One year I resolved to eat more pizza and drink more scotch. And since pizza isn’t my favourite fast food and because I’m not much of a scotch man, it was an easy resolution to keep. The next New Year’s resolution was to walk every day. I broke that one of January 1st because I’d had too much scotch and pizza the night before. Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all.

New Year’s resolutions are a funny thing. And they go back quite a bit. It was about 4000 years ago that the ancient Babylonians—aren’t ancient ones the only kind of Babylonians?—made a tradition of celebrating the annual harvest with repaying debts and returning items they had borrowed. That reminds me, I still have my brother-in-law’s whipper snipper. Then the Romans did a thing. For both gangs, it was about appeasing the gods in return for a good year ahead. Early Christians used the new year as a time to think about and atone for past transgressions and resolve to do better next time. Over a couple of millennia, the new year tradition of making resolutions gradually lost its religious accoutrement to the point where the practice is now entirely secular.

NY resolutions almost invariably are about the maker. Not that maker. Remember, it’s all secular now. Resolutions are about the one making the resolution. And more often than not it involves some sort of self-improvement. So many of these kinds revolve around improving one’s physical self. And the number one way most people seek to get into shape is to lose a little weight. There’s already a problem. Resolutions like goal setting need to be specific. Resolving to lose a little weight is less specific than promising to lose thirty pounds. Make your resolution objective, measurable. Numbers really help here. For example, my goal was to get through one bottle of scotch and one pizza every night. Not always easy but quantifiable nonetheless.

Why are NY resolutions so often broken? Are we simply weak and sniveling creatures unable to resist temptation, incapable of doing what’s good for us? Yes, some of us are just that. But far more of us have the capacity to do right by ourselves and to do right by others. Why is it so hard? Have you ever made a promise to someone? Did you break that promise? I bet I know how you felt. Then why, when we fail to keep a resolution, are we more or less ok with it? Why do we adopt the ‘there’s always next year’ stance?

When we make a promise, we enter a contract. There are two willing participants. By virtue of having a partner as party to the promise, aside from getting some microphone-popping alliteration, we are held accountable. NY resolutions are often never even spoken aloud let alone written or otherwise recorded. These flimsy promises to ourselves are bound to be shadows of their former selves even before Valentine’s Day rolls around. So, we need to give them a little staying power, a little stamina to see at least the beginnings of spring. Write your resolution down. Sign it. Read it aloud every day. Stick to it.

Have fun with resolutions. The pizza and scotch year was a very good year. Of course, it was the opposite of what most resolutions seek to accomplish. Deprivation is often the key ingredient in those January promises. Mine was simply indulging. And as a little ancillary benefit, I kept my local pizza joint and liquor store in business for twelve months. Resolve to do more things, try new foods, read more books. Don’t forget the numbers. Try one new food every week. Read one book each week. Get your friends and family involved. They’ll make it more fun and keep you honest at the same time.

I have been witness to some crazy NY resolutions. One friend swore off wearing anything blue for an entire year. Another tried to go twelve months without using the word ‘the’. He slipped up one night when we’d gotten into the scotch. It was in November. He was not happy. Another genius friend tried to save money by putting away one penny on January 1st and simply doubling the amount every day. Once the lessons of exponential growth and compound interest finally kicked in and he realized that he was unable to bank $20.48 on the twelfth day, he broke the resolution. Then we got some scotch.

Whatever you decide to do or not do, do it. Or don’t. Good luck and happy new year.