NEW YORK— A new year brings new beginnings, and an inspiring clean slate to break bad habits and become the person one yearns to be.
Maintaining the drive to be a better person throughout the year may not be difficult as long as there is a change in perspective, according to Paul Baard, a professor at Fordham University, whose research focuses on motivation and performance.
“A lot of people make New Year resolutions from extrinsic motivations. They want to impress people, or become more attractive—these things are their primary focuses,” said Baard. But such New Year’s resolutions inevitably fail because people begin them with the wrong starting point, he added.
There are three types of motivation: intrinsic, extrinsic, and a-motivation. According to Baard, intrinsic motivation is the most productive kind because it comes from inside oneself. This type of motivation consists of taking up an activity because it is fun or challenging.
Most people take on New Year’s resolutions through extrinsic motivation—which is prompted by external factors such as obeying a doctor, a spouse, or the need to win a trophy so that others can see it.
“From a productivity standpoint, intrinsic and extrinsic motivations look alike, but psychologically, extrinsic motivation is closer to a-motivation,” Baard said. A-motivation is when something is done without a purpose. If a resolution has no solid purpose, there is little point in keeping it.
Baard advises people to hold on to intrinsic motivation by having autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
Autonomy means maintaining a sense of control. “People need to be free. We don’t like to be micromanaged,” Baard said. In other words, one shouldn’t begin a New Year’s resolution to be healthier because the doctor said so; one should do it for oneself.
The key to maintaining resolutions is a change in one’s attitude. “You should think, weight loss is a good thing. I will be able to do more things, live longer, fit into more clothes. This way, it becomes intrinsically rewarding.”
Although autonomy is important, one shouldn’t be alone in the process of continuing resolutions. Another key component to finding the right motivation is “relatedness.” One should be socially active, carrying out resolutions with friends or a spouse.
But perhaps the most important key to motivation is the feeling of competence. One should set small goals. Meeting little goals one at a time generates inspiration and encouragement towards the final goal.
“Even though you’re prompted by the need to lose weight or whatever, don’t let that be the controlling factor,” Baard said.
“Stop and really try to own this thing. Think about what you get from getting into an exercise program—a longer life … feeling good. Stop and reflect on these things.”
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