THE turkey is now probably a dim
memory and it’s a month on from
New Year. Did you make any New
Year’s resolutions and, if so, have
you kept them?
In this article we will look at why
these resolutions are so difficult to keep
and how this relates to one our greatest
challenges in practice: time
year is often a time for
the past, to
about the future. Throughout history
man has exhibited strong drives
towards self-improvement: the
Babylonians promised their gods that
they would return borrowed items and
pay their debts and in Roman times
promises were made to the god Janus
after whom the month of January was
Making the promises doesn’t seem
to be the problem but keeping them
Depending on the survey you look
at, it seems that some 40-50% of us
probably made New Year’s resolutions
this year and yet it seems likely that
only something like 5-12% of those will
be successful. So, why is it so difficult
and what can we do about it?
One of the first mismatches to address
is that the development of resolutions
occurs in the conscious part of the
brain, the pre-frontal cortex, whereas
the execution of the resolution on a
daily basis lies lower in the brain where
we develop our habits of thinking and
Manipulating our habits to support
the resolution is a key requirement
because the conscious brain has limited
energy/attention to exert the willpower of conscious control.
An experiment carried out at
Stanford University by Professor Baba
Shiv illustrates the point. A group of
undergraduate students was divided
into two groups. One group was given
a two-digit number to remember; the
other was given a seven-digit number to
remember. Then, after a short walk
through the hall, they were offered the choice between two snacks: a slice of
chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit.
students with seven-digit numbers to
remember were twice as likely to pick
the slice of chocolate cake compared to
the students with the two-digits. Whilst
the participants might suggest they
chose the cake because their additional
cognitive load led to a higher calorie
requirement, the reality is that willpower
is relatively easy to distract/overcome.
Setting SMART targets, not aiming too
large, making public commitments,
enlisting peer support and not taking
yourself too seriously are all parts of
the recipe for success and you could do
worse than follow the advice of
Professor Richard Wiseman which
appears in Table 1.
As time management is our
subsidiary theme, you can view his 59-
second presentation here:
A study by the University of
Scranton placed “Getting more
organised” as number two in the top 10
list of New Year’s resolutions and
managing our time better is something
that many of us in the veterinary
profession wish for.
There is not space in this article to
go into the detail in any great depth but
I will present some challenges and
observations that may feed into your
efforts in the coming months.
Time management is an oxymoron.
As human beings we have no ability to
manage time, merely how we use it.
focusing on an impossible goal we
drain our energy and resolve away from
what is possible – attention
Know your life’s purpose. Without
this, how can you spend your time well?
To really challenge yourself, classify
your time spent as “fulfilling your life’s purpose” or “waiting to die”.
Interestingly, many of us struggle to
identify our life’s purpose, frequently
citing a lack of time to think broadly
and deeply about the issues!
Value your time. Imagine you had a
bank account and, each morning, a
deposit of £84,600 was made and at
the end of the day any remaining
balance was removed. You would
quickly learn to spend both promptly
and well. Time is the same, each day we
have 86,400 seconds and the choice to
use them well or not.
Log time. Very few of us have any
realistic idea of how we really spend
our time. Log it for a week and then
you have some evidence to work with.
Be prepared for some surprises.
Keep a journal. Writing stuff down
means that we encode information into
our brains in a different and usually
more accurate way, leaving us less liable
to the inconsistencies and biases that
Be critical. Be prepared to challenge
everything you do and think. Our
brains tend to create a comfortable and
unchallenging environment for us
which we need to step beyond.
Challenge habits. A study at Harvard
University suggests that as much as
40% of what we do each day is habitual
and under, at best, limited conscious
control. Being prepared to challenge
habits offers real opportunities for new
- The neuroscience packages offered
recently were rapidly oversubscribed
and this month I am offering five free
Time (Attention) Management packages
to help keep those New Year’s
resolutions on track.
The packages each have a
commercial value of £250 (plus VAT),
include a 1:1 session and support over
4-6 weeks to embed the learning.