At the end of each year I pull out most of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made — I now have them going back nearly two decades. They make for curious reading: some years they seem less like an account of what I intend to do with my life than what I don’t. I never took voice lessons, or wrote an original song for the guitar given to me six years ago by my wife, or even learned how to play that guitar. I never learned Spanish, or how to cook. I didn’t write that book about Obama, or create a television drama about Wall Street, or swim a 50-metre sprint in under 30 seconds, or ‘perform one act of charity each month big enough that it hurts at least a little bit to do it’.
After reading the lists of ways I’ve failed to improve myself, and things I’ve failed to accomplish, I set out to make the next year’s list. Part of me genuinely wants to believe that this year will be different. The other part of me thinks: so what if it isn’t? Unkept promises have their own power. They’re like sloppy travel plans: you may not end up going where you’d intended, but if you hadn’t planned the trip you wouldn’t have gone anywhere at all. Years ago I sold my publisher two books about American baseball. The first book was to be called Moneyball, the second, a sequel, Underdogs. Moneyball was a story about how markets can value people so irrationally that they can misvalue even professional athletes. It got written so quickly I didn’t have time to make a resolution about it. It doesn’t matter what the sequel was about but for the next five years it was a New Year’s resolution. Reading over my old resolutions at the end of the fifth year, I realised that the book shouldn’t be a sequel but a prequel, about the psychologists who had uncovered the irrationality in the human mind that had made Moneyball possible.