The Heath Bros advice on New Year’s resolutions

From the “erratically-published newsletter” of Chip and Dan Heath*:


Every New Year brings two proud traditions: Making resolutions and then, shortly thereafter, breaking them. Often the full cycle doesn’t take more than a few weeks, which allows well over 11 months to plot the next year’s resolutions.

The research on resolutions is damning: A study of 3,000 people led by Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, found that 88% broke their resolutions. (Even people who resolved merely to “enjoy life more” failed 68% of the time.)

If you want to buck humanity’s sorry performance record, here are four research-based tips to improve your chances of keeping your resolutions:

1.Look for your bright spots.

Psychologists tell us that we are wired to look at the negative. One famous study concluded that, when it comes to the way we think, “bad is stronger than good.” So when it comes to changing our lives, we’ll tend to ask ourselves, “What’s the problem and how do I fix it?” But often we can benefit more by asking a different question: “What’s working and how can I do more of it?” In other words, we can learn from our own “bright spots.”

Nwokedi Idika, an American graduate student in computer science, was a chronic procrastinator. He’d set a goal to work six hours per day on his thesis but found that he only hit the target sporadically. Rather than bemoan his failures, though, he examined his bright spots: What is different about the days when I do manage to complete my six hours? And what he discovered was that, in almost every case, he’d been working early in the morning. So he turned that realization into a strategy: He started setting his alarm for 5:30am every morning.

The early-morning approach worked like a charm. “When I’m up that early, I have no motivation to check email, Facebook, or Twitter because nobody is up to send email or update his/her status,” he said. He defeated procrastination by cloning his bright spots. (Idika became the first African-American student to earn a PhD in computer science at his university.)

2. Make one change at a time.

Over the last 15 years, a series of studies in psychology has confirmed a sobering result: Our self-control is exhaustible. The research shows that we burn self-control in many different situations: when controlling our spending; holding in our emotions; managing the impression we’re making on others; resisting temptations; coping with fears; and many, many others.

Why is this important? Because any life change will require careful self-monitoring and self-regulation—in other words, self-control. Self-control is the fuel that allows change to succeed, but it is limited. For that reason, you will have a better chance of success if you can focus on one change at a time. If you try to change jobs and exercise routines and relationship habits all at once, you are more likely to stall, because you’ve run out of “fuel.”

3. Turn that one change into a habit.

Steve Gladdis of London found that he was constantly falling behind on his personal “to do” list. “Looking at the list on my phone now,” he said, “I need to hang those pictures, phone a friend I haven’t spoken to in a while, extract that box from the back of the shed, investigate child-friendly mousetraps, the list really does go on and on.”

He resolved to create a daily routine: Every morning, like clockwork, he’d finish one task. “Once I’m on a roll, it seems easy to carry on. I remember to look at my list for today’s task because I’m used to doing it, and I almost look forward to ticking off that day’s chore,” he said.

Habits are effective because, once established, they no longer burn self-control. (Think about how little mental energy it requires to take a shower, or make your morning coffee, or to carry out any of the other habits you’ve acquired.) You’ll be more likely to keep your resolution if you can turn it into a habitual behavior—something that happens in the same time and place on a regular cycle.

4. Set an “action trigger” to start your habit ASAP.

What’s the best way to start a habit?

Let’s say you’re trying to exercise more. You might declare to yourself: Tomorrow morning, right after I drop off Elizabeth at dance class, I’ll head straight to the gym for my workout. Let’s call this mental plan an “action trigger.” You’ve made the decision to follow a certain plan (exercising) when you encounter a certain trigger (the school’s front entrance, tomorrow morning).

Action triggers like these can be surprisingly effective in motivating action. The psychologists Sheina Orbell and Paschal Sheeran studied a group of patients in England with an average age of 68, who were recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery. Some of them were asked to set action triggers for their recovery exercises—something like, “I’ll do my range-of-motion extensions every morning after I finish my first cup of coffee.” The other group did not receive any coaching on action triggers. The results were dramatic: Those patients who used action triggers recovered more than twice as fast, standing up on their own in 3.5 weeks, versus 7.7 weeks for the others.

Psychologists have compared action triggers to “instant habits” because what they do, in essence, is make our behavior automatic when the trigger moment comes. Seize that power for yourself: Jump-start a new habit by setting an action trigger.


Good luck with your Resolutions, everyone, and here’s hoping for a fantastic 2014!

Happy New Year,

Chip & Dan

* One can subscribe to the Heath Bros. newsletter on their resources page.

CHANGEd: What if we “called the electric company” more often with gratitude? 60-60-60 #45

Can you imagine working in an industry that achieves great success yet receives a disproportionate number of calls of complaint? I bet my electricity works 360 out of 365 days of the year. But when do I call the power company? When things aren’t working. I wonder what it’s like to work at the power company? Are we too much a culture of “no news is good news?”

Do we celebrate success enough in schools…in our colleagues…in our students? Do we spread those positive stories enough and amplify the many victories? Do we mark papers and give feedback that is more mistake and “fix this” oriented or more bright spot and “build on this current strength” oriented? What do we highlight on report cards and progress reports? Do we “pick up the phone” enough when things are working?

My lights are shining, my coffee maker is brewing, and my refrigerator is keeping things cold. I think I’ll go make a call.

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

Related Work that I Investigate for Relevance to this Idea:

“Hey, let’s send Bo a quick video of what we’ve been white-boarding!” #IdeasWorthSpreading

For years, we have been working in the Junior High to “tear down the walls” that define the typical egg-crate culture of schools. As a faculty PLC, among other techniques, we have used Twitter, peer visits, instructional rounds, lesson study, job-embedded/regular team meetings, “FedEx Days,” and “campfire storytelling.” Every time we share, a connection-point on a virtual spider web gets planted. From these nodes of stickiness, more connections have the potential of being formed.

I am blessed with an amazing faculty and staff of 82 people; I am blessed to be among them, and I am blessed to be one of them. I am blessed to lead and serve with them.

This week, a new blessing occurred. Two Science 6 teachers met during an “off-day” during exam week to do some planning for the new learning challenge they are developing around global climate change. THEY SENT ME A VIDEO SUMMARY OF THEIR MORNING! The video and the email exchange are embedded below (with permission from the teachers).

I was so excited to get this unsolicited piece of campfire storytelling! I could see and hear Alison and Brenda in their actual voice with facial cues. I love the excitement and energy in their dialogue and countenances. I love that they are taking risks and trying new things. I love that they are willing to share.

For some brief moments, they seemed tentative about sharing this beyond just me. They wondered if they should “spiff it up.” I love it “un-spiffed!” Un-spiffed is spontaneous and tool-like. The video does not need to be production-perfect…it is, instead, process-perfect. They used a tool to share in a more personal way, and they helped me learn and share in their moments of planning. What a gift. What a perfect gift.

From: Alison George
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2011 10:51
To: Bo Adams
Subject: 6th grade update

Working hard all morning, just wanted to share what we accomplished

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 05:33
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

I LOVE THE VIDEO! I LOVE THE VIDEO! Thank you for “including me” in your planning by sharing a short summary of what you’ve been diligently working on! What a gift to be able to see and hear your brainstorming in your actual voice.

May I PLEASE post this to my blog and write about how much I loved receiving such a clip? May I share with Jill for an upcoming faculty-meeting share?


From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 09:48
To: Bo Adams
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Sure, are you actually considering showing the video in the faculty meeting? (we might want to spiff it up with some actual class footage if so)  We just did this on the fly and didn’t think it would be shown to the entire faculty.

From: Bo Adams
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 10:20
To: Alison George, Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

If you don’t want me to use it for mtg or blog, I will honor your wishes, of course. However, PLEASE DO NOT “spiff it up.” I love it as it is! You two used a technology to communicate with me and include me and inform me. You innovated, instead of sending me a bullet-list or a voice mail. You made it Web 2.0! It is beautiful and “perfect” in my opinion!

From: Alison George
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 11:08
To: Bo Adams
Cc: Brenda Cobler
Subject: Re: 6th grade update

Ok go ahead and use it, we love to be perfect!

New creation: culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence in teaching – PLCs as surgical-musical-chefs

Working to understand better the functions and processes of PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) – this is a constant pursuit and area of deep investigation and learning for me. I am coming to believe, more and more, that high-functioning PLCs are like some hybrid-cross consisting of the following parts: chefs, surgical teams, and jazz musicians.

The three TED talks below are interesting and intriguing in their own, content-specific right. However, I think all three offer metaphorical meta-lessons about the nature of PLCs – teams of teachers working to learn with each other for the ultimate purpose of enhanced student learning. All three TED talks, when woven together into a common braid, speak to the power of CREATING SOMETHING NEW AS A TEAM. Great PLCs are like the innovative team of chefs at Moto – stretching concept and experimenting for fulfilling and engaging one’s appetite and taste buds (analogous to quenching the thirst for knowledge and wisdom). Great PLCs are like the collaborating surgeons who have discovered that luminescent dyes can be employed to light-up that which needs to be preserved and that which needs to be cut out (analogous to curriculum re-design and systemic formative assessment practices). Great PLCs are like the improvisational harmony of a jazz quartet that measures their successes by their level of responsiveness rather than by any sort of fixed-mindset worrying about mistakes (analogous to the thoughtful development of teamwork and use of RTI – response to intervention). Collectively, the three talks also point to the balance of art and science that seems essential to crafting the alloy which is a team of people working together to CREATE.

The Creation Project

This past semester, the English 7 team of the Junior High PLC developed a student-learning challenge about the nature of creation and creativity. This team of teachers acted in that careful blend of artists and scientists, and they utilized the professional practices of lesson study and instructional rounds to develop a common lesson and common assessment for their classes of English. Instead of simply sitting and being consumers of creation-archetype understanding, the students would become world creators themselves. [This reminds me of a recent post from Jonathan Martin: “Fab Labs and Makerbots: ‘Turning Consumers into Creators’ at our School.” Who knows…this may even partially inspire the next iteration of the world creations described below!]

Below you can find a Scribd document that provides more details about the learning challenge created by this team of teacher-learners. To me, they behaved something like that team of innovative chefs at Moto…that team of integrated-thinking surgeons pioneering the use of luminescent surgery…that team of improvisationally-responsive jazz musicians. This team of teachers is creating together in harmony – they are prototyping a product, as well as a process for using lesson study and instructional rounds to derive a better dish, a more successful surgery, a more beautiful harmony. They are innovating and creating. This stretch will provide potential for a further stretch next time. Their muscles are learning to work this way – a way that has been foreign to egg-crate culture schools for far too long.

“I’m passing along the “nuts and bolts” of our “What in the World?” Creativity Project, which is the product of our collaborative work in the 7th PLT…what a gift!”

What In the World – Creation Project (used with permission)

Peer Visit – Mackey visit from Snyder 11-16-11 (used with permission)

I am working on a blog post about this Creation Project – from the principal’s point of view. I plan to include the actual assignment document, and I am hoping to have a few more artifacts that point to ways that we (teachers, educators, etc.) can work on “teachers working in teams” and “integrated studies.” I think your peer visit serves as a superb artifact of how ideas and lessons can “seep” and “ooze” across disciplinary borders when teachers visit each other’s classrooms. [Brief backstory (from email to teacher requesting permission to use this peer visit)]

Now, we have a teacher of the subject of history interacting with a teacher of the subject of English. What interconnected learning and integrated studies might emerge from this seed? In other areas, we have World Cultures teachers teaming with Science 6 teachers to create a semester learning-challenge on global climate change in various world regions. We have PE and biology teachers crafting ideas of courses devoted to the understanding of the human body from an integrated approach through anatomy and exercise physiology.

We have distributed R&DIY “culinary, jazz-fusion luminescence” developing among our learners – teachers and students. Those are ideas worth spreading. Additionally, those teachers are inspiring me to think about the worlds that I would contribute to making. Hmmm….

Valuable Time – Invaluable, Shared Insights

When I first began my role as principal (this current year is my ninth year in this role), I was not systemically connected to the work and learning of the faculty in my care. Ironic maybe, but true. In the ensuing years, I have developed systemic ways to plug into the work and learning of my colleagues. The efforts have resulted in valuable time and invaluable, shared insights.

1. Weekly, I attend at least 25% (1 of 4) of each of the PLC/PLT (professional learning community/team) meetings. Over the course of a year, this provides me with at least 144 hours of time with the teacher teams who explore ways to enhance learning for students and adults alike. I am able to learn side-by-side with those purposefully and collaboratively exploring curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment.

2. I load into my reader the RSS feeds of the blogs from any Junior High faculty member who maintains a blog. What insight into the thinking, questioning, and practicing of my colleagues this provides!

3. I follow my Junior High colleagues on Twitter…if they have an account.

4. Maybe most importantly, I am given the great excuse (“professional responsibility”) to read the goals and self-assessments of the faculty. I do so to prepare for one-on-one or team conferences with each of the 80 Junior High faculty. These conferences provide opportunity for incredible dialogue about that which we are focusing on in our classrooms and learning spaces. These conversations are among my favorite of the year.

Reading goals and preparing for today’s two conferences is what inspired this quick post; reading a few faculty blogs and tweets also contributed to my compelling need to share.

From just these four, integrated, systems approaches to connecting with my faculty team, I am a part of an intricate web of deep thinking, rich inquiry, and innovative practices. I can see connections in people’s work…I can learn of what they are trying and researching to help students…I can be challenged in my own thinking and teaching practices. I can discern how they are using student/course feedback, peer visits, and administrative observations to reflect on their practice and improve their growing professionalism as educators.

‘Tis I who is blessed to be in this web of thinkers, doers, and learners.