Psychology for New Year’s Resolutions…..and beyond

resolutions 2Many people make plans to change or improve something around New Year and discover how hard it is to sustain the initiative. So let’s take a look if and how psychology might be helpful to manage our New Year’s Resolutions. But let’s not limit this to New Year: we do have challenges all year through and I hope this post is also useful beyond January. The hard part of resolutions is the fact that they have to compete with habits. That’s not easy so let’s bring in so hotshots to help us win the struggle. What about Dan Pink, David McClelland and Burrhus Frederic (B.F.)  Skinner!?

The first thing to know is what really motivates YOU and how it is connected to your resolutions. In his great book ‘Drive’ Dan Pink helps us to find out more about our drives and I think they can be very helpful as first step. In the ‘Twitter summary’ of the book Pink says: ‘Carrots and sticks are so last century. Drive says: for the 21st century work we need to upgrade to autonomy, mastery & purpose’.  So to start with ask yourself: what is the real background of my New Year’s resolutions: is it about growing my autonomy, do I want to get better at anything so improve mastery or is it about some deeper meaning of life, what is the purpose? This can be a very nice step to start with but I want to make it more concrete.

McClelland DavidThat’s why I’m a fan of McClelland and his Theory of needs. He shows us three human needs: the need to achieve, the need for affiliation and the need for power. If you prefer the need to achieve you like to work on tough challenges, want to be a winner like in sports or games, like to figure out smarter solutions, prefer to work alone and like to get feedback often to know you’re on track and celebrate achievements. If you prefer the need for affiliation you like to meet other people, you like to work with them and to get to know them better. You like to create a more personal relationship with them and receive recognition from people around you.  If you prefer the need for power you like to be influential, you like to lead, be an example, create better circumstances for other people you like to be the director. If you  ‘know thyself’ try to apply it to your resolutions. If you’re an achiever make your resolution a game, create a system to provide you feedback, keep on track create milestones and celebrate achievements. If you like affiliation, share your resolutions with your peers, ask for help and support, try to team up with ‘resolution colleagues’ so you never walk alone. If you’re a power person think about how you can delegate (parts of) your resolutions, try to ‘change the rules of the game’ if it helps you, get additional resources to make it happen. So this is why I like McClelland: it can give you very different clues how to manage your resolution depending on your own personal style.

duiven ping pong skinnerBut we’re not done yet. Hey, Dan Pink can say carrots and sticks are old fashion but wait a minute. I think it can be useful today, I mean if this guy B.F. Skinner was able to get fricking PIGEONS to play ping-pong I want to know more about his approach! And yes it is about carrots and sticks, about punishment and reward. To apply this to our New Year’s Resolution we should try to create a system that punishes our old behavior and rewards our new. It’s about paving the path for our desired behavior and creating some roadblocks on our worn out comfortable routes. Goede voornemens UK2The real art is to apply instant reward and punishment – the sooner the reward or punishment follows the behavior the better. The best way is to work with rewards: try to create a direct positive reward for the desired behavior and take away – or delay – the direct positive rewards for the undesired behavior. Try to be creative in what can be a reward or punishment for you and try to ‘automate’ it so it won’t take you additional effort to deliver the reward or punishment. If this this blog was helpful to manage your New Year’s Resolutions please reward me by posting your story as comment. Good luck and have a nice year!

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