January is here, and to prepare for a healthy new year, many people have a renewed commitment to start exercising, eat better, lose weight, save money, and more. These are the typical “New Year’s Resolutions” that often fail within the first few weeks as motivation diminishes. Over the years, we have been taught to create goals that are specific and short-term. These are called subordinate goals. On the other hand, superordinate goals are defined as vague and abstract. Here are some examples of each:

Superordinate – Get stronger

Subordinate – Do 20 push-ups twice a week for one month

Superordinate – Increase meditation

Subordinate – Meditate 10 minutes daily, three times a week

Current research shows that people pursue long-term goals more successfully when they focus on combining subordinate and superordinate goals. The researchers showed that superordinate goals fulfill a crucial role in motivating behavior, especially when addressing broad, long-term challenges. This study shed light on the benefits of superordinate goals, which receive less attention in research.

Superordinate goals are related to a person’s identity and reflect what is important to a person. Focusing on identity-based superordinate goals helps goal pursuit in the long run for three reasons:

  • it provides and enhances meaning,
  • it strengthens guidance, and
  • it heightens goal importance.

For example, when considering superordinate goals such as “enjoy life with culinary delicacies” or “lead a healthy lifestyle,” there are actions that can satisfy both goals such as eating a gourmet fruit salad instead of a chef-prepared dessert. This reduces goal conflict and allows for flexibility. Also, if you focus only on subordinate goals such as “lose 10 pounds in two months,” you may abandon a healthy practice, such as exercise or healthy eating, once you achieve it.

Combine Goals For a Healthy New Year

If you focus on subordinate goals only and a certain way to reach the goal does not work out, then the superordinate goal can provide a strategy to overcome an obstacle and allow you to change the way you approach the goal without changing the goal itself. For example, if you have a superordinate goal to “be healthy” and decide to go running twice a week, but then sprain your ankle, you can no longer pursue the specific subordinate goal. However, it does not prevent you from pursuing your superordinate goal of “being healthy” since you can replace your running with other activities or eat healthier. A more recent study by the same group of researchers showed that combining superordinate and subordinate goals helped make New Year’s resolutions stick.

So, as you think about what goals you want to accomplish in the new year, start out with a broad goal that really has meaning for you and write it down. Then break it down into smaller, more specific goals and strategies that you can work on during the year, while still keeping your main goal in mind.

Goal Ideas

Here are ten superordinate goal ideas for a healthy new year:

  1. Reduce waste (reuse and recycle)
  2. Improve health
  3. Read more books
  4. Reduce exposure to toxins
  5. Learn a new language
  6. Decrease clutter in your life
  7. Get stronger (physically and emotionally)
  8. Be more patient and kind
  9. Increase fun/laughter in your life
  10. Improve spiritual awareness

The list can go on and on. Remember, the superordinate (vague, non-specific) goals should be meaningful to how you want to be – a reflection of your personal identity. To help you maintain motivation, apply some Super Bowl coaching techniques to your own game as you set new goals. Here are a few tips from Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, who has employed three fundamental tenets throughout his coaching career:

  1. Always be your best. Champions take no aspect of the game for granted and give 110% every time.
  2. Prepare better than anyone else. “If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no shortcuts in life.” –Michael Jordan
  3. Cultivate positive energy. Motivate yourself by way of positive reinforcement rather than negativity. Express confidence in yourself.

Make Sanoviv a part of your healthy new year!