Making New Year’s Resolutions Last

John Froiland

UNC assistant professor of School Psychology John Froiland. Related: Video of Froiland explaining intrinisic motivation. Photo and video by Katie Owston

Almost everyone creates a New Year’s resolution. How long the resolution lasts, however, varies from person to person. John Froiland, UNC assistant professor of School Psychology, suggests the use of intrinsic motivation as a way to keep New Year’s resolutions going all year long.

A common New Year’s resolution on college campuses is to get better grades. Many students resolve to focus more in the coming semester, and paying attention in class and turning in assignments on time would seem key to accomplishing this goal.

Research shows, however, that intrinsically motivated students excel in the classroom every semester.

“Intrinsically motivated students focus on the beauty of learning, understanding what they learn, and in some cases, use what they learn to help others,” Froiland said.

According to Froiland, these students tend to do better in school because they’re passionate about what they’re learning and are typically under less pressure. They express themselves in what they are learning, and in turn, tend to get better grades.

Another common resolution is to lead a healthier lifestyle. Many people are motivated by the physical changes that come with this new lifestyle – a certain number of pounds lost or thinner thighs to fit a favorite pair of jeans. Froiland suggests that instead of focusing only on physical benefits, you should also try to seek deeper meaning in what you’re doing for yourself and how it can affect others.

“Focus more deeply on the idea that if you eat healthy, you will live longer and be stronger,” Froiland said. “By increasing your strength and vitality, you’ll be able to do more to make this world a better place.”

Increasing intrinsic motives, however, doesn’t mean you need to completely eliminate all extrinsic motives (desire to make more money, impress others, etc). Froiland recommends focusing first on intrinsic goals, such as helping yourself to help others; then focus on extrinsic goals.

“If you put the intrinsic goals and aspirations first, but still keep the extrinsic aspirations high, you can have a motivational synergy,” he said.

A helpful tip for everyone with a New Years resolution, whether intrinsically motivated, extrinsically motivated or both, is the idea of implementation intentions. According to Froiland, implementation intentions involve asking yourself, “What am I going to do today to help accomplish my goal?” By saying your intentions out loud or to yourself, or by writing them down, they become a habit. The more you say your intentions, the more automatic it becomes; you’ll get closer to your goal each day.

“It’s like programming yourself for success – programming yourself to follow through on the things you want to follow through on,” he said.

- Katie Owston

Keys to Cultivating Happiness in the New Year
Froiland also offered several keys to cultivating happiness in the new year, each driven by intrinsic values:

• Elevate your intrinsic motivation. Seek passion in what you do: If you want to lose weight in the new year, reconsider your reasons. Consider that a healthy body reduces stress and helps you live longer. Try to be motivated by how your resolution will affect you as a whole.
• Get excited for other people’s good news, Ask your friends questions; help them relive their best moments. In doing so, you’ll find that you become excited too.
• Be grateful. Each day, write down three events that you are thankful went well in your day and why you think they went well. Writing why it went well helps you to see the role you played in the positive outcome of the situation.