Making Changes at the End of the Year?

As we head towards the end of the year, you may be considering making a list of New Year’s resolutions. They may include changes to your information ecosystem. For example, you may be contemplating leaving Facebook, starting a blog, setting up a new folder structure for your email. I want to encourage you to reconsider this approach.

For my part, I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. (My last resolution was to never again make New Year’s resolutions. I’ve kept that one.) Why did I stop? Because they didn’t work. I was mostly setting myself up to feel guilty for not keeping my commitments.

Most New Years resolutions are habits we aspire to either take on or give up: Eating healthier, starting a yoga practice, tweeting more (or less), etc. I’m all for these changes. Being intentional about your habits can have significant positive impacts on your life. But there are several problems with attempting to do them all in one go during the holidays.

For one thing, this is an unusual time of year. If you’re like many people, you’ll be taking time off from work. This means your regular patterns will be disturbed. You’ll be starting new habits during a time when you’ll have more control over your schedule than you usually do. It may go well for the first couple of days, but eventually you’ll be faced with a return to your old routines. The new habits will have to contend with older, more ingrained behavior patterns.

For another, at this time of year you’ll be tempted to attempt many changes at once. (That why in this context the word “resolutions” is most often plural.) The promise of a “New Year = New You” is hard to resist. But experts at habit formation suggest that the best way to make changes is to do it in small steps, one habit at a time. Habits also require repetition and consistency; they won’t stick overnight. (I’ve seen the figure of ninety days touted as the goal for habit formation.)

Mind you; I’m not arguing against making any changes during this time of year. One of the benefits of being off work is that your communication patterns will be disrupted. People know that this is a time of year when others take time off, so they’ll expect less from you, so this may be a great time to experiment with getting off social media for a limited time. (You could consider taking an internet sabbatical.)

So if you’re making changes to how you deal with information, the end of the year could be a good time to do so. Just be mindful about how you do it. Rather than writing a long list of New Year’s resolutions to implement on January 1, make a plan for how you’ll change your behavior in the longer term. Think about how you’ll measure success, and how you’ll keep yourself accountable. Aim to make changes incrementally, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. This should be an exciting and fun opportunity to create a better you. Approach it as such, and don’t turn it into a burden that will only set you back.