For many people, this is the time for New Year resolutions, when we take stock of where we’ve been and determine where we want to be. It’s also the time of year when we see an awful lot of ‘silver bullets’ offered to help with the renewal that the start of a new year can symbolise.

A few years ago now, Richard Wiseman conducted research into the key differences between resolutions that were kept and those that fell by the wayside. You can see a summary of his findings on his website, and get a fuller run down of the research and its findings in his book 59 Seconds [1].

What’s striking about his suggestions is how mundane they are; how lacking in the wow factor. There’s nothing in the list of actions you can take that makes you think “I’d never have thought that”. It’s all pragmatic, common sense stuff which is why a great many people will simply ignore it. It’s too much like hard work; too much effort is required; there’s no short cut.

It’s the long term that counts

At the same time this advice is being ignored, ‘detox’ diets will be all the rage. Now, don’t get me wrong, any diet that encourages you to eat more fruit and veg, and less red meat, dairy and fat is most likely a good thing. However, changing your diet for a week or even a month doesn’t make a difference. Most lifestyle changes only have a significant impact over a lifetime. Stopping smoking just for a month is pointless; stopping drinking for a month might make you feel better in the morning over that period but will make no overall difference to your general wellbeing; ditto for the gym. Long term changes are good. Short term changes simply make you feel psychologically better for a very short period of time.

Silver bullets vs hard work

These are just examples that real, lasting, positive change is usually hard work. That there are no silver bullets out there to magically improve things with little or no effort. Helping social learning take off requires effort on the part of dedicated users, changing the practice of managers in the workplace requires effort on the part of those same managers and those in the organisation who believe change is necessary.

However, there are ways to make it easier. Not easy, but easier. Being informed about what has worked for other people helps. Learning from your past mistakes helps (though you have to be wiling to admit to yourself that you’ve made them). Getting support from friends and colleagues helps.

Is that a negative viewpoint? I really don’t think so. I’m saying the most impactful approach you can take to any endeavour is to put in the effort and take a sensible approach, backed up by evidence where possible. Luck plays a role in almost everything, but you can tip the scales in your favour.

Happy New Year!