The Art of the Do-Over

goalsNow that the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over, attention turns to New Years. Across the globe, people are busy deciding where they will be and who they will be with as they count down the final minutes of the year and celebrate the arrival of 2015. For many, this also means making New Year’s resolutions – commitments to changes in behavior that will improve their lives.

According to research conducted by the University of Scranton, the most popular resolutions made for 2014 were:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Get Organized
  3. Spend Less/Save More

That same study however, also found that only 8% of those who make New Year’s resolutions actually succeed in achieving them. As soon as one week after making their resolution, 25% report they’ve already broken them. Less than half are still on track after six months. That’s an alarming rate of failure. In fact, I know a great many people who have become so frustrated with their inability to achieve their resolutions that they have decided to stop making them.

We all make promises, to others and to ourselves, that we fail to keep. We fail for any number of reasons; lack of time or money, demands placed on us from others, even random and unforeseen circumstances. But one thing that seems to act as a stumbling block for me is self-control. I sometimes find myself struggling between that which I should do and that which I want to do. For instance, I know I should jump on the treadmill in my backroom for twenty minutes but I’d rather spend that time browsing the internet or watching TV. I should buckle down and finish the big report I have due for work, but I’d rather check out what my friends are doing on Facebook. This lack of discipline keeps me from achieving the goals I’ve set for myself and cause me a great deal of frustration.

Is it any wonder then that, every December, so many of us make the same resolutions we did the year before? How can we overcome this natural tendency to lose steam and forgo the needs in pursuit of the wants? Wharton professor Katherine Milkman offers one suggestion in a strategy she calls the “fresh-start effect.”

Milkman feels that, rather than getting frustrated with our inability to stay on track, we embrace it. Knowing that our motivation to perform is strongest in the days and weeks following a milestone, we should use them to initiate a fresh start toward our goals. Here’s how she puts it:

“At the beginning of a new week, the start of a new month, following a birthday, or after a holiday from work, people redouble their efforts to achieve a goal. Why? Because in these fresh-start moments, people feel more distant from their past failures. Those failures are the old you, and this is the new you. The fresh-start effect hinges on the idea that we don’t feel as perfect about our past as we’d like. We’re always striving to be better. And when we can wipe out all those failures and look at a clean slate, it makes us feel more capable and drives us forward.”

As a kid, I loved do-overs. So did my friends. We made a point to allow a certain number of do-overs in any pick-up game we played. It allowed us to focus on being successful rather than on being a failure. I think it’s sad that as grown-ups we seem to have forgotten the art of the do-over. Not that everyone gets an unlimited amount of free passes (even as kids we only allowed one or two per game); but we can all use a fresh start from time to time.

As you look forward to 2015 and make your list of resolutions – or goals, or commitments, or whatever you want to call them – aim for excellence, not perfection. Know that you don’t always have to get it right the first time. Know that if at first you don’t succeed…well, you know the rest.

 

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