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Are there easier ways to keep New Year's resolutions?


Happy New Year AIE Readers!

"Change begins at the level of individual decisions and behaviors, but that's a hard place to start because that's where the friction is," write Chip and Dan Heath in Switch. This time of year, that view might be applied to New Year's resolutions. If you want to incorporate some new behavior—eating fewer sweets, say, or keeping your schoolwork better organized—your old patterns can create powerful resistance to your new resolve.

To avoid derailing yourself in the moment of choice, some experts advise thinking things through ahead of time to make the desired behaviors as automatic as possible. Productivity expert David Allen has a fancy name for this: leave it by the door. If there's something you're worried you'll forget, you can set it by the door so that you'll see it on your way out. In this way, you've made the remembering automatic. That can be a good thing to do literally, but Allen also suggests it as a metaphor, as a way of thinking about tasks and commitments in a broader sense than just remembering to take your math book to school.

For example, let's say you've resolved to do your homework as soon as your school day ends. You've decided that's an excellent habit, and that it will help you develop better discipline and will avoid your occasional tendency to procrastinate. What a great idea!

And yet, when you actually get home from school, attractive distractions call out to you: there's puh-lennty of time! You can do it after chatting with your friends online, being a video rock star for a few minutes, or venting to your sibling about this or that annoyance. In some cases, your best intentions and resolve may be overmatched.

But if you "set it by the door," or create an automatic trigger to help you carry out your intent, you can get leverage. "When I get home, I'll set the mail on the kitchen counter, then go right to my desk and do my homework, starting with whatever was assigned for first period," or some similar prompt, makes it easy to overcome distraction because the trigger is automatic. The thing that's already a habit—bringing in the mail—becomes your nudge to carry out your resolution.