A New Year, A New Kind of Resolution

New Year's Resolutions

Here we are at the start of 2022—a new year, a new beginning, a new kind of resolution.

Our brains like new starts. A 2014 study from the Wharton business school called it “the fresh start effect.” They defined this as a landmark moment in which we take an accounting of ourselves. We relegate imperfections to the past, take a big picture view of our lives, and come up with new, aspirational behaviors.

The new year is one such landmark moment (as may be the start of a new day, week, month, and so on). These landmarks are an opportunity for our brains to not only take stock but create new narratives for the future, which is why so many people come up with resolutions for the new year.

Fewer Resolutions This Year

And yet, these last few years feel different. According to a CBS poll, only 29 percent of Americans said they’re making New Year’s Resolutions this year, which is down from 43 percent from just a year ago.

Although we can speculate about why, I think a huge reason is that the pandemic has taken a toll. We are less motivated, more cynical and depressed, as well as uncertain about the future. It seems that we have less control over our lives than in the past. Why set a goal to exercise or drop weight if my gym is going to close next month? Lots of us are concluding that we won’t set more resolutions until we feel better or until circumstances improve.

Lost Opportunity

But I think it is important to take advantage of the “fresh start effect.” Whether or not you have set resolutions for 2022, there is value in doing so. Resolutions spring from and generate hope. They infuse motivation and energy into our lives.

Two Kinds of Goals

However, if you are having trouble with setting or committing to resolutions this year, I want to differentiate between two kinds of goals:

  • Extrinsic goals have to do with doing and achieving, approval and material success (appearance, beauty, wealth, popularity).
  • Intrinsic goals (gratitude, compassion, personal growth, and meaningful relationships) have to do with being and becoming. These are goals that meet our deep and basic psychological needs and are, therefore, inherently satisfying.

Research shows that intrinsic goals make us happier than extrinsic goals (which is why so many people who live in 3rd world countries can be as happy as people in more affluent societies). External goals so often set us up to compare ourselves to others. They put us on a treadmill as we continually strive to be more, better, or different, not feeling entirely satisfied with what we’ve accomplished.

Intrinsic goals, on the other hand, are less public and yet more nourishing to our hearts or spirits—that unseen part of ourselves. In the same way that we nourish our physical bodies by feeding and caring for them, we can nourish our souls by connecting to our deeper needs and values and caring for our inner self. It’s not only a way to overcome the stresses of life but also an alternative to the need to prove ourselves as worthy through so many various forms of perfecting, proving, pleasing, performing, or possessing.

Inner nourishment is something we need right now, a new kind of resolution that can bring greater meaning, fulfillment, peace, and joy to our lives.

Examples of intrinsic goals:

So, what am I talking about? What do intrinsic goals look like? Here are some examples:

  • Taking regular time for reflection and gratitude
  • Being more present when talking to another person
  • Savoring life’s daily pleasures
  • Seeking moments of quiet
  • Being kinder to myself
  • Engaging more often in your favorite hobby
  • Spending more time out-of-doors
  • Being more aware of others
  • Serving someone who is suffering
  • Trimming back a busy schedule.

Go Ahead and Set Resolutions

So, I encourage you, if you have not, to set resolutions for the new year. Of course, there is nothing wrong with extrinsic resolutions or goals. I set them all the time. But perhaps, particularly if you don’t usually set resolutions or goals, or if you’re struggling with the concept this year, you could try some intrinsic goals.

Do this by taking a bit of time to think deeply. What are some of your innermost needs? What do you most value? How can you meet these needs or better align your life to your values?

Your resolutions don’t have to be audacious. They don’t even have to be measurable. Most important is that they are meaningful to you and something that you can achieve on your own.

Although resolutions get a lot of negative press because so many go by the wayside, they can also be a source of motivation and inspiration. In fact, what is most important about your resolutions is the opportunity to reflect on your life and how you’d like it to be. There is hope in the idea that we can grow, learn and try new things. And perhaps there is value in trying new things that are intrinsic rather than extrinsic. A new kind of resolution.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and experience. Please feel free to leave a comment below.



  1. Linda Hatch

    Thank you Roger. This is just what I needed right now. The other day someone asked if I’d made any new years resolutions. I just put my head down for the thought if it. I’m still taking life in small increments since Bill died but these are resolutions I can wrap my brain around. In fact, they are perfect.

    • Roger Allen

      You are welcome, Linda. I’m happy they are what you need. And small increments is good. One step and day at a time.

  2. Karolyn

    Thank you for these kind words and the list of suggestions. This reminds me that (among undergraduates in a research study) external locus of control had the strongest correlation of the self-report scales used to validate a subscale “Entitled Expectations” in my thesis. Intrinsic goals for 2022 like gratitude seem like they would help nurture a sense of internal locus of control.

    • Roger Allen

      Thanks for your comment, Karolyn. Interesting point about your thesis, the relationship between entitled expectations and external locus of control. It makes sense. Yes, gratitude is the opposite of entitlement and I’m sure you’re correct that it would be correlated with an internal locus of control. Thank you.


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