Five Apes, a Banana and New Year Resolutions

Start with a cage containing five apes. In the cage, hang a banana from the ceiling and place a ladder under it. Before long, an ape will go to the ladder and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the ladder, spray all the apes with cold water.

After a while, another ape will make an attempt. Spray all the apes with cold water, again.

Next, turn off the cold water. It’s no longer needed.

Later, if any ape tries to climb the ladder, the other apes will try to prevent him, assaulting him if required; even though water is no longer sprayed on them.

Now, remove one ape from the cage and replace it with a new one. Before long, the new ape will notice the banana, the ladder and start to climb. To his horror, all of the other apes attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if tries to climb the ladder, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five apes and replace it with another new one. This newcomer too approaches the ladder and is attacked. The first newcomer participates in this punishment showing great enthusiasm, but he has no idea why the second newcomer is being beaten up.

Again, replace an original ape (the third one) with another new one. This one makes it to the ladder and is attacked as well.

At this stage, two of the four apes that beat him up have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the ladder, or why they are participating in assaulting the newest ape. But they go along anyway.

Continue replacing apes after each such assault. Soon, all five apes will be new.

After the fourth and fifth original apes are replaced, none of the apes in the cage would’ve been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, none of them even approaches the ladder.

Why not? Well, because that’s the way it’s always been around here.

We are all creatures of habit. We acknowledge that. We also recognise the need to change some of these habits, and make sincere efforts to do so. Yet, when it comes to making New Year resolutions and sticking with them, we’re not good enough. We stay with the predictable. We go back to something we’ve been trying for a while with the hope that linking it to the New Year will make it real. Like the apes, we don’t challenge the status quo. Or perhaps we promise ourselves too much. Either way, we don’t always succeed. We expect the New Year to usher in change all on its own.

As examples of unbridled optimism and relentless pursuit of self-improvement, few activities come close to the New Year resolution. The question is, how does one make New Year resolutions work?

Three tips: (1) Make your resolutions after Jan 15th. Distanced from the euphoria of the New Year, you might make more reasonable promises to yourself. (2) Base your resolutions on making fundamental changes. Waking up an hour earlier would be easier to follow through on than starting a new exercise routine. (3) Rearrange your office space. You’ll be surprised at the new perspectives even minor changes will provide.

As part of the New Year greetings message I sent out, I mentioned that since 2016 was a leap year, we all got an extra day to use as we wished to – working, relaxing etc. I got several responses stating that since Feb 29th was a Monday, they would spend the extra day working. Surprising response, since I didn’t say Feb 29th was the extra day.

Which day will you treat as the extra day, and how would you spend it?

Make your resolutions selectively. Make them count. All the best!


  1. Great post! Exactly because of that “monkey business” I haven’t made any new year’s resolutions for a decade, or even longer. I’ll take your tips now and will try renewed.
    Happy 2016!

    • Thanks Andras. Would love to know if you were more successful with resolutions this year. Cheers!


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