Watson, our great big TDL dog, wearing a a festive antler headband (under duress). Text reads: “Happy holidays!”
Hi there

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions. Officially, the reason for this is because we all know that New Year’s resolutions don’t work, and I’m entirely too smart to waste my time with such frivolity.

But if I’m being honest, the actual reason I don’t set resolutions is a kind of goal-setting learned helplessness: I’m haunted by so many Ghosts of Ambitions Past that it’s hard to take new personal goals seriously. Inside of me, there are 2 wolves: one of them says she’s definitely going to start hitting the gym in 2023, and the other just one says, “Sure. That is totally going to happen.”

But for those of us who struggle with the follow-through, there’s good news. Research suggests that the problem isn’t us, per se; instead, it’s the kind of goals we’re setting for ourselves. So today, in our last newsletter of 2022, we’re exploring common goal-setting mistakes and how we can better set ourselves up for success. Who knows, I might even try setting some more evidence-based resolutions this year.

Happy holidays from all of us at TDL. We’ll see you in the New Year!

Until next time,
Katie and the ambitious team @ TDL

Thanks to Sarah Chudleigh for her help researching and writing this newsletter.
📧 In search of personal betterment and self-actualization? Signing up for the TDL newsletter will get you, like, 50% of the way there. Probably.
Today’s topics 👀
🎯 Why Setting Goals is Hard
💸 Financial Wellness at Work
🎊 Beyond SMART
🎯 Why Setting Goals is Hard

We’re wired to neglect future rewards. Long-term goals mean distant rewards — and distant rewards are hard to act on. Hyperbolic discounting leads us to prefer immediate gratification over long-term payoff, which is why it’s so easy to perpetually procrastinate.

We’re overly ambitious. We tend to set maximizing goals, rather than satisficing ones. In other words, we aim for the biggest, most idealistic version of a particular goal (e.g. “I’m going to get as fit as I possibly can”) instead of more attainable and clearly defined ones (e.g. “I’m going to run a 5k”). A 2012 study found that those who attempt to maximize their goals are less happy overall — and more reluctant to commit to their chosen goals.

We’ll take any excuse for “bad” behavior. Using temporal landmarks (like the New Year) can backfire by spurring counterproductive behaviors. Deciding to “eat healthy” as a New Year’s resolution, for instance, may lead to worse eating habits in the final weeks of the year, as we seize on our “last chance” before our new goal takes effect.

We focus on the destination — and fail to plan for the journey. It’s easy to get excited about hitting an ultimate goal, like finishing a marathon. But once you actually get started with the race, and you realize how far away the finish line is, that enthusiasm can wither away pretty fast

FIELD NOTES: Financial Wellness at Work

Plenty of New Year’s resolutions focus on wellness, but one facet that often gets overlooked is our financial wellness.

One U.K. fintech startup saw an opportunity to incorporate financial health into workplace wellness programs. We partnered with them to build a new app that both supported employees in their financial goals and delivered value for employers. You can read more about our work here.

Some sample screens from the app we developed.
Some sample screens from the app we developed.
🎊 Beyond SMART

So, how can we set smarter goals? One strategy you’ve probably heard is to literally make them SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. These are all great rules of thumb. Here are some additional insights from the research that may be useful.

Be approach-oriented, not avoidance-oriented. We tend to pick bad habits and cut them, which is harder than introducing new, more positive behaviors. Instead of framing your goals as avoidance of negative behaviors, try conceptualizing them in a positive light. Instead of cutting out sugary drinks, for instance, make a goal to drink 3 liters of water each day.

Be process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. Setting specific goals is helpful — but focusing too much on our desired outcomes is less sustainable than focusing on the process. Instead of setting your sights on a distant target (“I’m going to train until I can bench 100 lbs”), try framing your goals in terms of the steps you’ll take to reach them (“I’m going to lift weights 3 times a week”). Doing this also helps break up big superordinate goals into smaller subordinate chunks, which gives us more motivation to complete them.

Build a goal network. A more robust strategy for long-term goal achievement is to create a network of related goals. Instead of going to the gym for an hour a day, you can set a wider goal to “be healthier.” This umbrella should include several more specific goals, like using that gym pass 3 times a week, walking more, eating more plant-centric meals, and drinking more water each day. Goal networks provide a level of flexibility proven to help sustain long-term goals. 

A shelty dog on a teal background. Text reads: “See you in 2023! — TDL and our doggos.”

Delphine rocking some spiffy red antlers. 

Hyperbolic discounting
Hyperbolic discounting, a.k.a. “present bias,” puts our focus squarely on short-term gratification instead of long-term goals. Read more about why this happens on our website.
Opportunities in Behavioral Science
TDL is hiring! We’re hiring for a number of positions, both remote and based in our Montreal office. Some open roles include: 

  • • Associate Project Leader
  • • UX Designer
  • • Senior UX Designer
  • • Research Analyst

Find out more by visiting our careers portal.

Want to have your voice heard? We'd love to hear from you. Reply to this email to share your thoughts, feedback, and questions with the TDL team.

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