A New Approach to a New Year’s Resolution

Barbara Martin

It’s that time of year again when people set New Year’s Resolutions, passionately committing to that act of self-improvement, some piling into the gyms with their new workout wear ready to lose that last 10 pounds, at least for the next week or so.

Research indicates that approximately 40% of us will set a New Year’s Resolution but only about 8% of us will stick it out long enough to achieve our goal. Some of the reasons most of us fail so abysmally is because many of us set goals that are way too hard, unrealistic and unsustainable.

For the most part we are well intentioned in our goal-setting, but the unfortunate reality is that we frequently forget to strategically plan how we will achieve that goal. Setting goals that have no clear steps would be like driving to New Mexico from Massachusetts without a GPS. You probably won’t make it there and if you do, you’re simply lucky.

Defining a New Year’s Resolution is hopefully an energizing and healthy mental exercise, but the process by which to set goals successfully can be very individualized. One size does not fit all in the goal setting practice. Some people do extremely well with documenting and committing to the tedious small steps to meet the end goal while others struggle to remain motivated. These variances may have to do with how differently people are wired in terms of their internal and external motivation.

With that in mind, this year you may want to try a fresh approach. Before you set your New Year’s Resolution reflect on what motivates you to reach your goals and build off of your psychological leanings and strengths. Reflect on whether you lean towards being a more task driven or relational person and be honest about what your typical psychological response is to expectations both internally and externally. You may be more likely to succeed in achieving your New Year’s resolution by strategically setting goals in a manner that psychologically benefits you.

An individual who is more task driven may succeed just fine with an approach that involves setting very structured, concrete goals such as run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. A relational person may need more to motivate them than simply a set task. For the relational person, the task may need to possess a larger social component in order to heighten motivation. For example, the relational leaning person may be more motivated and successful at achieving an exercise goal by joining exercise classes that feel more social.

Another psychological determinant of successfully meeting your goals can be found in Gretchen Rubin’s book, Better than Before. In Rubin’s book she identifies four “expectation types” of people, meaning the type of ways people respond differently to outer and inner expectations. Rubin labels the four types as Upholder, Questioner, Rebel and Obliger.

She defines the Upholders as people who respond well to outer and inner expectations. Upholders follow their own internal rules as well as the rules imposed by the outside world. A driven employee!

The Questioner is defined as someone who questions all expectations and only meet inner and outer expectations if the expectations make sense to them. Questioners struggle to meet the outer expectations of those they don’t respect.

Rebels resist all outer and inner expectations and the Obliger meets outer expectations brilliantly, but is challenged by their inner expectations. Obligers are often people pleasers who put others first despite the behavior being detrimental to their own ends.

Determining where you lean in Rubin’s expectation types can help you figure out how to be more successful in defining and achieving your New Year’s goals.

For the Upholder, setting a New Year’s Resolution and successfully meeting that goal may not be exceedingly challenging because they are motivated by concrete checklists and structured scheduling. The Questioner’s New Year’s Resolution needs to make practical sense. If the Questioner buys into the fact that exercise contributes to better health than they will be more likely to achieve the goal of exercise.

Rebels are trickier because they resist both inner and outer expectations. If you lean more towards a Rebel type, you may need to focus more on the present moment and making goals a choice, something you feel like doing rather than expect yourself to do. Obligers, on the other hand, may need to motivate themselves by linking their goals to others’ expectations. In that respect, there are many programs out there that provide this type of service such as the weigh-ins at weight watchers.

For 2017 be honest about how you are psychologically wired and use that information as a way to successfully motivate you to reach your goals. So if you have been a part of the 8% drop out rate in the past, don’t beat yourself up, it may simply be that you did not have the right approach.

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