The paradox of New Year resolutions


Alex Taremwa

On New Years Day, I had an interesting phone conversation with Marvin, a close friend that left me perplexed.


He had called to register his good wishes for the new year, which I customary reciprocated.

He went ahead to ask if I had any new-year resolutions, only to be disappointed when I told him that I didn’t have any.

“That is so reckless Alex. Why don’t you plan your life?” My argument was a rather simple one. I told him that I didn’t have to wait for the January 1 to plan my life.

Like Marvin, it has become a tradition of sorts for people to re-plan their lives on New Year’s Day which is a good tradition but the way they do the ‘planning’ is rather hypocritical.

As yourself, how many of your 2015 resolutions did you achieve? Why is it easy to abandon the failed resolutions in the previous year and move on to new ones, sometimes without examining the cause of failure?

Realising this trend, I randomly sampled 10 individuals from my professional networks and asked them differently what their 2015 resolutions were. About 99% of them didn’t even remember any of them but they had listed new ones for 2016 already.

It is amazing how seriously most people take new year resolutions.

Were they to adopt the same level of seriousness to follow them up, perhaps the argument of making them in the first place would be justified.

Skimming through an old (2012) copy of The Standard , members of the UCU community were asked what their new-year resolutions were and one of the responses that caught my eye was: “To get married.”

Here we are four years down the road and the fellow is still miserably as alone as she was in 2012.

The dictionary definition of ‘resolution’ is, “a firm decision to do or not to do something.” Perhaps some people underlook the essence of the term, thereby switching from one ‘resolution’ to another, which is a contradiction.

Scientifically, this effect is referred to as ironic mental control. The ‘ironic’ part refers to the fact that trying too hard to do things seems, paradoxically, to push them further beyond our reach.

If the theory is correct, it explains why every year we make New Year’s resolutions only to break them quite soon. Why? Because we have too many choices to take action about.

Often, this is because having too many choices paralyses us with the result that we cannot make any decision at all.

More importantly, we spend time thinking about the choices or actions we didn’t do, instead of being happy with the ones we did. The more choices we have, the more we feel we failed.

Offer yourself and others less choice and you will be more successful.

Happy New Year good people.

Alex Taremwa is the Features Editor of The Standard.

Twitter: @Ataremwa