This morning, I watched a pretty thought-provoking TED talk while getting dressed. (Yes, it takes me nearly 20 minutes to pull gym/lounge clothes on, put my contacts in, and brush my teeth. I told you I can only do things slowly!) Shlomo Benartzi, a behavioral economist, did a TED talk in 2011 called “Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow.”
At first I thought I was kind of dumb. Okay, maybe not dumb, but more that all the information and studies were ones I had heard about before. Shlomo talks about how when people have to check the box on their driver’s license to become an organ donor, they don’t do it; however, if you make the default choice to be an organ donor and ask people to check the box to opt out, all of a sudden the rate of organ donation skyrockets. The same happens with companies asking people to opt out of a 401 K plan instead of opting into one. So, by simply changing the default option, you can impact the rate at which people do something. We all already knew that, but I know that I for one hadn’t fully thought about the implications.
In the second half of his talk, things got really interesting. This is where Shlomo gets to the title of his talk: “Saving for tomorrow, tomorrow.” When you ask people to increase the rate at which they’re saving, it’s difficult to get them to buy in – it means that they’re going to have to decrease their spending. People don’t want to have to do that, so they say no, even though it’s something they know they should be doing. But if you ask them if they’re willing to increase their saving rate in the future, they say yes. The impact isn’t felt as much if it happens in the future… and if you can have the savings rate increase at a time when they won’t notice it (like right when they get a raise), it’s barely felt at all. The point is, if you can make a decision now to change something in the future (and then find a way to enforce it), it’s a lot easier than trying to change the present. Again, I knew this already, but now I wondered how else this concept could be applied.
It somehow got me thinking about an interesting blog post about goal setting that Paige wrote last week, which I loved. In it, Paige championed the idea of “just for today” goals. Setting the goal is easy; you know it’s a small choice because it’s “just for today” and it’s not a forever decision for the rest of your life. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s easier if you tell yourself that you’ll just go to the gym today, rather than committing to a big long gym routine forever. But what if we take that great concept of making a short term goal, and apply what we learned in Schlomo’s talk?
Rather than setting a goal “just for today” (which assumes you’re motivated to do it today), what if you set a goal “just for tomorrow”? Or, what if you set a goal that’s going to last for an entire month… but you don’t have to start it until next week? There are a lot less fun goals I’d be willing to commit to if the commitment was separate from the actual doing of whatever it is.
I think that this logic is why we like New Year’s resolutions so much. They’re a chance for us to make a change and say we’re going to do something positive… but not have it start until January 1st. Hooray for changes that don’t actually require us to do anything today! (Of course, the trick is holding yourself accountable for actually doing it once the time comes, but accountability is another topic for another day.)
However, I think where we run into trouble with resolutions is when people try to make one big goal that’s going to last the whole year. (I’m guilty of that too!) It’s hard to predict what life is going to be like six months from now, and it’s hard to predict how difficult a change may be until you actually start making it. So what if instead of making yearlong New Year’s resolutions, we make a resolution just for a month, just for a week, or even just for tomorrow?
I’d love to hear what you think.