Enough about what people want to do differently this year. Yeah, I’m gonna do 42 affirmations every day and ride a pony, too”. – Ramit Sethi

This quote is a sarcastic and witty response to people going absolute bananas over new years resolutions. Ramit Sethi, the author and entrepreneur knows well that behaviour change requires more than just short-lived motivation attached to a specific date.

You see, behavioural science tells us there are factors other than motivation which we need to address to see our resolutions through. One of the most used models for behavior change is that of BJ Fogg, derived from decades of scientific research.

Fogg’s model states that a successful behavior change requires all three of the following factors to be present:

  • Motivation (e.g. I want to do X because [insert something intrinsic]…)
  • Attitude/Ability (e.g. I’m able to do X because it’s easy…)
  • Timely triggers (e.g. I’m going to do X because I see it or because I get a reminder to do it at the right time…)

This is a simplistic way to digest a complex model. But the point is that boiling resolutions down to just a calendar entry won’t work because motivation is only part of the puzzle.

Let’s assume that person X makes a new year resolution to get back into shape. The natural next steps would be to get a gym membership, but the behaviour change required is for X to now go to the gym regularly.

  • Motivation: At this moment, X is motivated to go the gym because they want to get that sexy beach body. This motivation will dip, especially as that beach body won’t start shaping up right away.
  • Attitude / ability: X has a gym membership but is that all they need to go to the gym regularly? Do they need to create extra time in their week to go there, does the location of the gym make it realistic for them to attend regularly? And so on. The gym membership alone won’t get X to the gym 4 days a week.
  • Triggers: X has only the start date – the new year. But that date will pass and so their trigger will become out of date. X has no additional triggers… No times blocked off in the diary to ensure X makes the time to go the gym and is then reminded to go. No sessions with a personal trainer booked to make sure X goes to the gym. And so on.

So what’s missing?

As you can see, the trigger is missing. It’s great that X has the motivation to get started, but that excitement of the new year will wear off. Getting results will take time, so X needs to put more thought into making sure that a. they are able to go to the gym regularly and b. that they have external triggers set up to prompt them to go when they are able.

Do you see how X’s resolution (without ability and trigger) will fail?

This is just one model for behaviour change and there is more to behavioural science. But the typical new year resolution that an Average Joe makes will still never fit the success criteria of any scientific model.

Focus less on a date or dubbing this year ‘the year of x’. Instead, think more about the longevity of the change you want to make and how you can fit it into your current life sustainably.

What’s clear is that longevity is of crucial importance to any behavioural change, the start date doesn’t matter so much.

One of my favourite Chinese proverbs says: “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW.”

So get after it.


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