January is an interesting time for behavioural science. Few things illustrate self-control as vividly as New Year’s resolutions. February is even better: we can study why so many of those resolutions are broken. But as well as identifying our weaknesses, behavioural science can help tie us to the mast of our noble intentions. Here are three tips.
First, pre-commit. Negotiating with yourself on a constant basis takes mental resources and willpower. Deciding to avoid such negotiations by pre-commiting to a certain course of action can help. So if you want to eat more healthily, for example, buy your weekly shop in advance and decide only to eat what you buy. Don’t start thinking about what you’ll eat while you’re hungry.
Second, make your resolutions accountable to others. You could place bets with your friends so that every time you get caught eating junk food, say, you will be punished by having to pay them money. There’s an of app to help: Commitment Contract by stickK allows you to set specific goals and specify monetary stakes that you’d hate to lose, such as donating money to organisations you don’t approve of.
- Finally, stay sane. Self-control is costly in terms of mental resources and exercising constant restraint is wearying. So when choosing goals, go with the ones that minimise the amount of self-control called for. Choose exercising over dieting, say. Exercising regularly does require willpower, of course, but unlike dieting it does not demand constant self-control. As regular exercise becomes a habit, it requires lesser mental resources to keep yourself on track.
The above leadership tip...
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