Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step

New Year’s resolutions often include losing weight and getting fit. But a 2014 survey by the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology showed that less than half of the people who made resolutions stick to them for even six months, while 92 percent of them did not achieve anything. (Antara Photo/Wahyu Putro A.)

By : Charles Vincent, Rob Daniel & Moray McLeish | on 8:28 AM January 22, 2015
Category : Business, Sustainability

Fireworks displays above capital cities not only create a global window for tourism but help usher in the new year — symbolizing optimism for the year ahead driven by the desire to make a fresh start.

Indeed, it is probable that just like many of us who took in the sights and sounds of New Year’s Eve, you took time to contemplate on the year just gone and speculate over what is yet to come. Perhaps this led you to focus on what went wrong, your bad habits or bad decisions and a decision to not repeat them again this year. In other words, just like nearly 45 percent of people in this situation, you made some New Year’s resolutions.

It is likely that your New Year’s resolutions included: losing weight and getting fit, quitting smoking, learning something new, eating healthier and dieting, getting out of debt and saving money, spending more time with your loved ones, traveling to new places, reducing stress, becoming a volunteer or drinking less alcohol.

These are all very good intentions. If we manage to achieve them, it would significantly improve either the quality of our lives or those around us. Unfortunately, a 2014 survey by the University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology showed that less than half of the people who made resolutions stick to them for even six months, while 92 percent of them did not achieve anything. Even worse, a survey by Franklin Covey in 2008 found that 35 percent of us had already given up our New Year’s resolutions at the end of January! As we are quickly approaching that time, now would be a good time to improve your resolutions by providing some incentives and tips for success.

You may think that since you belong to a community of over seven billion people, breaking a few self-made promises is not a big deal. Or that the world has so many problems that any changes we make will be just a drop in the ocean. Think again.

As the famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tze pointed out in the sixth century BC, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That journey is a sustainable world and that single step is your New Year’s resolution — or more precisely articulated: your success in realizing your New Year’s resolution. Not convinced? Let’s take a few examples from the list of favorites.

Topping the list of things we want to change about ourselves is healthier eating, losing weight and exercising more. Statistically, these goals apply to more than 50 percent of us. All admirable goals that will lead to a better quality of life, and if we are lucky, a longer life. But the impacts go far beyond our personal benefits. For instance, a healthier diet usually means eating less meat and more vegetables. This is because a reduction in meat consumption in favor of high-fibre, low-fat alternatives is associated with reducing the risk of contracting serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Whilst that reduction in meat consumption is good for us it is also good for the planet as the production of meat and dairy products is responsible for about 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota, if everybody in the world were to limit their meat consumption to the equivalent of 90 grams per day, carbon emissions would be reduced by 2.15 gigatons by 2030, which is equivalent to the total combined emissions of every household in Jakarta for the next 500 years.

But probably more important and tangible is that meat takes a lot of water to produce — about 15, 000 liters per kilogram, which is five times the amount of water needed to make 1kg of rice.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, by 2030 half of the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress. Meaning that water will become a more expensive commodity than diesel.

Equally, our drive to become fitter and lose excess weight is better off starting with a small change in our lifestyle. For instance, taking the bus to work and back. Usually this requires an additional effort on our part to walk to the bus stop at either end. Not only does that 20 minutes of walking significantly improve our health by burning 100 extra calories, but a study by Cambridge University last year found that physical inactivity costs the UK economy up to £10 billion ($15 billion) a year through sick days, health-care costs and early deaths. In fact, a lack of activity kills twice as many people as obesity. The health benefits aside, a single person, commuting alone by car, who switches a 32-kilometer round trip commute to existing public transportation, can reduce his or her annual carbon emissions by 2.4 metric tons per year. If that were replicated across the three million private vehicles in Jakarta, the 7.2 million tons of carbon saved would equal to switching off six million fridges for the whole year, not to mention that it would solve our perennial traffic jams!

Now hopefully you feel a bit more motivated to commit yourself to your resolutions. Having created the right motivation and mindset, next is about realizing your resolution. But the main reason for not realizing our personal resolution, according to Timothy Pychyl — a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada — is that we are not ready to change our (bad) habits, and we are making unrealistic targets for ourselves.

Being ready to change is obviously fundamental and is a personal decision that can only really be made by yourself. But once the decision is made, the key is to get help to see it through to completion.

PricewaterhouseCoopers works extensively with organizations to help create culture change that delivers lasting benefits and it believes the same methodology would work form making changes to your private life as well.

One framework the company suggests you could use to help you achieve your New Year’s resolution is SMART. It stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bounded.

Be specific

The more precise you can be about your resolution, the more likely you are to be able to achieve it. For example it is difficult to just commit yourself to a healthy lifestyle when you don’t know what a healthy lifestyle is. Does it mean taking more exercise or eating less junk food? The actions you will need to take are very different depending on whether you want to hire a personal trainer or personal chef.

Measurable

If you take on a challenge, it is important to know when you have achieved it or how well you are doing. That way you will be able to hold yourself to account and share your success with others. For instance, rather than saying that you will reduce stress, which is very hard to measure, better identify those things that you know make you stressed and commit to reducing them, or increase those things you know help to calm you down, such as doing yoga.

This could imply that instead of a non-measurable target of reducing stress you may consider doing a stress-reduction yoga class once a week.

Attainable

Many of our goals in life are complex and seem very far off, but by splitting the goal into manageable steps, the goal becomes more attainable. For instance, if you decide that your chosen method of increasing fitness is to run a marathon. Initially you would think that just dusting off the training shoes and setting off in the mid-day sun is a crazy idea doomed to failure. But splitting up the goal into a manageable training regime that increases the distance gradually over time will probably result in a finisher’s medal and immense satisfaction.

Realistic

We now live in an age of constant media interest in the lives of celebrities and “fly on the wall documentaries.” It is therefore easy to choose goals that reflect the person we would like to be rather than focus on the person we can be.

When choosing resolutions it is important to be honest with yourself and choose those goals that you genuinely want to complete and those that you feel you can.

Time-related

The time frame for most resolutions is maximum a year before you make another resolution for 2016. But if your resolution is realistic and attainable, you have probably broken it down into manageable chunks. In which case it is a good idea to set a time limit on when you should have achieved each milestone. That way you can be confident that you will get to the finishing line.

Rob Daniel and Moray McLeish are technical advisors in sustainability and climate change practice, and Charles Vincent is technical advisor consulting leader at PwC Consulting Indonesia

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