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Make A New Year Design, Not A Resolution

It is that time of year when we don’t know what day it is. 3 days ago it was 2020 and now suddenly, it’s a new year!

Everything Is Possible In This Moment In Time

Social media is full of bright and chirpy headlines that yell at you. 7 ways to become the best you! 13.8 ways to become successful! If you do these 5.7 things all your worries will be gone!

Even with the 20 years I have under my belt exploring human behavior, I still want to click. I still hope there is a fairy and pixie dust solution to the messy human existence.

Write What You Need To Read

Sound advice from Brene Brown. At this time of year, what I need to read is a short guide on how to experience ALL that I want from my life, peacefully and restfully. But without too many changes, because you know…I’m busy.

Look back at, the now, distant month of December 2020. Can you count how many times you said to people, ‘I can’t believe it’s December already! Where has the time gone?’ This may have slightly changed during COVID, because many of us are wishing that the virus will acknowledge that 2020 is all we are going to give it. Come 2021, it will graciously disappear. I am no epidemiologist, but I am not holding my breath. Viruses don’t acknowledge the calendar.

Back To December 2020 Revelation

That familiar feeling of being surprised by Christmas, birthdays, wedding anniversaries is called a ‘Predictable Surprise‘. The 25th of December rolls around every year, right after the 24th and the 23rd before that.

Every year.

And every year we are surprised.

Every year we make New Year resolutions. Every year, by the end of January almost 50% of us have let them go.

What is that and more importantly, why does it matter

The truth about being human is that we are terrible at predicting the future. Even in years without a pandemic and crushing bushfires. The field of Behavioural Economics is full of evidence of our cognitive misadventures, known as biases. Our powerful brains have rules of thumb that they follow. Those rules help us navigate our lives, enabling us to make quick decisions in messy environments full of unknowns. They also are very often either inaccurate or wrong.

The good news is that if we know ourselves and our biases, we can design our life with work arounds. Have that salad ready so that when you are hungry – it’s there. Delete those apps from your phone so it’s harder to infinity scroll. Book that date night with your partner BEFORE the work meetings.

Let’s Deep Dive Into The End Of Year Ritual Of Setting New Year’s Resolutions

The short version is – don’t do it.

Read a book. Go for a walk. Coffee with friends. Don’t make a New Year resolution, because you won’t follow up anyway. Right? You don’t agree? Was there a time, back in 1993, where you DID dump that boyfriend and take up jogging?

My question is – if you have been setting resolutions and goals for… well… forever, and the one example of success is 1993, then we need to look at the efficacy of our process. If something in medicine or business worked only 5% of the time, there is a good chance we wouldn’t do it.

The professional term for this experience of intention vs. action is called the knowing-doing gap. We know what we Should Do (eat more greens, call our mother, exercise, sleep 8 hours a day, stop scrolling, gossip less). But that’s not what we DO (eat pizza and chips and chocolate, Netflix binge, couch potato, sleep 3 hours, did you see the dress she was wearing?). Some days are better than others. Some of us are better than others.

Before you judge yourself and humanity, I’d like to suggest we take the perspective of Nobel Prize winner and Behavioural Economist Richard Thaler: ‘People aren’t dumb. The world is hard‘.

So how do we do better for ourselves if we are cognitively befuddled?

Design Your Life Like A Bowl Of Cashews

Thaler tells the tale of a dinner party with his economist professor buddies. Before dinner he put out a large bowl of cashews. You know the drill… everyone grazed on the cashews. Thaler realised that he was ruining his dinner, so he took the bowl to the kitchen to hide it from himself (!). When he went back to the living room, his buddies, all ‘rational ‘professors of economics, thanked him for making them stop grazing.

The story goes, that this became his lightbulb moment. If we didn’t want to eat the cashews, and we are rational beings, then why didn’t we just stop? That is how cashews led to a Nobel Prize (#simplifying).

Back To You

The cashew story teaches us lots of lessons about human decision making and how to set ourselves up for success.

  1. Humans consume what is visible and accessible – if it’s easy and visible we happily consume it, and then often look back at ourselves perplexed.
  2. Our present self does not care about our future self – we do… but not enough to change.
  3. Our environment defines our behavior much more than we are aware.
  4. We often need an external ‘adult’ to help us do what’s good for us.

For those of you who are shaking their heads in despair or exasperation. Remember…humans are not stupid, just imperfect and life gets messy. The beauty of science is that we can use it to design for good. The way I see it is this. Life is like a room full of legos on the floor. Most of the time we walk around with the lights off, stepping on legos being surprised and often in quite a bit of pain. The scientific knowledge allows us to turn the lights on in the room. Legos are still on the floor, but I can see them now. Now, I can walk around them.

What Does That Mean For The New Year Resolution Tradition?

This year – we’re going to make it about the Cashews.

Think of something that is important to you – very important to you. Now, like a sculptor, design so that the components are: Visible, accessible and fun. And if it is something you want to stop doing: make it hard to reach, invisible and painful. Thaler tells the story of a colleague that needed to finish a piece of research. They put in place an accountability process, where the colleague wrote a cheque for every month. If the piece of work due was not handed in on time, Thaler would cash the cheque and use the money to throw a party to which his colleague was not invited. The research was handed in on time, without missing one deadline (sometimes with minutes to spare).

Like To Learn More?

If you’d like to make this a New Year design and Not a New Year resolution, contact us.

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