Psychology of Success and New Year’s Resolutions That Work


There are fundamental psychological principles of success that are applicable to people of all ages and backgrounds. Success is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, the attainment of popularity, prosperity or profits. All humans are different, yet we all have the same goal in life: to live a successful one. People want have a successful life yet only a few have a plan on how to obtain it.

Three Core Themes of Success

According to Harvard MBA professor Clayton Christensen, there are three recurring themes can be found when studying individuals who feel they live a satisfying, happy, successful life. First, career, as people spend the majority of their time at work. If one is not satisfied with their work, they will not be satisfied with their life. Second, relationships. Relationships serve as the foundation of our lives. Without a strong foundation, one cannot weather a storm. Thirdly, ethics. It is easier to do the right thing 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time. Living an ethical life will help make the world a better place.


Even though U.S. stock indices have been at record highs, unemployment at multi-year lows, and a robust economy, a recent Gallup study found that two-thirds of Americans feel disengaged, unsatisfied, and feel no real connection to their jobs. Researchers have found that having unfavorable views toward your job has negative health consequences such as weight gain, stress, weakened immune system, and mental health degradation.  

Achieving career satisfaction is more attainable than most people believe. People spend most of their waking hours working. Conventional wisdom would lead one to think that it is compensation, title, and reputation that leads to career satisfaction.  However, a study by Frederick Herzberg found there are two ingredients that determine career satisfaction: motivation factors and hygiene factors. Motivation factors determine job satisfaction, and hygiene factors determine job dissatisfaction.

What is Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Motivation factors are intrinsic and include things like fulfilling work, learning and growth, feeling your efforts are making the world a better place, and working towards a common goal. These intrinsic factors lead to fulfillment and pride, which lead to job satisfaction. It might explain why people who work at nonprofit organizations or volunteer for charities can be more productive than paid employees.  

Material factors on the other hand are extrinsic and include salary, title, and status. If someone is happy with a motivation factor, they will feel more satisfied with their job. If a person is unhappy with a materialistic factor, they will feel more dissatisfied with their job. The key to understanding career satisfaction is that the motivation factors must outweigh and be greater than the hygiene factors. A person will stay at a job as long as a job satisfaction outweighs job dissatisfaction.

Career Tips

  • Find somebody who you admire because of his or her career. Make a list of why you admire that person and work toward achieving your goals.
  • Find somebody who you don’t admire because of his or her career. Make a list of why you dislike that person and be sure you aren’t doing the same kinds of things.
  • Make a list of the motivation factors in your careers and assign a rank of 1-5, with 5 being the most satisfied and 1 being the least satisfied.
  • Make a list of the hygiene factors in your career and assign a rank of 1-5, with 5 being the most dissatisfied and 1 being the least dissatisfied.
  • Compare the scores between the motivation and hygiene factors to see where you are in the job satisfaction/dissatisfaction spectrum

Ultimately, having a job, which brings satisfaction, will lead to a fulfilling career. If you do find yourself in a career where you are dissatisfied, don’t be discouraged. Identifying and accepting that change is necessary is a step in the right direction. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.”


The second recurring theme of success is relationships. Relationships serve as the foundation for our life. Without strong relationships, it is almost impossible to navigate through the difficult times we will encounter throughout life. The legendary football coach Lou Holtz once said that relationships are always either growing or dying. We must invest in relationships every day or they will fade. Relationships are a great paradox; they require effort and dedication most when it seems like they need it the least. It is easier to get a tree to grow by watering it every day than trying to save it when it’s dying.


The third is ethics. It is easier to do the right thing 100 percent of the time than 98 percent of the time. If one crosses the line once, nothing will stop them from doing it again. Disgraced financier Bernard Madoff did not start by stealing billions. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing, and there is never a right time to do the wrong thing.  Do what’s right and avoid what’s wrong.

New Year’s resolutions often involve career choices and making important decisions. Deciding upon a new year’s resolutions can be stressful and anxiety provoking. Oftentimes, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed with the changes that you may want to make. To diminish the occurrence of these negative outcomes, you can follow these New Year’s Resolution tips:

  • Set Small Goals. Setting small goals throughout the year instead of one overwhelming goal helps you be more productive.
  • Set Realistic and Attainable Goals. Setting realistic and attainable goals helps increase your chances of following through with the new lifestyle changes you are wanting to make.
  • Change One Behavior at a Time. Changing one behavior at a time is recommended as it helps you stay focused and engaged.
  • Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself. No one is perfect. Don’t let a small setback stop you from reaching your goals. It is important for you to recognize when a misstep occurred so that you get back on track.
  • Accept Help from Others. We may need to join a support group, share our experiences with family and friends, or seek professional help in order to maintain motivated.

References available upon request

(Co-Authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Fernando Martinez, Yvette Hinojosa, & Amy Ramirez)