Let's face it, we are all lazy. It's OK; many of us just can't help it, and we're not alone. It turns out that we are all wired to be lazy. When given the chance, we will naturally be drawn to doing things the easy way.
In other words, we prefer to spend the least amount of physical and mental effort needed to get the job done.
We are wired to conserve energy and to avoid exerting ourselves unnecessarily. This tendency was passed down to us from our ancestors, who lived in a world of limited resources. It helped them survive.
Often they didn't know when they would get their next meal, so it made sense to conserve their energy to maximize their ability to survive during times of scarcity.
Our tendency to conserve energy manifests itself in many ways in modern society. Take working out, for example. We need to override our natural laziness to work out. It takes conscious effort to build this habit.
It's just not natural for us to burn a bunch of unnecessary calories lifting things for no practical purpose, jogging in circles or pedaling a bike that doesn't move. So we need to push past this mental resistance, which is often quite tough to do.
We are also wired to conserve mental energy. We employ a host of cognitive shortcuts to this end.
One of the ways we conserve our mental energy is a preference for the status quo. We have a natural bias towards keeping things just the way they are.
If you've ever tried to change a habit, you know how challenging it can be to institute a new behavior. It is so much easier to just keep doing things the way we have been doing them.
The New Year provides a fantastic opportunity to reevaluate your life and set new goals. For many, it's a time of excitement and optimism.
We are quite passionate about our New Year's Resolutions and stick to our new habits for weeks or even months. But often our focus shifts, our excitement wanes, and we slip back into our old patterns of behavior.
So, given that we are lazy and we prefer to keep things the way they are, how can we maximize the likelihood that we will stick to our resolutions in 2020?
The key is to capitalize your mental laziness and harness it to your benefit through automation.
For example, let's say that your goal for 2020 is to start investing, or to invest more, for your retirement. You've named this as an important goal and you are excited about taking action. You've also decided how much you want to contribute each month.
At this point in the process, one of the worst things you can do is to count on your future self to keep writing checks or transferring money each month. It will only be a matter of time until something unexpected comes up that requires money — and something always comes up — or you forget to make the transfer. It's easy to put it off, fall behind or to quit altogether.
Given our propensity towards keeping things the way they are, a much better strategy is to set up automatic contributions. This can be done through automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to your individual retirement account or, in the case of your 401(k) plan or other employer-sponsored retirement plan, salary deferrals. This will allow you to set the stage for a status quo of success.
When you automate, it takes a conscious effort on your part to sabotage your achievement of your savings or investing goal. Sabotaging yourself will require mental energy and several steps, none of which you will be excited about doing.
By automating the achievement of your goal, you will guarantee your success by harnessing the power of your mental laziness in service of your financial health.
So as 2020 begins, get clear about your financial goals, automate and ride your laziness to success.
— By Dr. Brad Klontz, a certified financial planner, financial psychologist and an associate professor of practice in financial psychology and behavioral finance at Creighton. He is a member of the CNBC Financial Wellness Council.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.