Four Steps to Make Resolutions Stick

December 23, 2014

by Dan Richards

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My last two weeks’ columns have outlined how to break the cycle of high hopes around New Year’s resolutions followed by disappointment and dashed expectations.  In an article two weeks ago, I outlined research that the key to any important change, whether in personal life or in business, lies not in greater discipline but in creating habits that put the right behavior on automatic pilot. And last week’s article outlined six initial steps to make resolutions stick:

  1. Focus on one or two new habits
  2. Be ambitious – but with a reality check
  3. Expect success- but anticipate setbacks
  4. Be specific about what you want to achieve
  5. Change the activity that triggers habits
  6. Move at the right pace

Here are four additional steps to create new habits in your routine.

Use defaults to automate your routine

The past two decades has seen growing attention to the field of behavioral economics, focusing on how emotions create biases in decision-making. Among leaders in this field are the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, whose work  on “nudging” people towards the right decisions I covered in articles on how to your middle class clients retire and a simple strategy to triple client savings.

Among the key concepts in behavioral research is creating the right “defaults” – the things that happen unless people intervene to make a change. Duke’s Dan Ariely has studied how consent for organ donations can go from under 15% in Germany to almost 100% in next-door Austria. The difference was the default decision – in Germany the default outcome was not to donate organs unless drivers made a change; in Austria the default is that organs are donated unless drivers opt out.

Advisors looking to change habits can use two approaches to create defaults in their routine – time blocking and predetermined client meeting agendas.  Let’s suppose that the new habit you’re aiming to create is to start each day with a 15-minute meeting with your team, have lunch each Friday with the accountant for a key client or spend 90 minutes on Wednesday morning touching base with prospects. You can use a recurring appointment in your calendar to time block that morning staff meeting, the time on Wednesday to contact prospects and the Friday lunch with a client accountant; you can also block time on Friday morning to call client accountants to set up lunches down the road.

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