JAN 25, 2020 7:01 PM PST

Are You Still Working on Your New Year's Resolution?

WRITTEN BY: Amanda Mikyska

There are a few cardinal rules when it comes to goal-setting, and you've probably heard them all before. Goals will be successful if they are specific- I will visit five states that I have not been to this year.  They also have to be measurable, achievable, reasonable (I will rescue all of the dogs in the local shelter) and timely. This is called the goal-setting theory, and it packages nicely in the acronym SMART.  

 

And yet, New Year's resolutions seem to be a class of their own, completely immune from the normal goal-setting to achievement pipeline. Goals set in any other context certainly do not suffer the 80% failure rate the resolutions do.  So what's the difference? 

 

The framing of the challenge is different- a resolution is an uphill climb, a 180-degree life change, whereas a goal is a realistic change that will be made in the foreseeable future. A goal is a more familiar challenge that can be met each and every day, with room for error, whereas a resolution is do or die.  

 

Psychologist Carol Dweck of Stanford University studies how a person's mindset at the start of tackling a problem will influence their motivation to address the challenge. Dweck has found that when a challenge is framed as 'Do or Die' failure rate increases. Meaning, the stakes of succeeding or failing at the challenge are so polarized that it discourages continued effort after one failed attempt.  

 

In her 2014 TEDTalk, Dweck talks about a school in Chicago that gives "Not Yet" grades instead of failing grades, which effectively encourages kids to continue trying to succeed in the subject. After receiving a failing grade, students are far more likely to cheat or never return to the subject, but "Not Yet" recognizes that tackling the learning curve can take longer than the school year.  

 

 

 

The unconditional nature of their title sets New Year's Resolutions up to fail. Now is that infamous time of the year, the last week in January to the first week in February when most resolutions loose traction, fitness resolutions most prolifically. But what if the mindset was not ultimate success vs. ultimate failure?  

 

Changing the way we focus a New Year's Resolution or goal at the outset is the key to sustaining progress.  Shifting the focus from the finish line to the continued effort of the pursuit is sure to be more successful in the longterm.  Imagine catching up about a project at work- the first order of business is, are you still working on this?, not a polarized measure of success.    

 

As we close the first month of 2020, ask yourself if you are still working on your goal. If working on it has tapered off, start there instead of closing up shop. A continued effort will not guarantee a perfect success story, but it can ensure sustainability, and with sustained effort, change is inevitable.  

 

Psychology cannot help achieve New Year's goals, but understanding the mind's strengths and how to work with them will.  

 

 

Sources:  Psychology Today, Rodas et. al., TEDTalk ft. Dr. Carol Dweck

 

About the Author
  • Amanda graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston with a degree in Biology. After working in research on creating biochemicals from genetically engineered yeast, she started freelance science writing while traveling the world. Now, Amanda is a Lab Manager and Research Assistant at the the University of Central Florida, studying the molecular phylogeny of parasitic wasps. She writes about the latest research in Neuroscience, Genetics & Genomics, and Immunology. Interested in working on solutions for food/water security, sustainable fuel, and sustainable farming. Amanda is an avid skier, podcast listener, and has run two triathlons.
You May Also Like
SEP 19, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
SEP 19, 2020
Reward and Punishment Take Similar Paths in the Mouse Brain
Scientists have determined that mice have brain cells that can help them learn to avoid bad experiences.
SEP 11, 2020
Immunology
Study Reveals Tumor Defense Mechanism... And How to Beat It
SEP 11, 2020
Study Reveals Tumor Defense Mechanism... And How to Beat It
  P53 is an infamous process gene at the core of the development of tumors.  When P53  functional, it pau ...
OCT 21, 2020
Neuroscience
New Theory Says Consciousness Arises from Electromagnetic Energy
OCT 21, 2020
New Theory Says Consciousness Arises from Electromagnetic Energy
Professor Johnjoe McFadden, a researcher from the Univerity of Surrey in the UK, has proposed a new theory for conscious ...
OCT 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Software Flags Elevated Cerebral Palsy Risk in Premies
OCT 24, 2020
Software Flags Elevated Cerebral Palsy Risk in Premies
Diagnostic imaging scientists have developed a software tool for predicting the future onset of cerebral palsy in babies ...
NOV 17, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
NOV 17, 2020
Why Mutations in RRP7 Cause a Congenital Brain Disorder
A large family with some members that have a rare brain disorder has helped scientists learn more about both brain devel ...
NOV 24, 2020
Neuroscience
Could Memory Manipulation Treat Alcohol Addiction?
NOV 24, 2020
Could Memory Manipulation Treat Alcohol Addiction?
Researchers from Boston University have found that manipulating how fear-based memories are processed may modify addicti ...
Loading Comments...