According to a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, just 8 percent of Americans achieve their New Year's resolutions. It's a pitiful success rate and one of the reasons resolution announcements at New Year's Eve parties are usually met with skepticism or laughter or both.
Forty years ago the Rotary Club of Charleston set aside $9,000 to benefit the community and in doing so started Coastal Community Foundation. In the first year, it granted out a laughable $360 to local non-profits.
Fast forward to today and you'll see that Coastal Community Foundation holds $172 million and has granted out more than $120 million to benefit the community, including $15 million in the past year alone.
The lesson? Make your resolutions grow like compounding interest.
Instead of resolving to have a perfect marriage, resolve to take a walk with your spouse each evening. After a month you will be surprised how much more you talk with each other, address problems before they become problems, and make better plans for the future. All those little five-minute talks add up.
Instead of resolving to transform your body, resolve to keep a food diary. All of those lists of what you ate today and yesterday and the day before will start eating at you and your diet will improve.
On average people lose more than a pound in the first week just from having a list. Some take their new awareness in other directions, for example doing a better job pairing wine with their meals, reducing the incidence of migraines, indigestion, or drowsiness mid-afternoon, etc.
Instead of resolving to be more productive at work, resolve to automatically filter incoming email. Learn the trick of automatically sorting incoming email into folders and turning off that audible tone when junk email (but not important email) arrives.
Not checking constantly or having to sort to find the critical messages helps not just today but everyday. That time adds up. It also helps you focus on what is important and urgent.
One little step, multiple and multiplying benefits.
There are dozens of other resolutions that get you to 1) start a new habit, 2) keep a list, 3) and/or learn a new trick. Pick the one that multiplies your intended benefits the most.
For those of us determined to change not only ourselves but also the world around us, there is no better start than a charitable gift. It's a practical, actionable resolution that enhances engagement with a non-profit, encourages volunteerism and sets off a chain reaction that can lead to bigger and better things than you ever imagined.
No doubt there were some who laughed at the Rotarians and their modest resolution. No longer. They resolved to make a new habit, they kept a list, and now we are all beneficiaries of their new, but now our old trick.
George Stevens is president and CEO of Coastal Community Foundation.