As not only a new year but a new decade begins, the traditional habit of coming up with New Year’s resolutions somehow seems more important. Of course, we know that our best intentions at the beginning of the year typically fall short within a few months.
The desire to develop better habits revolve around a few core areas. Author Gretchen Rubin, in her book “Better Than Before,” highlights the “essential seven” habits people work on: eat and drink more healthfully; exercise regularly; save, spend and earn wisely; rest, relax and enjoy; accomplish more and stop procrastinating; simplify, clear, clean and organize; and, last, engage more deeply in relationships.
Economists, psychologists, financial planners and other professionals have studied resolutions in an effort to hike the odds of success. Looking at their insights and my own woeful experience with failed resolutions, I have four suggestions to beat the odds.
First, know yourself. Self-knowledge is a major theme of Rubin’s. What may work for me might not be a sensible approach for your temperament and personality.
For example, economist Peter Orszag in an interview with NPR several years ago mentioned that he is a marathon runner. To keep motivated he built a financial penalty into his training regimen. “If I didn’t achieve what I wanted to, a very large contribution would automatically come out of my credit card and go to a charity that I very much didn’t support,” he said. The strategy worked for him.
Second: Engage with your family, friends or colleagues in helping you. Let them know what you’re trying to do. They’ll remind you of what you said you hoped to accomplish and offer encouragement along the way.
Third, I would give priority to one goal. One reason is you want the goal to be important enough to devote time and effort to change your behavior. Another factor is realizing that time is the scarce commodity. Think about all the things you’re trying to do. A good job at work. Maintain your home, etc. Focusing on one goal limits the demand on your time.
Fourth, keep it simple. For example, when it comes to money, automate as much as possible the habit you want to develop. Let’s say you want to save more. Have a small sum taken out of your checking account automatically by your financial institution every month. Want to put aside more for retirement? Check the option with your retirement savings plan to automatically increase your annual contribution.
Happy New Year!
Chris Farrell is a senior economics contributor for “Marketplace” and a commentator on MPR.