Friday, January 3, 2014

Why New Year's Resolutions Don't Work

It's noon on January 1st: Football is on and I have the day off work.... time to break all my New Year's Resolutions (12 hours after I set them). Am I a weak willed person? Hardly. Putting a new calendar on the wall just doesn't present validation for change.

The behavioral economics theory of the Say/Do Gap shows us that mundane commitments (such as New Year's Resolutions) do not provoke our emotional intelligence. Jonathan Haidt used the metaphor of a Mahout riding an elephant to exemplify our motivation. These studies showcasing that our motivation is, in fact:

23% Reason

77% Emotion

Dan Ariely digs deeper into these concepts in his book, Predictably Irrational. Ariely points out that we believe we rationalize ourselves through every decision. More often, emotion overrides the mind creating a knee jerk reaction (for better or worse).

I am far from a Behavioral Scientist but I do know that the heart is bigger than the brain when it comes to life commitments. A New Year or even The Lenten Season are not enough to improve my workout regimen. If I have a heart attack, however, you can bet I'd make some adjustments.

The real questions we face are not those of resolutions but life changes. We can commit to a goal for a limited time, achieve it, and learn very little. Did you hit your financial goal in 2013? Great! Will you stay motivated to double your income in 2014 or will you stop to smell the roses and fall back? Indeed, if our heart isn't in it, our brain will come up with a reason not to change.

Separating Preference from Necessity
So you quit eating chocolate for the first 3 months of the year, well done! What came of it? You lost 5 pounds and saved yourself $90. Big whoop. In the process you may have become irritable to the point that your production at work fell 20% due to stress and mental fatigue.

I don't know the exact statistics but most people who go on resolution driven diets gain the weight back. In contrast, if an alcoholic realizes that their habit is a disease and seek proper help, they have a far greater chance of saving their life.

What Really Matters?
In goal setting for the new year will you look at what was and develop a metric for improving upon it? Is not the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Look not at simple flaws as a means to employ methods for short term correction. Change your life because you want to effect the world (not just yourself). Humanity is collective.

Fear of Inability Only Halts Achievement
If we are motivated by fear, we will do just enough to stay on task. This is why most managers suck at their jobs and why mundane goal setting achieves nothing.

You can resign yourself to try to change... or you can vow that every day you are going to force yourself to be uncomfortable. In order to instill real change you have to turn a decision into a skill set, commit yourself to it, and formalize a behavior change. Sound difficult? Good!

Do the hard work!

Start something that matters!

Commit to be better than any who has ever lived!

Evolve to be different, not better than what was!

Fight mediocrity!

Be courageous!

Don't Forget to Remember!


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