Are you a fan of New Year’s resolutions? Whether or not a fresh clean diary fills you with excitement at the prospect of endless possibilities, I’ve just been listening to a podcast interview that might make your 2024 a little bit better. Shane Parrish was interviewed last month by Rangan Chatterjee on his Feel Better Live More podcast about the ideas in Parrish's latest book Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results.
Three takeaways that resonated with me:
Hard mode or easy mode: Looking at different areas of life, are you playing in hard mode or easy mode? Hard mode: you’re trying to improve your fitness, but not seeing the results you want when you go for a run or workout in the gym. You give it your all when you are exercising, but too many late nights, too much alcohol, and not enough healthy food choices leave you with sub-optimal energy. That’s playing in hard mode. Or, you're a student. In the exam hall, you followed all the advice about reading through all the questions, planning your essay-style answers, and allocating equal time to each question, as well as reserving a few minutes for checking your answers. But if you failed to keep up with the reading during the term, skipped more classes than you should have, didn’t revise sufficiently, and failed to pay attention to getting good quality sleep, nutrition, and exercise in the few days before the exam… You were playing in hard mode.
ASAP or ALAP, choice or decision? You’ve probably heard the terms “analysis paralysis” and “the paradox of choice”. We tend to think that having a lot of options is great and preferable to having very few or none. But sometimes having too many options is overwhelming, and even when each choice taken on its own is no biggie, making multiple decisions throughout the day can lead to “decision fatigue”. President Obama famously limited his sartorial choices for precisely this reason.
Limit decision fatigue so you can concentrate on the speech, not the suit!
In a groundbreaking experiment summarized by Prof Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, customers faced with 24 different types of jam in a supermarket tended not to buy any at all. In contrast, when they were offered six different types, they found it much easier to make a purchase. If you find yourself in a situation where there are 24 options available, but the stakes are pretty low (what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t like the jam you choose?), the wise thing to do is choose ASAP -- don’t spend ages debating with yourself, just grab the first flavour that appeals to you. But if you have an important decision to make, the wise thing to do is to decide as late as possible. Take your time to consider the different factors, seek advice, et cetera. This seems obvious enough… but often we fall into the trap of treating trivial choices with levels of emotional and cognitive energy that would be more suited to important decisions.
3. Create “automatic rules for success”. You try to eat healthy food, but it’s easy to succumb to temptation when eating out with friends or clients. Here’s a rule that might make it easier: “I will choose the healthiest option on the menu, and not order dessert.” Once you’ve established this rule for yourself, you don’t need to waste any cognitive or emotional energy debating with yourself or trying to avoid temptation.
Let’s translate these ideas into Tiny Habits® Recipes:
Hard mode/easy mode: “After I find myself struggling with a project, I will ask myself ‘How can I switch from hard mode to easy mode?’ Celebrate by thinking ‘This will help me make progress!’
Analysis paralysis: “After I realise I’m spending more time than I need to on a trivial choice, I will say to myself ‘ASAP not ALAP’ and give myself 10 seconds to choose. Celebrate by saying ‘Well done!’
Automatic rules for success: The restaurant rule can easily be translated into two tiny habits:
1. “After I open the menu, I will choose the healthiest option. Celebrate by saying to myself ‘That was easy!’”
2. “After the server asks about dessert, I will say ‘Just a decaf coffee for me please.’ Celebrate with a smile.”
If you’d like to create your own Tiny Habits, join me for the free Fresh Start 5-Day Challenge. I'll show you how to hack your daily habits and routines to transform your results.
Register here by Wednesday 3rd January at 6 pm UK and you'll be invited to join the live webinar at 8 pm UK time that evening.
Full disclosure: I haven’t read Parrish’s book, and I’m only 51 minutes into listening to the two-hour interview with Dr Chatterjee, but I thought it would be fun to share these ideas ASAP rather than ALAP.