Sticky Resolutions

Michael Metzger

Chip and Dan Heath know a few things about sticky ideas. They’re the authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. New Year’s resolutions are often good ideas. Few stick however. Here are four ways I think you can make ideas sticky.

Fear the trivial
The University of Maryland has a motto: Fear the Turtle. People making sticky resolutions fear the trivial. They’re daring folks, like Elizabeth Holmes.

Holmes was featured in a recent New Yorker article, “Blood, Simpler.” She’s 30 and CEO of Theranos, a Silicon Valley company that is working to upend the lucrative (75 billion dollar) business of blood testing. Blood analysis is integral to medicine, but somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of people who are ordered by their doctor to get a blood test do not. Holmes contends that people hate needles as well as the costs associated with blood tests. She says it can be done more quickly, conveniently, and inexpensively.

Holmes has persevered at this for 11 years. She started Theranos at age 19, in 2003, after dropping out of Stanford the year before. Growing up, she heard her parents tell stories “about people deciding not to spend their lives on something purposeful, and what happens to them when they make that choice – the impact on character and quality of life.” Holmes decided trivial pursuits were not for her.

How daring are your resolutions?

Center on someone significant
Living in historic Annapolis, Kathy and I can walk around and observe colonial church architecture. It’s modeled on medieval churches. In the rose windows, you typically find the “wheel of fortune,” or rota fortunae. This circle is borrowed from ancient Roman worship of the pagan goddess Fortuna. They placed Fortuna at the center of the wheel, where she supposedly bestowed good fortune on all. But Fortuna could be fickle.

The Romans were right that you’re wise to center your life on someone significant. But when their gods proved fickle, the resolve of the Romans was rather flimsy. The early church replaced Fortuna with Jesus at the center of the wheel. They believed Christ is faithful. His reliability makes human resolve sticky.

Who are your resolutions centered on?

Enlarge on a great story
Peggy Noonan recently wrote a warm piece on Mike Nichols, the film director who passed away in November at the age of 83. Best known for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and The Graduate (1967), Nichols stuck to his craft because he knew “what has been said and thought and given to the world,” wrote Noonan. He recognized how “every great story is a tremor from those dynamics that stretch back way over time.” The result is wisdom, knowing “what’s a cliché to be lost and what’s an ever-present truth to be resurrected or enlarged upon.”

The “four-chapter” gospel – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration – is the greatest story ever told. It includes a tremor (the fall) stretching back way over time. Knowing this expansive story helps us recognize what is to be resurrected or enlarged upon.

What story are your resolutions enlarging?

Hear the rushing rapids of death
Melinda Gates recently discussed why she and Bill persevere in their philanthropic work. Part of the equation is their age, as she recently told The Wall Street Journal. “I turned 50 this year, and there’s something about turning 50. It’s kind of funny, but you can see the end of your life, you start to realize you’re on the back half of the life.”

A friend once told me that at age 50 you first hear “the rushing rapids of death.” That’s not morbid. It’s liberating. Melinda Gates said she now looks around and thinks, “Well, what do I want to get accomplished in the next 30 years? And by gosh, I better make sure I’m doing that.” That’s sticky resolve.

I turned 60 this year. Kathy’s not far behind. We recently relocated, having resolved to invest the rest of our lives (and much of our fortune) in what we hope will enlarge the gospel story. We’re not remarkable. But we do hear the rushing rapids. And with no plans to retire, we’re resolved to stick with it.

In making resolutions, what are you hearing?

I do hope you make sticky resolutions for 2015. Happy New Year.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike


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  1. Best New Year’s advice ever written. Centered in Ought, Is, Can and Will- thank you and Di and I are with you- I’ll update as story unfolds- I suppose 60 is the age where our ears open up to those rapids, like 30 is when young men’s frontal lobes attach! Happy New Year to Metzker’s !!!

    Ron and Diane Morley

  2. Mike,

    That’s a wonderful message on resolutions. For so many they just make an impact. This frames the subject of resolutions well. We will be writing about BHAGs later this week; please stay tuned.

    Dave Hynek

  3. Thanks for insight, Mike. At heart I suppose we are all fortune hunters. Sobering thoughts on the day of receiving family bereavement news.
    Sharing our desires and aspirations is often a neglected art.

  4. Interesting play on words.
    You begin the article by citing the Heath’s book, Made to Stick, and then introduce us to Ms. Holmes who could restate her life’s mission as “made to not stick.” Was this play on words intended. If so, you are a genius. If not, ….have a great New Year.

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