How to Keep to Your New Year’s Resolutions

Many people have always struggled to keep their New Year’s resolutions. They believe optimism is telling yourself and convincing yourself that you can watch a 20-minute Netflix episode in less than five minutes. We believe this is a typical illustration of the motivation vs. procrastination trade-off. It goes somewhat like this: you procrastinate and procrastinate until something finally gives. Perhaps you’ve pulled a few too many all-nighters and now realize you can’t afford to keep putting off your work till the last minute. Whatever it is, you realize that your intentions and behaviors are at odds, so you resolve to try something new.

If you’re lucky, it might work for a few days, a few weeks, or perhaps a month. However, odds are you’ll relapse sooner or later, and the all-too-familiar feelings of guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing will set in. So, what exactly do you do? You return to your resolutions, and the process continues indefinitely. You’re essentially Tarzan, hanging from vine to vine, between the person you were and the person you aspire to be.


Thanks to Temphas, here’s a simple answer and a not-so-easy response, to be sure. To begin, the simplest answer is that motivation is finite.

That is to say, if your goals are unrealistically high, you will frequently lose motivation. For instance, suppose you told yourself that you wanted to get up at 4 a.m. every day and workout for 45 minutes. You may wake up bushy-eyed every morning for two days, but we know that motivation will be replaced by a “I’ll do it later” two weeks later.

The issue is that you have set your expectations too high. What you really need to do is tell yourself, “You know what, I’m going to get up at 5:00 a.m. every day and exercise for 10 minutes,” and then repeat for a week. Once that habit is established, you can expand it to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, and so on. It’s a lot easier if you start small and attempt to create a habit, then work your way up. That way, you’ll be able to attain whatever goals you set for yourself.

The not-so-simple answer is this: Because the solution isn’t so straightforward, we’ll enlist the assistance of professors from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and the University of Chicago. The study looked at the influence of extrinsic rewards on individual performance and was pretty fascinating. They discovered that people completed things best when they did them for their own sake, that is, when they did them because they enjoyed them rather than for the sake of receiving an external reward.

This was revolutionary at the time, since why do people exercise? Because people want to get in shape, and it’s that ultimate goal that drives them to exercise, we reasoned. The most crucial aspect of maintaining a habit, according to this study, is finding inspiration within yourself. It’s not enough to appreciate the end result; you must also enjoy the process; only then can the end result follow.


Temphas thinks we should consider an example from your own life: when you wrote that essay or submitted that assignment that you were very pleased of, did you write it on the back of a napkin five minutes before the deadline just to get it over with, or did you labor endlessly on it? Did you work so hard that you were oblivious to the passage of time? That is the definition of motivation. When you’re so emotionally immersed in the process that the end result loses its significance.

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