Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Whither Your New Year's Resolution?

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I sometimes joke that the best time to get going on your New Year's resolution is June, in part because you are free at any time to get a fresh start, and in part because it is demoralizing to watch your resolve wilt away by the first week of January. Still, the concept of the New Year's resolution is fascinating, for it gets to the core contradiction between our ability as humans to think and plan long-term and our seeming inability to behave accordingly. The examples are innumerable: we know it is imperative that we save, yet we buy that shiny new TV; we want to lose weight, but we can't do without that piece of cake; and more broadly, we (most of us) know that climate change is an existential threat, yet we repeatedly fail to take the individual and collection action needed to do something about it.

A lot of what we do at Capital Good Fund comes down to understanding and predicting human behavior. Every time we weigh a loan application we are really trying to estimate how the applicant will behave in the future, and our Financial Coaching seeks to circumvent our foibles to make it easier for those we serve to meet the goals they set for themselves. So a New Year's resolution fits squarely within this most basic human battleground--the fight between what we as individuals and societies know to be best for us and what we actually do. Thinking thusly, it isn't a stretch to argue that herein lies the very struggle that defines who we are and, depending on its outcome, will determine the future course of our species.

No pressure, though! In fact, one of the best things you can do is to not take your resolution too seriously. If the goal you set for yourself is S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound), then you shouldn't feel that you have lost the war by losing a battle. One of the most common goals, for instance, is to lose weight: far too many people feel that they have failed if one day they have too much dessert at dinner. As a result, they give up entirely. We must instead be flexible with ourselves; it is inevitable that steady progress will be punctuated by small setbacks, and our success depends on what we do the day after a setback.

We all succumb to the feeling that on New Year's day we will become entirely new people--machines, really, capable of running a wholly different operating system for our lives. No feeling, of course, is more guaranteed to ensure failure. We are not new people and we cannot flip a magic switch. So if by today, January 11, you already feel that your resolutions are in the rear view mirror, then pull over, wait for them to catch up, and resume the drive. It takes time to lose weight, learn a language, or establish a new habit (such as reading more). Celebrate the little things--the chocolate you forgo, the 30 minutes you spend reading instead of watching television, the $100 you put in savings--and forgive the small mistakes. Take the long view and recognize that the future is the sum total of what you do today: a dozen little steps in the right direction will always take you farther than a few gone awry.

Do this and after most people have given up their gym memberships you will still be quietly advancing toward your goals!

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