New Year’s resolutions. Are they useless? Is it a myth that the new year is a good time to start fresh?
Based on the lack of success most people have with their resolutions, it might seem so. And, after all, doesn’t the idea that a new year represents a new start seem kind of arbitrary? Why would January 1 be a more powerful day than any other?
But it turns out that our intuitive sense that there is something to a new year is actually correct. As shown in Dan Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, a new year is what researchers call a temporal landmark. These temporal landmarks help us navigate our way through time, just as physical landmarks help us navigate our way through space.
A temporal landmark switches on our motivation, and makes it possible for us to start (or re-start) in a stronger way. And this matters very much. “In most endeavors, we should be awake to the power of beginnings and aim to make a strong start…Beginnings have a far greater impact than most of us understand. Beginnings, in fact, can matter to the end.”
Researchers have found that a temporal landmarks help us in two chief ways. First, they allow us to:
open “new mental accounts” in the same way that a business closes the books at the end of one fiscal year and opens a fresh ledger for the new year. This new period offers a chance to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from that past self’s mistakes and imperfections, and leaves us confident about our new, superior selves. Fortified by that confidence, we “behave better than we have in the past and strive with enhanced fervor to achieve our aspirations.”
Second, “these time markers is to shake us out of the tree so we can glimpse the forest.” They take our focus off of our day-to-day minutiae and lift it up to the big picture. This wide-angle view of our lives allows us to see more clearly and focus on our goals. It slows down our thinking so that we can deliberate at a higher level.
It turns out that you can do this with lots of days, not just the new year. Birthdays, anniversaries of any major event, the start of a new school year, the beginning of a month, and so forth. “Imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings.”
So if you don’t plan your decade, all is not lost. Nonetheless, here we are presented with an incredible opportunity to create a fresh start and take in the big picture. For we don’t just have he power of a new year starting; we have the power of a new set of ten years starting.
This is a unique temporal landmark that we can harness to clarify our vision and amp our motivation in a greater way than the start of a standard year. You can use the beginning of this new decade to harness the fresh start effect and create a strategic turning point in your personal history. And it just so happens that thinking ahead ten years is about the perfect amount of time to clarify a good vision for your life that is long enough to give you good direction but not so long that it seems unattainable.
So where do you want to be in ten years? What are the milestones along the way? And what are the key lessons from the last ten years? These are important questions to ask, and science now confirms it.
What we need now is a process to do this. A process for planning our decade. I call it a “decade review.” Most of us now are familiar with David Allen’s concept of the weekly review from Getting Things Done. I have long adapted the concept of the weekly review to other important time markers as well: the monthly review, quarterly review, and yearly review. Now it’s time for the decade review.
I’ll give some tips on how to do it in the next two posts. But if you want to go deeper and learn about how to do a decade review live and more directly, I am doing a webinar this Thursday, December 19, at 11:00 am Central Time. You can sign up here. It will be new stuff that goes beyond what I will be posting next on how to do it, so I encourage you to join us! UPDATE: Registration for this event is now closed. Thank you.
“Shifting our focus—and giving when the same weight as what—won’t cure all our ills. But it’s a good beginning.”
— Dan Pink