Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Raven: The man who has run 8 miles daily without fail since January 1, 1975
New Year is a time for hope. It is the time we resolve to improve ourselves, whether or not we admit it publicly. It is the time we bet against our own experience, because in all likelihood, we had made the same resolutions in the previous years and had failed. However, despite our repeated failure over the past years, we continue to believe that that this year will be different. We hope that we will finally be more disciplined with our health, finances or study habits.

This is a well researched phenomenon in psychology. Researchers estimate that people make the same new year's resolution every year, about 10 times on average. Somehow repeated failures do not reduce our enthusiasm to make new year's resolutions again and again. Most of us genuinely believe that we will definitely succeed this time around. In the field of Organizational Behavior, we say that past behavior is often the best predictor of future behavior. In that sense, how much so ever enthusiastic we may be right now, most of us will again fail in sticking to our new year's resolutions beyond a few weeks. 

When I was a first year undergraduate zoology student at Ravenshaw College in Cuttack, the Seniors of our program had arranged a party for us freshmen around the New Year. In that party every freshman was grilled with a few questions by our domineering seniors. One of the questions that I was asked was, "What is your new year's resolution?" With my tongue-in-cheek, I responded, "I have only one new year's resolution, and that is to not make any new year's resolution. Why make a new year's resolution when you know you will falter in a few days or weeks?" I remember receiving a lot of applause for my response, although contrary to what I proclaimed at the party that day, I have made quite a number of new year's resolutions over the years.

And similar to the pattern observed by researchers, I have failed at most of my resolutions as well. However, I never completely give up. Despite faltering after a week or two, I keep trying, and retrying, not just at the beginning of the year but throughout the year. So even when I didn't succeed to stick with my resolutions 100%, I still managed to develop and sustain new habits.

That said, I am hoping that this year will be different. This year I really want to create a streak of 366 days with respect to my resolutions. And this year I have made three. First is to run or engage in some other form of physical exercise everyday throughout 2016 so that I am at my fittest self this year. Second is to meditate for at least 25 minutes everyday. And third is to write at least one blog post every week in 2016.

Some of you will say, "Why so much obsession on running and fitness when you are already such a fit individual?" I am certainly a pretty fit person, and I exercise regularly as well, but going by data, my overall fitness levels decreased in 2015. In late May, I set a goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon by the end of 2015, but then I failed in it. In fact, my training was so low, I wasn't even ready to run a full marathon, let alone qualify for Boston. So I just ran a couple of half-marathons, and even there my times were much slower than my personal best record. My close friends consoled me saying that you have had a lot going on this year, so you shouldn't be too hard on yourself. That is certainly true, but I don't like making excuses. So circumstances aside, I hold nobody but myself responsible for not being able to meet my goal in 2015. 2016 will be different though, and I am determined to make it so.

My inspiration comes from Robert Raven Kraft, a man I came to know about just recently in a magazine article. Raven, as he is popularly known because of his habit of always wearing  black, is a 65 year old man from Miami who has run 8 miles everyday without fail on one of the beaches of Miami since January 1, 1975. That equals to over 116,800 miles so far. To put this into perspective, that is going around the earth over 14.8 times. That is the power of consistency! If one slowly but steadily puts in the miles (or whatever else that one aims to), over a period of time, one can accomplish feats that would have otherwise seemed impossible. But then one has to be absolutely committed. Raven, for example, ran through horrible hurricanes that often hit the coasts of Florida and even while he had a pneumonia. Now that's commitment! How committed am I? Time will be the judge.

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