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Dealing with Resolution fatigue: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

Most resolutions are pledges made with no wiggle room, which is why they so often fail. Try treating them as works in progress instead.
By Charles Assisi
PUBLISHED ON FEB 05, 2021 04:57 PM IST

Most studies confirm that by this time of year, at least 80% of people have broken their New Year resolutions. I’ve been among them, numerous times. The only reason I no longer am is that I don’t make resolutions any more.

After much experience of why it is a bad idea, and much reading that confirms it is, I have decided to go with the belief that it isn’t a lack of will power that leads us to break our resolutions — it’s usually the nature of the resolutions themselves. Most are so very myopic.

The most common promises to the self tend to fall into three groups — losing weight, living more healthily and managing money better. There are two core problems here — a). You can’t wake up overnight an altogether different person and b) the decision isn’t always up to you.

Resolutions tend to operate in absolutes and make no room for the people in our lives, the interpersonal relationships we must nurture, the investments we must make in our social groups. We have identities in each of these domains and each of those identities operates differently, with different priorities and goals.

When we pursue one absolute goal, our other identities begin to suffer. And it is only a matter of time before they rebel and the resolution suffers.

So if you’re suffering from resolution fatigue, consider this question: Has your resolution compelled you to give up other parts of your identity? If the answer to that is yes, it is time to revisit the resolution, tweak it, and treat it as a work in progress.

There are tried-and-true mental models that can be deployed along the way. The Theory of Constraints is one of my favourites. One example of how this works was when the founder and publisher of Random House bet $60 in 1960 that Dr Seuss couldn’t write a children’s book in 50 words. Dr Suess accepted the bet. He retreated and emerged a year later to deliver Green Eggs and Ham. The book went on to sell 8 million copies and is now acknowledged as the fourth-best-selling children’s hardcover of all time.

My limited submission here is that all of us face constraints. If the stated resolution is to lose weight and you’re struggling, with a voice in the head asking you to give up because time is a constraint, re-examine with honestly how much time you can really spare. And use that time, because it will add up in the long term.

To ensure you do, deploy the Pledge and Radical Inflexibility. These are models that emerge from the writings of legendary management teacher Clayton Christensen and Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of all time. Christensen pledged to his family he would not work on Saturdays and would spend time with them instead. He stuck to that pledge to his dying day. Buffett communicated to everyone he did business with that was radically inflexible on price would not negotiate. Deploying models such as these, both have communicated through their writings, rescued them from decision fatigue.

In an attempt to deploy these learnings, I applied a constraint on myself — that I would not engage with the screen before 9 am. I’ve been radically inflexible about it too. The early days were tough because I like to start early, and not having visibility on what the day may look like makes me feel terribly uncomfortable. It was just a matter of time before the head started to work its way around this constraint. I now maintain a monthly and weekly calendar that I review at regular intervals.

With this one change, pockets of time began to open up in the mornings that are allowing me time to reflect, course-correct, think about the long-term. This is time I am unwilling to give up on now. It is good not just for me but for everyone around me as well. What is evident to me now is that the time invested here helps nourish my other identities as well.

It’s also made it clear to me that I underestimate the effort required to complete a task, and overestimate the time I have on hand. That is why I have also borrowed a model that prudent financial planners deploy when thinking about the future — they inflate the prices of everything. As a thumb rule, I now inflate the time it will take me to complete a task. In doing so, I find that I have fallen into a virtuous cycle: I sometimes end up with even more time on my hands.

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