How are your New Year's resolutions coming along? Still hitting the gym every day? Eating more healthily? Putting your finances in order? Or have you already forgotten what you vowed to change in those heady days at the start of January?
Most of us struggle to last a week on a new regime before sliding back into bad old habits. We lack the staying power to make deep and lasting changes in our lives. What we really want when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve is a quick fix.
Of course, shortcut solutions to life's problems are not new. Two thousand years ago, Plutarch denounced the army of quacks peddling miracle cures to the citizens of Ancient Rome.
But in today's on-demand culture, the quick fix has become our default setting in every walk of life. And that takes a toll.
Why? Because quick fixes seldom deliver on their seductive promise of maximum return for minimum effort.
Of course, there are time when fixing things quickly is the only option, when you have to channel MacGyver, reach for the duct tape, and cobble together whatever solution works right now. If someone is choking on a morsel of food, you don't sit back, stroke your chin and take the Aristotelian long view. You quickly administer the Heimlich maneuvre.
With more complex problems, however, a Heimlich-style quick fix rarely works.
Deep down, we all know this to be true. We know that no algorithm can solve global poverty; no pill can cure a chronic illness; no box of chocolates can mend a broken relationship; no educational DVD can transform a child into a baby Einstein; no drone strike can end a terrorist conflict.
Sadly, there is no such thing as 'One Tip to a Flat Stomach'.
Whether it's mending a failing company, fighting corruption, tackling disease, or rebuilding a marriage, the hardest problems defy just-add-water remedies. Indeed, slapping on a band-aid when surgery is needed usually just makes things worse.
Look at the damage wrought by our penchant for pills, the quick fix par excellence. Surveys suggest two million Americans now abuse prescription drugs, with more than a million hospitalized every year by the side effects of medication. Overdoses from legal pills are now the leading cause of accidental death in half the states in the US, where the black market in hard-to-get medication has fueled a sharp rise in armed robberies at pharmacies.
The good news is there is now an alternative to this carousel of quick fixes. It's called, not surprisingly, the Slow Fix.
You may have heard of the Slow Movement, which challenges the canard that faster is always better. You don't have to ditch your career, toss the iPhone, or join a commune to take part. Living "Slow" just means doing everything at the right speed- quickly, slowly, or at whatever pace delivers the best results.
Applying a Slow Fix means taking the time to: admit and learn from mistakes; work out the root causes of the problem; sweat the small stuff; think long and connect the dots to build holistic solutions; seek ideas from everywhere; work with others and share the credit; build up expertise while remaining skeptical of experts; think alone and together; tap emotions; enlist an inspiring leader; consult and even recruit those closest to the problem; turn the search for a fix into a game; have fun, follow hunches, adapt, use trial and error, and embrace uncertainty.
All of this takes time, and in an impatient world that can seem like an indulgence or a luxury. But the Slow Fix is neither. It's actually a smart investment in the future. Put in the time, effort, and resources to start tackling problems thoroughly today, and reap the benefits tomorrow.
People around the world are using the Slow Fix to reboot their health, careers and relationships. It's helping me conquer a long-standing problem with back pain.
Others are using a Slow Fix approach to tackle problems in the public realm. Examples include rescuing a failing school in Los Angeles; slashing recidivism rates in Norway and Singapore; revolutionizing Spain's organ transplant system; lifting children out of poverty in New York; turning Costa Rican coffee-growers into a thriving entrepreneurs; even fine-tuning Formula One racing cars.
A Slow Fix mindset is also helping doctors make fewer mistakes; companies boost sales and productivity; designers build better stuff; scientists make surprising breakthroughs; and nations fight tropical diseases.
Everywhere you look, from the personal to the public, the problems we face are more complex and more pressing than ever before. Quick fixes are not the answer.
The time has come to resist the siren call of half-baked solutions and short-term palliatives, of New Year's resolutions that fade away by February, and start fixing things properly.
The time has come to learn the art of the Slow Fix.
Follow Carl Honore on Twitter: www.twitter.com/carlhonore