New Year Resolutions- The curious enigma!

‘I will leave office early from today’, she enthusiastically declared as she breezed past my desk with a big smile on her face. It was 5 PM. Sensing my inquisitiveness, she glanced back and affirmed, ‘It’s my new year resolution for 2018’.

Time has rolled over. And we are back again. It’s that time of the year when we all are at the cusp of the momentous change that we envision to bring in our life. The only fallacy being that the ‘moment’ is both cyclic and short lived. What starts with the thrill of a T20 cricket match, usually ends with a boredom of ‘no play’ attributed to external climatic conditions. The joy and perils of the New Year Resolution!

Being a sucker for melodrama, I really enjoy conversations around the New Year resolution. They are like the fireworks in the Diwali season- starts with utmost rigor, dedication & passion, sky rocketing itself to the zenith, only to crash down after few days. At the top of the chartbusters is the resolution around health with daily exercising, healthy diet and balanced lifestyle! Gym, Yoga, Zumba registrations are at the peak in the month of January. Then comes everyone’s heart calling to follow their passion & dreams. Movies like Tamasha, ZNMD accentuate the calling and one can actually see travelling, reading, writing, painting, acting zoom up with lot of new entrants. At no. 3 is the resolution on spending more time with family and friends & “balancing it out”. Leaving early from office, not being glued to social media on mobile, not replying to emails on holidays and the list goes on. This one is ‘perceived’ to be the easiest but turns out to be the most ephemeral.

Yes, New Year resolutions rarely stick! Sometimes it does but for very few. For majority, it simply evaporates. There is certainly much more to the failing resolutions. Yes, they are up and against our professional routines but we can surely find a balance. For quite a long, I believed that people self-sabotage their resolutions but lately I have had a forced epiphany. I tried to dissect the life cycle of few New Year resolutions. I picked 3 cases — 2 of my friends in office who cherished to leave early from office to spend more time with their family & friends and the 3rd one of my consulting friend who wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The first factor which weighs down the execution of the New Year Resolution is the dearth of daily numerical tracking. Come to think of it, if you are in Sales you would be bombarded with Sales report everyday reminding you of the daily achievement. If you are in consulting or banking, your deadlines are never ending- you get a new one every day carrying forward the older one. Same is the case with every profession and department. You are REMINDED of the progress every day, sometimes every hour, with a special focus on what’s the backlog. Having the cushioned walls of our past professional success ripped apart, the feeling of being exposed to one’s perceived underachievement is stark and we quickly spring back trying to correct it. Alas, our New Year resolution slowly but surely gets crushed. The resolution efficiency only stays in our mind, cornered somewhere lazily sipping our favorite cocktail and dozing off peacefully. We rarely track our resolutions numerically. Ever heard reports reading ’45 mins delayed while leaving from office for last 3 consecutive days’ or “7 hrs shortfall in weekly exercise target. Next week the target is increased by 1.5 hrsor “Happiness Quotient of your child has dipped by 20% this week”

Taking the cue, I personally decided to start recording my efficiency around my resolution on a daily basis with me signing off every day. I believed that this would in turn increase my execution levels but there was another challenge- a second reinforcement apart from the daily tracking in the professional space — Your manager! Your manager always believes that you have exceptional emotional, intellectual & leadership abilities and you need to put in the extra effort to sharpen them. There is a human intervention- both statistically & emotionally around your professional achievement, which is found to be missing around the New Year resolutions. The best human reinforcement around New Year resolution comes from our inner subconscious mind (it has just woken up after a long sleep post enjoying the cocktail) and at best from our very close friends and partners. But the intensity of reminder is diminishing.

Trying to decode this, what if one actually has the Google Assistant modelled as a robotic intervention to reinforce completion on our resolutions? Would it really help? Not really because there is the 3rd latent force which pulls us away from full filling our resolutions- The immediate returns of putting incremental efforts around our working environment — a salary hike, promotion, accolades! That’s a deafening blow to any long term gain desired out of our resolutions- ‘relationships are gold’, ‘health is wealth’, ‘bond of parenthood’, ‘threads of friendship’ and many more simply takes a backseat. It’s not that former is not important, after all how are you going to fund your resolutions if you don’t get a promotion or a decent salary hike. The core of it is trying to fathom the lack of sustained execution on our New Year resolutions.

The instant professional benefits outweigh the perceived philosophical ones stemming out of our resolutions. What if you have a robot who actually calculates the perceived benefit of our resolutions and monetizes it on an annual basis (equivalent to a net present Value and assigning a Personality Index basis that)? Will that lead to better sustained levels? I am not too sure. Human mind is a simple yet very devious entity. It can convince you of anything no matter what anyone tells you. None of us are stuck with the hand we are dealt with. We can reshuffle the deck and deal the cards again. The only catch here is that often we are trapped with the weight of certain cards and the desire to have them without thinking too much of the other ones.

With every day measured performance report reinforced by a potent human force interlinked with immediate monetary & social gains, our daily professional commitments kills the New Year resolutions sooner than later. It’s also the timing which plays a crucial role- We begin executing our New year resolutions in January and are able to sustain it in February only to be entangled in March with our ‘appraisal season’. That’s the death nail hammered onto our resolutions and it rolls downhill henceforth. Surprisingly the New Year resolution takes a rebirth in the month of December. Of course, our subconscious awakens to dismal execution levels vs the annual commitment. Secondly, the professional energy dips as Christmas Holiday season kicks in amidst speculation around the appraisal and the hike. For a limited window, few of us re-gather the lost momentum around resolutions and others start conceptualizing newer ones which would lead to better execution.

I recently read somewhere, “We just don’t know what to pay attention to, and often spend our time investigating & debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant having access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore. But for everything you would need data. So considering everything that is happening in our chaotic world, what should we focus on?”

With respect to my friends resolutions. Statistically, both my office friends have spent incrementally 20% more time in office compared to last year and 10% lesser time with their friends and families. And my consulting friend gained 10% more weight. But they are on the cusp of climbing up in their professional careers. So is anyone complaining? As for me, I am already checking my ‘whatsapp’ which came 0.5 seconds ago. Of course I had resolved to stop compulsively peering at pixels 12 months back!

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Adrit Mishra

When statistics & management insights transcends into philosophical, introspective & poetic ones