I’m not much for making New Year’s resolutions. Creating a lengthy list of ways that I could and probably should improve my life all at once seems like a recipe for failure.
As it turns out, that view is right on target, according to an interview with Roy Baumeister aired December 30 on NPR’s Science Friday. Baumeister is co-author of the book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, and his research indicates that while we can exercise our willpower to strengthen it, we can also overtax it by trying to resist too many temptations, correct too many bad habits, or change too many behaviors at once.
Think of it like resolving to run two marathons instead of making smaller and more practical resolutions to run or otherwise train on a regular basis. Failure and injury are both likely outcomes.
Baumeister suggests that making–and sticking to–one small change at a time can make tackling the next change and resisting the next temptation a little easier. And instead of resolving to do something big (like lose 20lbs), a person is more likely to be successful in the long run by making a series of smaller resolutions in service of that larger goal and tackling them one piece at a time.
So, I’ve made only one resolution. I resolve to take my dog for a walk five days per week. This is really a two-fer resolution because in the process of taking my dog for a walk (which she both needs and loves), I’m getting one, too. It’s going to be a little difficult because we finally seem to be getting some seasonal temperatures, but despite the bitter northwest wind this afternoon, I succeeded for today.
I’m also thinking that monthly or quarterly resolutions probably make more sense. Who’s to say one’s resolve is stronger on January 1st than it is on May 1st or September 1st? If anything, I’d think that sticking-to-it-iveness would be easier in the warmer and brighter months of the year than in the dark and cold of winter.
There are plenty of other things I intend to do this year that I’m not making into statements of resolution–at least not yet. Most of those intentions have to do with leading a healthier lifestyle, doing my job better, or growing things, and most of them I can make some sort of progress on even if I’m not focusing on that specific thing every single day.
Best of all, the research seems to show that as I work toward fulfilling my one resolution, I’ll also be building my willpower to be successful in the next thing I resolve to do!
So…that means by the end of 2012, my whole life will be perfect, right? 😉
What about you? Are you a resolution-maker? Do you make a list or tackle things one at a time? What are your good intentions for 2012?