Along with the early days of January and the spike in activity at gyms, bookstores, and support groups, it appears that the desire to make some New Year’s resolution often eclipses the time spent choosing it. Nerdy/technical bloggers seem to attach Return on Investment (ROI) to everything – with such a simple indicator of an endeavor’s worth, the value of wide application is self-evident. I would usually steer clear of such an obvious analogy. However, having seen the rush of people at my local gym wearing clothes that look a little too new and expressions that look a little too puzzled, the issue seems to run deep enough. Why is it that these resolutions, often requiring pledges of hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours of our scarce time, are so easily and recklessly made?

If we think of our New Year’s Resolution foremost as investment rather than recurrent obligation, we might start to make better decisions in choosing one and upholding it.

Expected Payoff and the Set of Gears

Personal goals have such a mix of monetary, physical, and psychological factors that it is difficult to determine a dollar-equivalent figure for an activity’s payoff. Even if your resolution were to make a million dollars (or ten), how would we value the pay-off you would get from achieving what you desired, over and above the money itself? Instead, let’s analyze resolutions’ payoffs simply, by the source of their motivation to you: internal, social, and professional. These are all related to each other, and though each drives the other, one is often overlooked.

Social benefits are those goals we have that are motivated by those around us – the desire to please our loved ones…or even undefined strangers. Social motivations often lurk quietly under New Year’s Resolutions, such as getting thin to gain the appreciation of others, or joining a club because your friends or spouse expect you to.

Professional benefits are motivated by our work and careers. Examples might include signing up for Toastmasters, taking lessons on negotiating, fixing up your professional wardrobe, or just taking the time to read more and update yourself on your field. The issue: we spend too much time working as it is!

Internal benefits are the silent load-bearers often overlooked by today’s over-professional, over-committed, overachieving crowd. We are so strained by our commitments for everyone and everything else that we have no time for ourselves. I consider internal goals the goals that matter to you inside – the goals you carry but sometimes don’t voice. What have you idly imagined trying out in the future? Examples might be signing up for dance lessons, booking a trip to see the Pyramids, or buying your first SLR camera and taking up photography. The answer to the retort “I don’t have time for myself!” is as simple, and as difficult, as “make time”.

Don’t neglect the internal source, for it features the biggest payoff. It will create social and professional benefits as you feel better about yourself, and it will give you the deep sense of lasting satisfaction you probably won’t get from any other set of motivations. Your self improvement will yield a corresponding improvement in self-esteem, and that will transfer throughout your life like energy through a set of gears.

Nomatter what happens to your resolutions, please make just one more this year: help your friends and loved ones find their internal sources, and support them in making them a reality.

The Five Hurdles (a Risk-Adjustment)

The stumbling block for most failed New Year’s Resolutions is their lack of stability – for one reason or another, we simply fail to keep up. The reason is usually effort – the effort is what we pledge, and it is on our own effort that we default. The following are Five Hurdles that work against the stability of an investment in a New Year’s Resolution:

  1. Effort
  2. Total time (i.e. increasing a month-long resolution to a year-long one)
  3. Irregularity (‘flexible’ and informal commitments)
  4. Recurrent costs
  5. Competition for your time

The Five Hurdles should make it possible for you to reveal where your Resolution is at risk, and take steps to ensure they don’t become a reality. For example, if you are having trouble keeping up with the gym or changing your diet, perhaps the problem is that the commitment doesn’t have the regularity you need – take a class or join a program and put yourself under an obligation to go. Or if your desire to spend more time reading for pleasure is constantly interrupted by your busy and stressed spouse, arrange a time where you can be alone once a week as if in a meeting – or leave the house and find a nice spot somewhere quiet – or help your spouse discover and pursue his/her own resolutions at the same time.


The ROI of a specific New Year’s Resolution is subjective, however it does depend greatly upon the source of your motivations. Take time for yourself and your expected return will increase greatly.

The negative risk adjustment to your ROI can be huge unless you heed and avoid the Five Hurdles.

Support those around you in their attempts to achieve their Resolutions in this busy time. You can help them greatly.

Happy 2010!