It is New Year’s Eve and you’re looking at the fireworks, reflecting on your year and thinking about what comes next. Our thoughts usually revolve around what we want from life, and what we need to do to achieve these goals. Common goals include being happier, losing weight, getting a promotion, further education or having better relationships with the people we love.
Yet one of the problems is that when we think of something a year away – say, changing jobs, having a baby, moving house – these goals can sometimes be hard to see as reality. You hope it will happen, but it is not yet real.
Researchers have examined how people treat long distance goals compared to short term ones . When you want to go on a holiday to the Bahamas, you might think about losing weight beforehand for the best bikini body, think about island hopping, and dream of the mountain of books you’ll manage to read while by the sea. Yet when the trip actually happens, what you’re thinking about the week beforehand is usually quite different to a year beforehand. There’s travel insurance, vaccinations, checking of luggage requirements and hotel reservations – the practical aspects become the priority.
Tomorrow or a Year Away
A study at the University of New York investigated the differences between long term and short term goals . In the study students were told that they had to choose between one of two lectures. One of the lectures was on decision making processes in companies, while the other was on data entry. The first topic is much more interesting, but as many students had full schedules on that day, they chose the data entry lecture.
However, when the lectures were scheduled a year away, almost all of the students chose the decision making lecture, wanting to deal with the consequences of a full schedule when the time came. In other words, the students were practical when it came to short term planning, and idealistic when it came to the future.
Today We Want to be Practical, but Tomorrow We’ll Chase Our Dreams
What does this have to do with New Year’s Eve? Well, on New Year’s Eve we think about our dreams, and make resolutions into the far future. At the same time the fireworks that we admire are in the distant sky and therefore ideally fit to our mindset on New Year’ Eve. The higher and the more impressive the fireworks, the bigger and greater your dreams and resolutions become. Let your mind wander but plan the practical steps to making the ideal come true.
We wish you a happy and prosperous new year!
 Trope Y & Liberman N (2011) Construal-level theory of psychological disance. Psychological Revue, 117(2): 440-463.