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How to Make Your New Year’s Energy Efficiency Resolutions Stick

By Ihno Lee, PhD on

New Year's Goals sticky note

17 days. Or 408 hours. According to Strava, that’s the full lifespan of a New Year’s fitness resolution. Come January 17 (actually known as Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day!), we throw our running shoes into the closet and call it quits. Seems that we’ve taken the notion of Fail Fast to heart.

Why do we give up on ourselves so quickly? Are we just setting overly ambitious goals? Or are they too vague? How about not meaningful? The answer is D, All of the above. Seems that we often shoot ourselves in the foot (or both feet) before we even get started.

But not this year. Let’s be smarter…

Get SMART (about goal setting)

You’ve probably heard this one before. Goals should be SMART, as in Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This concept can be traced back to a 1981 issue of Management Review, where George Doran argued that goals are measurable endpoints (rather than amorphous, inarticulate things). Decades later, these criteria are still the gold standard for goal setting.

  • Specific. Be concrete and crystal clear. I want to lose weight won’t cut it. Instead, reframe as I want to lose 5 pounds in the next 2 months.
  • Measurable. Be able to measure and track your progress in some fashion (e.g., miles/km run, pounds of weight lost, minutes spent on social media). And get creative! For resolutions like Eat more veggies, take pictures of your meals every day, and track how many servings of veggies make the plate. Don’t forget to log your progress into a journal or app.
  • Achievable. Be realistic. Don’t run before you can walk (or crawl). Resolving to run a marathon if you can barely walk a mile is probably too ambitious. While it’s great to dream big, this path usually ends in failure (in just 17 days!). Start small. Try a ‘couch to 5K’ program, then work your way up.
  • Relevant. Be you. Ever thought, why am I doing this? Why resolve to join a gym if you actually hate gyms? Find some physical activity that you actually enjoy doing (hiking, ice skating, salsa dancing). Set goals that are all about You.
  • Time-bound. Be realistic (again). Rome wasn’t built in a day. Resolutions like DIY full home renovation in 1 month can be too lofty. Give yourself enough time. Expect that life can and will get in the way. Even better, set a few smaller milestone goals (sheetrocking, painting, installing new flooring) that you can tick off as you make progress. Small wins are Huge.

Calling All Households: Resolve to Go Green in 2020

First, why set a green New Year’s resolution? To save money? Reduce your carbon footprint? Or because it’s what you think is expected of you? Be honest. There’s no right or wrong answer. Just make sure it’s personally Relevant and truly matters to You.

Resolution: Reduce my home energy use in 2020. Yep, too vague. Here’s how to do this better. And SMARTer.

Let’s reframe around some Specific and Achievable recommendations that have a higher potential for energy savings:

I resolve to reduce my home energy use in 3 months (Time-bound) by doing these things:

  1. Adjust/Program my thermostat to 68° while at home (and to 61° while away/asleep).
  2. Lower the temperature on my water heater to 120°.
  3. Buy/Use smart power strips for my electronic devices (phones, computers, tablets, TVs, etc). Schedule on/off times based on your daily routines.
  4. Upgrade home lighting to LEDs. (Specify rooms where lighting upgrades are needed.)

Is 3 months too short? Pick a time frame that works for you. Already have LED lighting throughout? You can probably check off this list in just a couple of weeks (or even days). That said, if you’ve already done all these things, consider scheduling a home energy assessment to identify other ways to optimize your home’s energy efficiency.

Remember, your progress should be Measurable (in number of tasks completed as well as energy saved). Make a checklist of all To-Do items, and tick them off as you complete each one. Even make smaller bite-sized goals where needed (e.g., upgrade all lighting in the bedroom), and celebrate the small wins. Most importantly, start to monitor the energy (and dollars) saved by comparing your upcoming energy bill to your bill received at this time last year. You’ll see your efforts start to pay off (literally!).

Let’s celebrate the wins this time around! Share this list with friends and family, and keep each other motivated as the days go by. And on January 17, toast your ongoing progress (instead of your fast failures). In the words of Andres Cantor, renowned soccer announcer: “GOOOOAL!”

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