Over half of Americans stated a resolution at the start of 2018. The percentage who made resolutions, but never posted them on Facebook to let the world know, was arguably much higher.

Unfortunately, research finds by this time in the new year, nearly 30 percent of resolutions are unkept. In six months, over 55 percent of resolutions will be forgotten.

Why do so many well-intentioned goals for self-improvement fall by the wayside so quickly?

One answer is that we tend to make resolutions (and set goals for that matter) without a key ingredient: Purpose.

A Better Kind of Resolution

It’s important to understand that there is nothing special about resolutions. They’re merely one subtype of goals, and as human beings, we’re wired for goal-setting. Goals are what psychologists call the “language of the brain.” They inform our brain’s executive function — our ability to plan versus being slaves to our instincts.

The problem lies in the nature of our resolutions. Most of our goals are self-centered. We want to improve ourselves for the sake of ourselves. And this, research finds, is one big reason we struggle to summon the motivation to achieve them.

Serve Others, Find More Motivation

While we’re wired to set goals, we’re also wired to be useful to others. The part of the brain that is the source of altruism is primitive and has allowed us to survive as a species by compelling us to help one another.

It’s not a surprise, then, that we experience profound neurological benefits when we set goals that are useful to others. And usefulness and helpfulness are just other words to describe purpose — our reason for being or doing what we’re doing; our usefulness.

The power of setting purpose-driven goals is that helpfulness and usefulness produce a rush of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin — what neuroscientists call the “happiness trifecta.” And the happier we feel, the more motivation we have.

So when we make resolutions without purpose, we miss out on all those motivation-inducing neurotransmitters.

4 Resolutions You Can Still Make For a Purposeful 2018

As we settle into a new year, here are four goals that are purpose-driven and tap into the motivational benefits of serving others.

1. Commit to re-discovering your significance, right where you are.

One of the biggest barriers to purposeful living and working is that we tend to believe we don’t matter. When we lose our sense of significance, we also lose our sense of purpose.

Much of the advice out there tells us to go “find” our purpose, but purpose isn’t out there, it’s right where you are. And if you can’t develop the mindset to uncover your purpose in your current situation, you won’t be able to do it where you want to be.

It’s easy to lose motivation when we can’t see our impact. One way to counteract the negative effects of feelings of insignificance, is to make your impact on others visible.

For example:

  • At work, try imagining what would happen if your job didn’t exist. Trace that impact all the way to the human being at the end of what you do. You’ll find your work matters.
  • Identify people who have shaped your life’s trajectory. How did they do it? Most often, you’ll find that it was through small, everyday ways like a conversation or a smile. You do that for others, every day.
  • Seek out the stories of how you’ve impacted people. At work, ask customers or users how what you do benefits their lives. In your personal life, notice how your behaviors benefit friends or family members.

Only when we believe we matter, can we start to uncover our purpose.

2. Learn to ask more powerful questions.

I teach at a university and the most common question young people ask is, “What should I do with my life or career?”

This question is both shortsighted and ineffective when it comes to motivation. Instead, try asking: “What should my life or career do for others?”

In the answer to that question, you’ll find purpose and the benefits that come with it.

3. Develop your sense of curiosity and empathy.

Empathy is the engine of purpose. And curiosity is one of the best tools for developing empathy. Psychologist Todd Kashdan, in the book, “Curious?” states,

“The best we can do for the future is prepare and savor the possibilities of what can be done in the present.”

Curiosity, Kashdan says, is the key to fulfillment in life. It’s also key to developing empathy.

When we’re curious about other people’s lives — their situations, ambitions, struggles, and dreams — we savor the possibilities that come with learning more. Only then can we identify ways we can help.

Remember, your purpose is your usefulness.

4. Write a purpose statement.

When we write a goal down and look at it every day research finds we’re 20 percent more likely to achieve it.

The same is true for purpose, which makes writing a purpose statement powerful when it comes to fueling motivation.

Take a moment to answer this question: “Outside of what you do, how you do it, or what you get for what you do — why do you exist?”

The answer is your purpose.

You can also use the below format which helps keep others at the center of your purpose:

“I/my work exists to (action verb) (who?) to (think/feel/do what?).”

As we all move further into 2018, perhaps the most powerful resolution has nothing to do with you at all, and instead is about what you can do for others — your purpose.

Originally published at medium.com


  • Zach Mercurio, Ph.D.

    Purposeful leadership, meaningful work, and positive organizations researcher and author

    Zach Mercurio, Ph.D. is a researcher and consultant specializing in purposeful leadership, meaningful work, and positive organizations and is the author of "The Invisible Leader: Transform Your Life, Work, and Organization with the Power of Authentic Purpose." In his work with over 100 global companies, conference audiences, non-profits, K-12 schools, and universities around the world, Zach helps forge purposeful leaders and provides practical tools to cultivate positive organizational and team cultures that enable more meaning, motivation, well-being, and performance. Zach earned his Ph.D. in Organizational Learning, Performance, and Change from Colorado State University where he serves as an Honorary Fellow in the Department of Psychology's Center for Meaning and Purpose and teaches courses on positive leadership and organization development. His research on meaningful work has been awarded by The Association for Talent Development, The Academy of Management, and The Academy of Human Resource Development.