Making New Year's Resolutions that Stick: Exploring how Superordinate and Subordinate Goals Motivate Goal Pursuit

Appl Psychol Health Well Being. 2020 Mar;12(1):30-52. doi: 10.1111/aphw.12172. Epub 2019 Jun 24.


Background: New Year's Eve is a time when people make resolutions, but, more often than not, fail to achieve them. Previous research highlighted the positive effect of subordinate goals in goal pursuit. We argue that combining superordinate and subordinate goals contributes to successful goal pursuit, especially in the long run. We test whether a simultaneous focus on both goal types helps people to keep their resolutions.

Methods: Using a 2 × 2 between-subjects design, participants (N = 256) formulated a resolution from which they derived either a superordinate (yes/no) or a subordinate goal (yes/no). The control group focused exclusively on a self-set resolution. Main outcome measures were effort in goal pursuit and intentions to further pursue the goal after 3 months.

Results: Focusing on superordinate and subordinate goals increased the amount of effort invested in goal pursuit. A group difference was found only between the group focusing on both goal types and the group focusing on a superordinate goal. No statement could be made about intentions for further goal pursuit and processes by which goal type affects goal pursuit.

Conclusion: The study provides preliminary insights into how combining superordinate and subordinate goals may be a helpful strategy to pursue long-term goals.

Keywords: behavioral change; field study; goal hierarchy; goal pursuit; motivation; new year's resolutions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Random Allocation