Well here we are, the first day of 2015. Feels nice. Smells kinda minty. And look at you! You’ve just turned over a new leaf! You’re going to be so much better this year, what with finally learning that language, working out, taking more trips, or just trying to murder less people. Man, the new you is kinda awesome.
Too bad that new you is not going to last. Apparently a full 40% of americans make resolutions (more than the 33% who watch the Super Bowl…)! And yet, only 71% of resolutions make it 14 days. By six months it is down to 46%, and in the end just 8% achieve their New Year’s resolutions over the course of a year.
You don’t need the flipping of a calendar to make changes in your life. If you want to change something about yourself, change the day you notice that thing you don’t like. By getting caught up in the January 1st phenomenon, you are lumping yourself in with those other 92% of resolutions that will fail. Each one you watch go down in flames will erode your willpower a little more, until that fateful day that you join them. Sucker.
But it is more than just your timing. You’re obviously reading this now and thinking, “well I don’t want to wait till April to change myself!” First off, stop shouting. Secondly, you need to get better about identifying what, exactly, you want to change and how you will achieve it. Vague goals beget vague resolutions. Make sure your change is SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Framed. That, young man, is a plan. The kind of plan you just might actually achieve.
But I’m here to tell you that even that good of a plan is not enough. You need all the help you can get from a new field of economics call Decision Architecture. This is the fancy-pants way of saying “how people decide things, and how to make them change in the way you want.” The ladies and gentlemen who have devoted their lives to this work have found that over time, willpower fades and fails. Period. Willpower is not an inexhaustible resource – it needs replenishment and support.
Think of your willpower like a wallet full of cash. You obviously want to waste as little of that cash as possible, so you need to make your decisions less reliant on your cash (willpower) and more reliant on other factors. Step 1) Make whatever change you seek the easiest choice, and what you are trying to get away from the harder one. You can do this by making the pain of a decision or indecision more immediate. Want to bike to work? Take the gas out of your car, and never put much in it when you actually need to drive. Want to quit smoking? Commit – publicly – to donate $1000 to the KKK if you ever smoke again.
Step 2 to making resolutions that stick was just mentioned. You’ve got to enroll your community to holding your accountable. Ask your friends to text you every time they go to the gym to give yourself a kick in the pants every day that you skip. Have them ask about your progress and how it is going. Hold them accountable as well.
Seek the support of your community in these concrete changes that you have structured to be the easy choice, and by golly you just might turn over that new leaf. In fact, science say you’re very likely to do so. January 1 is just a date. Write down specific changes, how you are going to achieve them, then email that list to your friends. Then get to friend, no one but everyone you love is watching you…