Featured Topic: Goals vs. Resolutions: Which is more effective?

Sarah Krivan 


As the new year approaches, thoughts about what you might do and achieve in 2021 may be on your mind. The start of a year can bring a sense of a clean slate and a chance to work on ambitions formed in the preceding months or years. However, Prossack (2018)† cited a study reporting that by the end of January each year fewer than 1 in 4 people are still working toward achieving the new year’s resolutions they set at the start of the month—and a mere 8% go on to accomplish them before the year is through! So what can you do to set resolutions or goals that you’ll stick with?

Spieker and Hinsz (2004) observed that people who achieved repeated successes set higher personal goals than did those who achieved a single success. Further, Henkel and Hinsz (2004) found that both succeeding at and failing to achieve a goal had a direct impact on mood states: Success was associated with increased positive affect and decreased negative affect, whereas the opposite results for affect applied in the context of goal attainment failure. This reinforcing effect indicates that setting and achieving several successive smaller goals may put you in a good frame of mind to then approach a larger goal.

Struggling to figure out what goals to set or how to follow through with them? Seeking out external assistance could be the strategy for you. Grant and Cavanagh (2007) examined the effectiveness of goal-focused coaching, the purpose of which is to assist individuals with setting a goal, developing a plan of action, beginning the action, monitoring and then evaluating their performance, and then altering their actions to enhance performance and ultimately reach the goal. These authors found that this type of coaching, when implemented by leaders in the workplace, helped employees to achieve personal and professional goals.

Competition can also be a great motivator, whether we are vying against ourselves or other people. Han and Nam (2017) contrasted gender groups in the US and South Korea, and found that women in both countries were more likely to pursue goals when asked to consider another person in a better position than their own, whereas men in both countries showed greater tenacity in goal pursuit when they were asked to consider a possible better version of the self. Bum (2018) observed that strengthening individuals’ self-management improved their adherence and commitment to achieving exercise-related goals.

Specifically, the three tactics of implementing behavior-focused strategies, using natural rewards, and forming constructive thought patterns were associated with the greatest commitment and adherence to goal achievement. Kao and Craigie (2014) further found that the personality traits of extraversion and neuroticism were linked with greater goal achievement in the context of learning English as a foreign language.

While it seems some innate characteristics do lead to greater motivation to achieve goals, there are also several approaches to improving your goal-setting abilities. Looking for inspiration on this front? Sign up for a personal subscription to SBP to gain access to the papers we’ve published on this topic, along with over 3,500 others spanning the fields of social, behavioral, and developmental psychology.

Prossack, A. (2018, December 31). This year, don’t set New Year’s resolutions. Forbes. https://bit.ly/2RvEyEc


Repeated success and failure influences on self-efficacy and personal goals – Casey J. Spieker and Verlin B. Hinsz, 2004, 32(2), 191–198.

Success and failure in goal attainment as a mood induction procedure – Jordan M. Henkel and Verlin B. Hinsz, 2004, 32(8), 715–722.

The Goal-Focused Coaching Skills Questionnaire: Preliminary findings – Anthony M. Grant and Michael J. Cavanagh, 2007, 35(6), 751–760.

Better possible self or better other? Gender affects who is more inspirational – Youngjee Han and Myungwoo Nam, 2017, 45(2), 191–204.

Relationships between self-leadership, commitment to exercise, and exercise adherence among sport participants – Chul-Ho Bum, 2018, 46(12), 1983–1996.

Effects of English usage on Facebook and personality traits on achievement of students learning English as a foreign language – Po-Chi Kao and Philip Craigie, 2014, 42(1), 17–24.