New Year’s is coming up, and with it, all that “resolution” stuff. Most of us start out the year excited about our goals and then, somewhere along the way, we lose steam. Our goals end up unfulfilled, and we feel flakey….un-disciplined…not powerful.
I don’t want you to go through that his year. This post is about one way to keep that from happening. Listen to the results of this recent study: When conference attendants were presented with meat as the default option for a meal, only ~15% of individuals opted for the alternative vegetarian option. When presented with the vegetarian meal as the default, only 17% opted for the meat alternative. Both times, most people did not choose their meal preference. They chose the default option.
We see ourselves as rational decisions makers — making choices based on logic or preference. The truth is, we often roll along with the “default option” in our lives.
Then we try to work against the default and form new habits. Let’s say your default is stopping for a quick and unhealthy lunch at the deli across from work. You try to re-orient around cooking healthy food at home in advance. But stopping for healthy food is more work and it’s unfamiliar. Pretty soon, you are likely to run out of steam. When life gets hectic, other priorities will certainly take precedence. And now you are beating yourself up: you’ve failed, you’ve flaked etc. You’ve wasted a lot of energy: the inspiration and effort you spent as you worked toward the goal, and the energy spent thinking not so nice thoughts about your track record.
Instead, here’s my request: use the default principle to your advantage. Structure you life so that your goals are as aligned as possible with the “default settings” in your life.
How? Do the work up front, in life planning and design, so that your most important actions and commitments occur like water flowing downhill —not like water trying to find a way uphill. This is particularly vital if you have a busy, demanding, often overfull life. You won’t always have time or energy to push against the current.
What does this look like in practical terms?
- If you want to exercise regularly, make a recurring appointment with a friend to do so. In fact if you want to do anything regularly, see how you can get social forces adding weight toward doing the new thing, not the old thing
- If you want to save money, get the auto-deduction going.
- If you want to eat more healthily, only keep the healthy stuff in your house.
- If you want to have more of anything in your life, put it in your calendar on an ongoing basis. This includes things you might not think to schedule like sleep, reflection time, quality time with loved ones, or doing nothing time.
- Wherever you can, look ways to have accountability with someone who is a powerful and loving champion for your goal.
For anything you want, ask yourself, how do I make this the default setting in my life? How do I make it like water flowing downhill?
Here’s how you know when something is the default: it’s more work/discomfort not to do it than to do it. It’s more work to cancel the exercise date than to just go.
But, you say, my goal is to become a professional sky-diver. How do I make that the default? In some cases you’ll need to identify the steps you need to take to make your goal happen and make doing those steps the default setting in your life.
We might call this approach “riding the wave of your own inertia” all the way to what you want. But at heart, I care about it not because it’s a cool “achieve your goals” kinda tip, but because it really is about being kind to yourself. I mean think about it: what if your primary responsibility with your aspirations was not to strive and throw time and effort at them but to carefully set yourself up for success without struggle?
Action: Pick one important goal and brainstorm: what is one way to make it (or the steps toward it) the “default setting” in my life? You can ask a buddy to help you think it through if you want. And leave it as a comment below if you’d like to share.