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2021 Attitude Adjustment: Simply "Striving" may eclipse new resolutions, Maryland study indicates

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

One Maryland researcher says you may want to try out "striving" for new goals this year instead of going with traditional New Year's resolutions.

"Striving" is a different way of thinking about the notion of goals and motivation. Trevor A. Foulk, along with two partners, believe the striving concept may have a more positive impact on those who implement it rather than the time-honored resolution.

The trio studied three key motivational strivings, which are more abstract than traditional goals. These strivings are accomplishment striving (the drive to get things done), status striving (the drive to be seen as important) and communion striving (the drive to have good relationships with others).

Researchers, Foulk, an assistant professor of management and organization at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, and two co-authors--Klodiana Lanaj of the Warrington College of Business at University of Florida and Satish Krishnan of the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode studied the implications of striving.

It may feel like it's resolution enough just to carry on from day to day in 2021. And while this is a moment, if ever there was one, to give yourself a pass on a full-scale, full new year resolution, you can still have meaningful goals that can help you this year,

In research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Foulk found that thinking differently about your goals can be an effective way to help yourself each work day, without setting big, major goals.

Foulk contrasts the setting of major goals with the more abstract nature of strivings.

"That abstractness," he says, "means that, unlike traditional goals, they can never be fully finished."

That's the beauty of strivings. They can themselves become motivating over time, because of their non-completable nature.

Foulk's research involved a longitudinal study, involving 93 employees in various jobs and at various organizations. At regular intervals throughout each day for two weeks, he and his co-authors asked employees to complete surveys, assessing their strivings, their progress and their satisfaction levels throughout the work day.

In the morning, each participant completed a survey that measured the strength of each striving that morning. They predicted that when participants wake up feeling a strong sense of communion striving, one thing they might do to satisfy that striving is to help others.

Likewise, participants who wake up with a strong sense of accomplishment striving might set off to perform a series of tasks, getting things done.

And participants who wake up with a strong sense of status striving might satisfy that striving by exerting authority over others.

In the afternoon, each participant would complete another survey measuring the behaviors associated with each striving, and in the evening participants would complete an end-of-day survey that measured their psychological need satisfaction. The next day, the cycle would kick off again.

"What we found was a self-reinforcing effect," says Foulk. "People who woke with a strong sense of communion striving, and who were able to fulfill that striving in the day by engaging in helping behaviors, went to bed satisfied that they had met that need and would wake up the next morning with a strong sense of communion striving, essentially wanting to do it all again.

"The same was true for accomplishment striving and status striving – when people felt those strivings, and were able to engage in behaviors that satisfied them, they felt satisfied and woke up the next day feeling a strong sense of that striving again."

The research demonstrates that our sense of satisfaction actually serves as feedback related to our sense of strivings.

"It's basically telling you that that's a good striving for you to have in your work environment," Foulk says.

The research also showed that an employee's sense of striving and satisfaction is a sort of dynamic construct that may feed on itself. One day's satisfaction can enhance next-morning strivings, generating a virtuous motivational cycle.

Go to Smith Brain Trust for related content at and follow on Twitter @SmithBrainTrust.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty masters, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia. Contact: Greg Muraski at

SOURCE: PR Newswire/ University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business