Why are NYRs so hard to keep?

Why do people at all make all those New Year Resolutions (NYRs)? Any idea? And once having made them, why do they end breaking them all so soon? Why do the NYRs turn out to be so hard to keep?

You have tried making some resolutions at least a few times in the past, haven’t you? So just think a bit about it before continuing reading further—think why they were so hard to keep. … Was it all an issue of a lack of sufficient will power? Or was something else at work here? Think about it…

My answer appears immediately below, so if you want to think a little about it, then really, stop reading right here, and come back and continue once you are ready to go further.


My answer:

People make resolutions because they want to get better, and also decide on doing something about it, like, setting a concrete goal-posts about it.

Further, I think that people fail to keep the resolutions because they make them only at the 11th hour.


A frequently offered counter-argument:

Now, you might object to the first part of my answer. “Who takes all that self-improvement nonsense so seriously anyway?” you might argue. “People make resolutions simply because it’s a very common thing to do on the New Year’s Eve. Everyone else is happy making them, and so, you are led into believing that may be, you too should have a shot at it. But really speaking, the whole thing is just a joke.”

Good attempt at finding the reasons! But not exactly a very acute analysis. Let me show you how, by tackling just this one aspect: making resolutions just because the other people are doing the same…


Following other people—what does that exactly mean?:

If someone goes on to repeat a certain thing just as everyone else is doing it, then, does this fact by itself make him a part of the herd? a fool? Really? Think about it.

Suppose you have been watching an absolutely thrilling sports match, say a one-day international cricket match. Suppose you have specially arranged for a day’s leave from your work, and you have gone with your friends to the stadium. Suppose that the team you have been rooting for wins the finals. Everyone in your group suddenly begins dancing, yells, blows horns, beats drums, and all that. Your group generally begins to have a wild celebration together. Seeing them do that, almost like within a fraction of a second, you join them, too.

Does your action mean you have been a mindless sheep following the others in your group? Does it mean that you derived no personal pleasure from the win of your team? That you yourself had no desire to express your joy, your exhilaration? Is your excitement predominantly dependent, on such an occasion, on what other people are doing? Or is it the case that the excitement and the joy is all authentically your own, but it’s just that its outer expression differs. For instance, you wouldn’t be able to go *so* wild if your boss were to be sitting in the next row, rooting for the other team! May be it’s just your outer expression which is shaped by looking at how other people celebrate at the occasion. The most you actually gather by observing others is how to express your joy—not that you have joy. (Observe how the Mexican wave works.) It’s not an instance of the herd behaviour at all!

Something similar for the NYRs too. People make resolutions because there is some underlying cause, a personal reason, as to why they want to do that. And the reason is what I already said above. Namely, that they want to get better.

Of course, it’s not that you didn’t have any point in your argument above. The influence of the other people sure is always there. But it’s a minor, incidental, thing, occurring purely at the surface.


How people actually make their resolutions:

Coming back to the NYRs, it’s a fact that around the time of the year-end, there are a great number of other people who are so busy with certain things at this time of the year: compiling all those top 10 lists (for the bygone year), buying or gifting diaries or calendars (for the new year), and, of course, making resolutions for the new year. Often, they “seriously” let you in on what resolutions they have decided, too.

If so many people were not to get so enthusiastic about making these NYRs, it’s possible, nay, even probable, that you yourself wouldn’t have thought of doing the same thing on this occasion. Possible. So, in that sense, yes, you are getting influenced by what other people do.

Yet, when it is time to take the actual action, people invariably try to figure out what is personally important to them. Not to someone else. In making resolutions, people actually don’t think too much about society, come to think of it.

No one resolves something like, for instance, that he will take a 10,000 km one-way trip in the new year, and go help some completely random couple settle some issue between them like, you know, why he spends so much money on the gadgets, or why she spends so much time on getting ready—or how they should settle their divorce agreement. People typically aren’t very enthusiastic about keeping such aims by way of New Year’s Resolutions, especially if they involve complete strangers. Even if it is true that a lot of people do resolve to undertake some humanitarian service, it’s more out of feeling of having to combine something that is good, and something that is social—or altruistic. The first element (the desire something good, to bring about some “real change”) is the more dominant motivation there, most often. And even if it is true that there are just six degrees of separation between most of the humanity, the fact of the matter still remains that while settling down on their resolution, most people usually don’t traverse even just one degree, let alone all the rest 5 (i.e. the entire society).

On the other hand, quitting drinking—or at least resolving to limit themselves to “just a couple of pegs, that’s all” is different. This one particular resolution appears very regularly near the top of people’s lists. There often seems to be this underlying sense that there is an area where they need to improve themselves. An awareness of that vague sense is then followed by a resolution, a “commitment, come what may,” sort of. To give it a good try all over once again, so to speak.


The paradox, and a bit about my recent take about it:

And yet, despite this matter being of such a personal importance, people still often fail in keeping their resolutions. Think of the usual resolutions like “regular exercise,” or “not having any more than a 90 [ml of a hard-drink] on an evening,” or “maintaining all expenses on a daily basis, and balancing bank-books regularly…” These are some of the items that regularly appear on people’s list. That’s the good part. The bad part is, the same items happen to appear on the lists of the same people year after another year.

Now, coming to the reasons for such a mass-ive (I mean wide-spread) failure, I have already given you a hint above. People typically fail, I said, because they make those resolutions at the 11th hour. They make them on the spur of the moment, often thinking them up right on the night of the 31st itself.

OK, let me note an aside here. The issue, I think is not, really speaking, one of just time. Hey, what are those new year’s diaries and planners for, except for using them at the beginning of the year? And people do use such aids for some time period at the beginning. … So, yes, time-tables and all are  involved, and people still fail to keep up.

So, the issue must be deeper than that, I thought. In any case, I have come to form one hypothesis about it.

Come to think of it, some time ago, I had jotted down my thoughts on this matter in a somewhat lighter vein. I had said: if you want to keep your resolutions, make only those which you can actually keep!

Coming back to the hypothesis which I now have, well, it is somewhat on similar lines, but in a bit more detailed, more “advanced” sort of a way. I am going to test it on myself first at the turn of this year, and I am going to see how good or poor it turns out to be (for whatever worth this idea is as a hypothesis anyway).

As a part of my testing “strategy” I will also be announcing my NYRs on the 31st (or at the most the 1st) here. Stay tuned.


Oh yes, by way of a minor update, even if I was down for a few days with minor fever and nausea, I have by now well recovered, and already am back pursuing data science. … More, later.

… Oh yes, the crackers remind me. … Happy Christmas, once again…

Will be back on the 31st or 1st. Until then, take care, and bye for now…


A song I like:
(Hindi) “Yun hi chala chal rahi”
Singers: Kailash Kher, Hariharan, Udit Narayan
Music: A. R. Rahman
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar


[Guess no need to edit this post; it’s mostly come out as pretty OK right in the first pass; will leave it as is.]

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