on all the ways resolutions have helped her get through some difficult issues. The first time she set this life changing goal, she needed a “launch” date to motivate herself so she decided to start fresh with the New Year. The next year she considered her previous success and set another life changing goal. This has now been going on for almost ten years and she has maintained her streak of success.

When my friend listed her past resolutions, there was a clear pattern, one that may explain why she’s been so successful. It is also supported by research. A year-long study published in the Journal of Research in Personality found that individuals who set intrinsic goals—personal growth, improved relationships, something “good for the soul”—were significantly more likely to accomplish their objectives versus those who set extrinsic goals—money, social status, appearance. The intrinsic group also reported higher level of happiness and psychological health.

Unlike many people whose resolutions involve getting something, my friend has based hers on what she can do for others. If this selflessness sounds corny and overly hippy-esque, keep in mind that my friend is a successful CEO of a global financial organization. She’s a bottom-line focused leader who bears no resemblance or affinity to the “tree hugging” community.

When I asked why she’s not making strategy-based resolutions to push the company forward, she said, “Why would I do that? I don’t need a resolution to set our priorities, I need a solid team. And we do this constantly. No, resolutions are for me. If I do them right, the people I work with feel the difference and, hopefully, will be better off. When I make them, I’m not intending to get a payoff, but I’ve been fortunate to have had it happen.”

As you ponder the ways to improve in the next year, consider how you can develop into a better version of yourself. Focus on behaviors and thoughts, interpersonal relationships, and philanthropic endeavors that will improve the lives of those around you. The more you avoid the fleeting peripheral motivators and concentrate on the long-lasting, research-approved goals, the more likely you’ll be in having a successful New Year’s Resolution. If that feels like a win, you can chalk it up to an extrinsically intrinsic benefit.

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