Your window for taking action on any resolution made over the holidays is pretty small. While away, you have a clear head devoid of mundane everyday tasks and are more likely to be able to tackle broader and more complex problems. Once everyday life intrudes, action will seem more complicated and difficult.
The statistics vary, but approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by the second week of February and post-holiday resolutions almost certainly have an even shorter shelf life. The problem, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is usually that the goals are too big and too non-specific.
As we explore in this article about human behaviour and money, resolutions don’t change behaviour. Behaviour changes come first. You need to change your environment to change your behaviour and keep your resolutions. That means small changes. Back to the APA: “If, for example, your aim is to exercise more frequently, schedule three or four days a week at the gym instead of seven.” Don’t aim high; go for achievable.
With this in mind, is there one very small action you could make today that would bring you closer to the change you want? Would it be setting aside money every month so you have some capital behind you to retrain? Or asking the boss for flexitime, so you have time to work on something different?
The APA also suggests that making the resolution tangible will help – that means writing it down and/or telling other people. It also needs to be specific: ‘sort pensions’ will not work, but ‘find pension statements’, ‘call HR’, ‘make financial adviser appointment’ is easier. Setting a (short) deadline can also mean you’re more likely to stick with it. You could also devote a specific amount of time to it. This doesn’t have to be long: most behaviourists suggest tackling a tricky task for 15 minutes and then stopping.
Finally, if you haven’t done anything a month after the holiday, abandon the idea and just get on with your life. There’s no point painfully regretting what you haven’t done and yet lacking the motivation to do it. That way, madness lies. Beating yourself up will pretty much ensure you won’t stick to your next resolution either. Plus, there’s always your next holiday.
Paul Davies will be speaking at the Boring Money Annual Conference in September.