It is a new year, and we’re starting it by holding ourselves to a higher standard than the year before. Millions make oaths to either break an old habit or instill a new one, so for a little while friends and neighbors march around with steely-eyed resolve and then, mid-January, begin to feel really, really bad about themselves.

Is this the best way to ensure a happy and productive 2014?

Making resolutions has been traced as far back as the Babylonians. The Romans did it, medieval knights did it. And I ask you, where are these Babylonians, Romans and knights now? Exactly. They are no longer around.

Dare I say that the toll of unmet resolutions weakens us so much that our very way of life collapses? (New Year’s resolution: dial back hyperbole.) Is it possible that making resolutions and then failing to meet them, as almost 90 percent of us do, is actually detrimental to our moral and emotional fabric? Isn’t making a resolution just an excuse to count all the ways you aren’t up to snuff, and then prove it by giving up almost immediately? Don’t bother, I say. Just put an apple on your head and hand a BB gun to someone who doesn’t like you.

I can see that I’m sounding a little bitter (New Year’s resolution: don’t be bitter.) It’s just that there is something about resolutions that seems so destined to fail that only a dark conspiracy can keep us attempting, year after year, to set and complete them. I suspect a secret white paper that has graphed the inverse relationship between our resolution to stop eating chocolate and just how much chocolate we eat after we fail in our resolve. Around the world the corporations that make their money from alcohol, sugar, tobacco or cute cat videos are rubbing their cold, clammy hands with glee. They cheer us on as we beat our chests and declare our noble intentions. They watch as we claw at our receding goal like people falling off a cliff and then they applaud as, depressed and feeling like chumps, we redouble our drinking/smoking/cat-watching addictions — until next year, when we try again.

But still some of you persevere. Perhaps you’ve made a resolution not to listen to smart people. Or you’ve already paid the $2.99 for the diet/fitness/money app. Maybe you tweeted your intentions in a message full of humility, humor, and self-effacement that took hours to construct. Okay. Far be it from me to crush your dreams or your Twitter stream (New Year’s resolution: avoid bright-eyed hope. It’s just too depressing.) I’m not promising that you’ll succeed, but here are some tips that raise your chances to 50 percent, according to reliable scientific studies (New Year’s resolution: trust any data that comes from  “scientific studies.”)

  1. Go public with your resolution. This ensures a support system. Also you are less likely to give up if you’ve boasted to your friends about your future success.
  2. Break your resolution into small and measurable steps. This gives you clear goals to reach, and a way to quantify your progress.
  3. Keep a journal to track ups and downs. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Tear stained pages are just fine.
  4. Remind yourself of the positives, not the deprivations. “See how much money I’m saving by not buying cigarettes!” is better than “Must. Not. Smoke.”
  5. Reward yourself as you reach goals (feel free to send me an email with subject lines like Nyananannyana or WRONG AGAIN, CYNIC.)

Go to it, and happy 2014 (New Year’s resolution: believe in my fellow humans!)

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