Episteme

Mike's random thoughts and ramblings

Burning the Ships (or: Can't-Miss New Year's Resolutions )

Happy New Years!

Sorry. Was that too loud this morning? You may be recovering from a bit too much of the carbonated wine last night.

The water-cooler talk (and the majority of the blog posts) tomorrow will probably involve much discussion of the resolutions made over this long-weekend, and how to keep them.

And, at the same time, the punditry out there will be full of statistics, news and thoughts about how many people who make New Year's Resolutions fail to achieve them (especially in government).

This year I started off the New Year thinking about Hernando Cortez. For those that don't know the (almost certainly fabricated) story, Cortez was a conquistador from Spain in the 1500's who conquered Mexico. As the story has it, Cortez landed on the shores of Veracruz with about 700 men, facing an army of tens of thousands of native Mexicans. The rumor of the Mexicans at the time was that they were cannibals - the men were (rightly) terrified of the possibility of their own deaths.

Cortez feared that his men would get cold feet on the invasion and decide to leave shortly after they got there. Fearing mutiny, he formulated a plan. When they landed, Cortez disembarked his crew, and then, before joining them on shore, set all of the ships on fire.

When the men turned around, they realized that there were two options: fight and win, or die.

So, what does this have to do with New Year's resolutions? Absolutely everything... the reason that the majority of resolutions fail is that there's no compelling reason to keep them going. Once the fervor of the next week or so dies down, the constant pressure to remain in the discomfort you're creating (because all change is by definition uncomfortable) will subside. This is when people start to backslide.

So, do you really want to accomplish your resolutions? (No, I mean really, really want to?) Because, if you do, you can take the story of Cortez's actions as an example.

In their book Cracking the Millionaire Code, Mark Victor Hansen and Robert Allen tell a story of a Las Vegas pit boss who wants to quit smoking. So, he takes out a billboard next to the casino with his picture and a caption that says: "If you see me smoking, I'll pay you $10,000"

As a more simple, close to home answer this New Year's, one of the most common resolutions is: "I'm going to get up and work out every morning." This one usually dies after a few days because of a late night and an alarm snooze button that is just a little too easy to hit.

So, what if, at night, before you went to bed, you put the stopper in your bathroom sink and started the water running into the sink at just the right rate that it would overflow all over the bathroom floor right around the time that your alarm is set to go off? It might take a little work to get the rate just right. And it might mean that if you sleep even until the alarm goes off that you awake to a horrible mess in your bathroom.

But something tells me that, like Cortez's men, you'd have a bit more energy and resolve to commit yourself to bounding out of bed (even before the alarm).

Ask yourself: How could I use this idea to give my resolutions a little more commitment than usual?

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Michael Murray

Michael Murray