Opinions


Why You Shouldn’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

Start Small and Stand Behind the Power of Consistency

January 6, 2014

This year, I’m not making any resolutions. Forget it. I’m not going to suddenly jump on the treadmill five days a week, start taking pottery classes, dive into those books that have been accumulating on my nightstand, or do any of the other zillion things I’ve been meaning to do.

It’s not that I don’t want to improve my health or learn something new, I just know that if I make these resolutions, I’ll end up breaking them, just like the nearly 90 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions do each year.

But why is it so hard to keep our resolutions? And what can we do to stick to our goals?

Limited Willpower

I was just reading an old article in the Wall Street Journal on New Year’s resolutions that quotes Stanford University neuroeconomics professor Baba Shiv. In the article, Shiv said the reason most resolutions fail is because our brains simply can’t handle it. Basically, the more information you try to stuff into your brain, he said, the more willpower you lose as your brain experiences a cognitive overload. To test this theory, Shiv ran an experiment:

“A group of undergraduate students were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember. The other was given a seven-digit number to remember. Then, after a short walk through the hall, they were offered the choice between two snacks: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. What’s most surprising: The students with seven-digit numbers to remember were twice as likely to pick the slice of chocolate compared to the students with the two-digits. … Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain — they were a ‘cognitive load’ — making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”

Crawl Before You Walk

Apparently, in the fight between brainpower and willpower, willpower loses. But what if your resolutions are business-related? What if you’ve resolved to get your office more organized, beef up your social media presence, pay more attention to new HVAC technologies, and so on?

Another Stanford brainiac, B.J. Fogg, who heads up the persuasive technology lab at the university, said making permanent changes starts with changing your daily habits, one habit at a time. So, instead of setting a vague goal like “get organized,” a better approach would be to dedicate the first 10 minutes of each workday to straightening up your work area and organizing your emails. Once you’ve mastered that, move on to the next habit to change. Baby steps — they add up.

Prove It

So, enough of this resolution nonsense. It’s the first week of a whole new year, and we’re all compelled to do something drastic and change things about ourselves and businesses, but that’s not realistic. If we want to make changes — real, permanent changes — it’s going to take time, patience, and dedication.

I have my own goals for 2014. I have a step-by-step, realistic plan to achieve them. I am going to take 2014 by the horns, wrestle it to the ground, and own it. How about you?

Publication date: 1/6/2014 

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