Success

Solutions, Not Resolutions

What problems will you solve this year?

What problems will you solve this year?

It’s January 2, so most of you have not yet broken your New Year’s resolutions, assuming you made any.

But you will.

There’s a reason we call them “re-solutions”: we keep making them over and over, and we keep solving the same old problems over and over.

Don’t misunderstand; I am in favor of starting off the new year with good intentions and improvement ideas, even if the likelihood of sticking to them is remote. It’s always a good thing to take time out to reflect on what needs to change or improve in your life and to at least make the occasional effort, because not trying either means you’re admitting defeat or you think you’re perfect.

But if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, why not begin again a little more intelligently? That’s why I’m suggesting solutions instead of resolutions. What’s the difference?

Resolutions are positive: I will lose weight, make more cold calls, take an on-line course. But loss aversion (moving away from pain rather than towards gain) makes us more likely to act. That’s why solutions, which focus first on the problem, (especially on its costs) can be much more motivating. A good friend of mine was once more than 100 pounds overweight, and the only thing that finally motivated him to successfully slim down was envisioning his own corpulent body lying in a coffin surrounded by crying family and friends. He used the negative to get him to act, and the positive to set the direction.

Resolutions are optimistic, which also might seem like a good thing, except when it leads you to ignore the inevitable issues and obstacles that will get in your way, and overestimate the willpower that your future self will have. Solutions anticipate the inevitable problems, so that you’re not surprised or discouraged when they occur and so you can figure out contingency plans in advance.

Resolutions are measurable, which you would think would be a good thing. But the problem is that they can take on the air of zero tolerance, so that missing your resolution on one single day means you “broke” it, and in our throw-away society, who fixes things anymore? Solutions, on the other hand, imply that you can make progress toward your goal, and that you can be flexible and ingenious in your strategies to get back on track when you miss. Solutions focus first on process and let the results follow.

Resolutions can be shallow. It’s easy to come up with a resolution: you see that some behavior is lacking or excessive so you resolve to do less or more of it in the coming year. Solutions are deep: you recognize a problem, and you think, and you analyze, and you diagnose, you figure out a realistic and sustainable solution, and—most importantly—you plan. Because you have thought more deeply about it, you have fully engaged your brain and your heart, so you will forge a much stronger commitment.

If you solve this year, you won’t need to re-solve next year!

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Resolve
January 2, 2013

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