With the beginning of 2014 mere days away, I find myself considering drawing up some resolutions that I hope to accomplish in the new year.  I have an ambivalent attitude toward New Year’s resolutions, but I definitely see the value in pondering my goals and determining my priorities.

In researching New Year’s resolutions, I found some interesting evidence to explain why most resolutions are not successful.  Jonah Lehrer wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal in 2009 that suggests that the largest factor in failed resolutions is the fact that we try to change too much at once.  He explained that the prefrontal cortex of our brains is responsible for willpower, and it can get overtaxed (but he also indicated some possible remedies for waning self-control).  John Tierney followed on this theme in a 2012 article for the New York Times, in which he listed some basic strategies that can help one be more successful with resolutions:

  1. “set a clear single goal”
  2. “precommit” (i.e., plan actions that will further your goal)
  3. “outsource” (i.e., use others to evaluate your progress)
  4. “keep track”
  5. “don’t overreact to a lapse”
  6. “tomorrow is another taste” (i.e., delayed gratification can be a powerful motivator)
  7. “reward often”

Oliver Burkeman took a more pessimistic view of New Year’s resolutions in a 2012 piece for Newsweek, arguing that such efforts embrace the self-help, motivational speaker tactic of forgetting the past in order to have a fresh start.  But he also suggested that setting small goals can be more effective, as can establishing “process goals” which focus on the behavior necessary for success rather than establishing an arbitrary measure of that success.

Like many organizations, archives often engage in strategic planning, and in so doing, fall prey to many of the same pitfalls that plague individuals.  But rather than looking at this from the viewpoint of mission statements and five-year plans, I wonder if there is a way that archives can harness people’s interest in self-improvement around the start of each year.  Here are my initial thoughts of things an archives could do in January:

  • begin a lecture series that will give people the opportunity to learn something new and exciting
  • unveil a new exhibit that highlights some goal-setting documents found in the collection (e.g., Woody Guthrie produced an interesting list of “rulin’s”)
  • host a family movie day where people can bring in family movies to be digitized
  • sponsor a workshop on personal information management

[For a survey that shows common resolutions, see this list from the Journal of Clinical Psychology that informed my suggestions above.]

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