I’m an optimist. Part of it is just my personality but I generally want things to succeed. I usually have a smile on my face and was once told I smiled too much back in college. An engineer at my co-op employer stopped me in the hall one day and said, “Why are you smiling? You are at work.” He was messing with me but he detected my default attitude.
Most of us are going to make resolutions this month. We should approach them with vigor and enthusiasm. At the same time, we should inject a dose of pessimism. The planning fallacy is due to an optimism bias. We should consider the possibility that our resolutions will take longer than expected to accomplish or will fall way short in terms of results.
One method to address this is to create realistic goals and stretch goals. Stretch goals are harder to achieve due to higher standards. If you aim for the stretch goal, you may achieve the realistic goal or somewhere in between. Another idea is to use a project management technique called triangular distribution. It’s a fancy term for average. Average the optimistic (O), most likely (M), and pessimistic (P) estimates to accomplish a task.
If you are a weight lifter trying to gain 10 lbs of muscle mass, your optimistic estimate (O) may be 1 month to achieve your 10 lbs goal. Your most likely estimate (M) could be 2 months and your pessimistic estimate (P) is 3 months. The average is (P+M+O/3) or (3 + 2 + 1 / 3 ) which equals 2 months. Project managers use a similar formula called the weighted average or beta distribution. The formula is (P+4M+O/6). The most likely estimate (M) is weighted my multiplying it by 4 since risk response plans are taken into account to address opportunities and threats that affect the optimistic and pessimistic estimates. Both of these formulas can help you determine when you will achieve your New Year’s resolution. They force you to think about the factors and events contributing to optimistic and pessimistic estimates. You may have severe winter weather this January which could limit the days you drive to the gym. A friend may suggest that you two become gym buddies to hold each other accountable. This partnership may help you achieve the optimistic goal of gaining 10 lbs in 1 month.
Achieving the 10 lbs weight gain is similar to finishing a project. There will be known and unknown variables affecting results. Your diet (amount and type of food you eat) is a factor and so is your weightlifting process (technique, number of reps, amount of weight, recovery time). Monitor what works and what doesn’t work (lessons learned). Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve the results you want this year. You will be armed with data and techniques to set better resolutions next year.