- Dr. Mike Ronsisvalle
Is it Time to Turn Around?
We just finished an epic night-skiing session and were preparing for our 20-minute drive back to the cabin we rented in the mountains. I pulled up the address of the cabin on Google Maps and requested directions home. Simple process, right? Not really, considering I was presented with two options. Option one sent us back exactly the way we had driven to the ski slopes. It was a pretty drive at 12:00 noon when we left but it was close to 11:00 p.m. at this point. I didn’t need pretty, I needed fast! Option two seemed much better. It was labeled the “shortest route” by Google Maps which, I must admit, was an incredibly enticing description to my fatigued body. I clicked on option two, handed the phone to my 17-year-old son so he could navigate us home using the app, and drove confidently toward the house. I should have known something was wrong when we turned off the main drag and into a more residential neighborhood. “But hey, I can trust Google with anything, right? What could go wrong?” I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but the road we were on, which was ironically named “Church Road”, got increasingly narrow and rural. At one point it became clear to me that the road was so tight that I couldn’t have even turned around if I wanted to. It really didn’t seem like we had any other option other than continuing to go forward on what had become a pretty sketchy road on the side of a mountain. Plus, I was tired, and we had already been on this route for 15 minutes, which gave me further motivation to just press on. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the road turned from cement to gravel. Then the hairpin turns started. Then the cell coverage went out and my GPS stopped giving me directions. It’s now 12:00 a.m. and I’m crawling at about 5 miles an hour navigating hairpin turns on a gravel road in the darkest night with no GPS in the middle of nowhere. It was the shortest route on Google Maps, but it was not the best route on Google Maps. I surrendered comfort and maybe even safety on that night for the promise of reaching my goal a little bit quicker. Yes, we made it to the cabin, but it ended up taking us much longer to get home and frankly it was a bit of a terrifying journey.
This story illustrates the problem that many of us are having at this point in the new year. Yes, we sat down in the spirit of hope during the holidays to set goals and resolutions for the next 12 months. That’s a fun exercise to go through on January 1 but executing on our New Year’s resolutions becomes difficult as the weeks and months pass by. And just like my drive home from the ski slopes, many of us have taken a path toward our goals that is not yielding the kind of results we expected. I made a couple of key mistakes in my decision making that night that we all should avoid as we attempt to respond to the challenges of actually following through on our New Year’s resolutions.
Mistake 1: I made decisions based exclusively on expediency
The road I chose to drive home from the ski slopes was the shortest distance from where I was to where I wanted to be. I made the decision simply because I thought it would happen more quickly. How many times do we attempt to respond to our goals with this same strategy? We want to fix our life immediately without all the hard work that will ensure our success over time. The most intuitive example I can provide of this kind of reasoning is the New Year’s resolution of weight loss. The quickest way to lose weight is to take loads of appetite suppressants and eat under 500 calories a day. While that’s the quickest way to lose weight, it’s most certainly not the healthiest or the safest way to lose weight. Doctors and physical fitness experts would instead encourage you to start an exercise routine and to eat a healthy well-balanced diet. One path will get you to your goal of weight loss in a very unhealthy way and probably put you at risk to gain most of the weight back over time. The other path is based on a longer-term approach that capitalizes on the value of pursuing the goal of weight loss with persistence and commitment to long term behavior change. There are days when we will feel like giving up on our New Year’s resolutions simply because it doesn’t seem like we’re making progress fast enough. It’s during days like these that sheer determination and persistence is all that will be left. But rest assured that if you continue to press forward on the healthy path, you will ultimately see the change you have committed to come to fruition over time.
Mistake 2: I refused to admit I was not on the best path
There were several emotional stop signs that I blew through during my drive home to the cabin that night. I thought it was weird when we turned into a residential neighborhood, but I stayed on the path. When the road began to get very narrow, I kept moving forward. When we were navigating hairpin turns on the gravel, I knew it was crazy, but I just couldn’t emotionally allow myself to admit that this road was not the best path forward. How many times have we all been in a similar situation when trying to execute on our goals? My hunch is that many of us are starting to recognize that our plan to execute our New Year’s resolutions is not working, but we have so much time and emotion invested that we just can’t admit the need for a change of course. Psychologists have recognized our tendency to continue with action plans even when the benefit we are receiving seems to pale in comparison to the potential cost to us and have labeled this behavioral pattern the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Individuals commit the Sunk Cost Fallacy when they continue in a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources, whether that be time, money, or effort. In other words, as humans, we tend to struggle to admit when the cost of executing our plan far outweighs the actual benefit we are receiving or progress we are making. I would’ve been way better off turning around early and driving back on the route I knew would lead me back safely to our cabin.
Don’t make the same mistakes I made with your new route New Year’s resolutions. If you find that the path you are on is not yielding results or the cost of executing your plan far outweighs the progress you’re making, change directions now.