The world didn’t end, the Christmas season is coming to a close, and a new year dawns upon us. If you are one of the many people who set new year’s resolutions but end up not being able to keep them, these ideas will help you. You might want to bookmark this and return to it periodically during the year.
Okay here it goes: Anything and everything, anyone and everyone, take the easiest course of action.
Let us imagine a very little ray of light we shall call Lumios. Now, Lumios needs to get from point A, his house, to point B, where he works. Being a ray of light, how fast he travels and the effort he spends is the same everywhere. Knowing this, he will choose the easiest course of action for him – which is in fact, the path where he would take least time. This is actually a general law in Phyiscs that is called the Principle of Least Time – that the path taken between two points by a ray of light is the path that can be traversed in the least time.
Think of the last thing you did. Did you not do it because it was the easiest thing to do, given the circumstances?
Your lifestyle is living proof that people take the easiest course of action. In general, that easiest course of action varies from person to person – and is determined by our knowledge, beliefs, and experiences. This is the reason structure plays a very important role in our lives – structure creates the easiest course of action.
But, as Officer Gordon said in The Dark Knight Rises, structures can become shackles. And indeed it’s true. We see it everyday in governments, companies, media, the academe, and anywhere if we take time to notice. So here are two clusters of steps to balancing it out and avoiding this dilemma: the first cluster, people hear about a lot. The second, most people miss.
Clarity and Specificity
Our mind loves to procrastinate when we don’t have a good plan. Procrastination is our brain’s way of telling us “Your plan sucks” (Newport, 2012). A good plan is clear and specific.
- Churning. (Young, 2009) Do this to get the boll rolling. You may write down whatever you wish. Keep going for 5-10 minutes.
- Selection. Among those you’ve written, choose those which are important to you (not other people) and list down the reasons they are so. Knowing why will motivate you even in times you’d want to give up, and they’ll also help you gain a clearer insight about whether or not these resolutions are worth having in the first place.
- Simplify. Quality beats quantity every single time. Setting resolutions is no different: accept the fact that you can’t achieve 50 resolutions at a time, or even 30. Take it easy; group similar resolutions and pick those that will make the most impact to your goals. When you’ve pared down to 2-3 deep resolutions, you know you’ve done a good job.
- Break it down! Transform the ambiguous and vague resolutions into vivid easy-to-do actions. Replace “be thrifty”, with “every night, drop 100 pesos into green piggy bank.” Replace “study harder”, with “every morning, lecture one topic out loud without looking at my books or notes.” Replace “sleep more” with “brush my teeth at 10 PM and immediately start preparing to sleep.”
- Ease-of-access. Post your resolutions in places you’ll frequent, or in objects you encounter a lot. For saving up a hundred pesos, you may want to write a note in your wallet. For lecturing topics, you may want to write a note in your planner if you have one, or your computer desktop. For sleeping more, you may want to set an alarm on your cellphone at 10 PM that says “brush your teeth and prepare your bed.” Different strokes for different folks. Get creative!
- Buddy system. Setting resolutions with a buddy has been tried and tested and it works! Your buddy can be your classmate, your wife, a work rival, your boyfriend, your closest cousin, your best friend, etc. – anyone, actually, as long as this person is someone you trust who’s willing to go through this process with you. You can use Google Docs (this is what my buddy and I used for 2012), a planner, a notepad saved on Dropbox, a sketch pad, whiteboard, a journal, or whatever you find most convenient.
Execution and Feedback
Willpower is a by-product of the immediate options we recognize. For 80 000 years, human brains have been choosing the easiest course of action. Creating a structure for following up with your resolutions is crucial to your success.
- Periodic Action. For maximum effect, review your progress periodically with your buddy and, here’s where you balance the structure-shackle dilemma, adjust resolutions accordingly. Reinforce or edit important ones, drop the worthless ones, and add whatever you may find useful. Any period from weekly to quarterly will do.
- Public Relations. Tell your friends about it; they’re bound to bug you every now and then; you’ll also be compelled to be more conscious about your actually achieving your resolutions.
Done it? Good! You’ve now just made achieving your new year’s resolutions your easiest course of action!