New Year's Resolutions
“New Year is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, friendly calls and humbug resolutions.''
Hear, hear Mark Twain, and I resolved years ago to never make another New Year’s resolution. Yet every year when I answer “none” to the ubiquitous line of questioning that begins sometime around early December, I get the sort of look that would imply I had said “shooting robins out of trees”, so I usually add a mumbled addendum about getting fit or learning to make pastry just to avoid being a killjoy.
There are a few regular statistics as one year ends and another begins. As sure as 65% of people don’t know the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne (other than those three words and the bit about forgetting old acquaintance), approximately 72% of people will make a promise they won’t keep. I’m not talking about marriage vows or commitments of huge significance, but the obligatory January 1st pledges. It doesn’t take a psychologist to understand the reasoning behind this great, ritualistic, mass undertaking. No one makes a promise to themselves to fix something unless they think it is broken, and at no other time of the year do so many things need to be repaired than at the start of January. The majority of us have spent the latter half of December eating too much, drinking too much, not exercising, spending two month’s salary in a fortnight, bickering with (or over) family, social smoking and possibly snogging John from accounts at the Christmas party. If ever there was a recipe for self-loathing, the inevitable comedown at this time of year has all the ingredients. But wait! The antidote lies just within reach, there it is, just past the bumper back of Motilium… it’s the New Year Resolution. Both as defence and rationalisation, resolutions are what allow us to have that sixth drink when we only planned to go out for one, to neglect all exercise for weeks aside from lifting laden forks to our faces, to put important things off until after Christmas, or to order the kind of dessert that makes your heart swell (and not with pride). I’m not giving any excuse for snogging the guy from accounts; that one can only be resolved away on January 1st by finding a new job. Or emigrating.
Even if you haven’t overindulged, everyone wants to start a new year on the right foot. It’s good for the soul, and part of our make up. “Cheers to another year and another chance for us to get it right”. (If you’re wondering what great philosopher said that, it was Oprah). It’s true though; if a year were a day, then January would be the morning and no one wants to get out of the wrong side of the bed. But resolutions need to be realistic, and you can pretty much guarantee than any promise you make to yourself in front of a pub full of strangers is doomed to fail. These hasty pledges are usually along the lines of running a marathon (when you have never so much as jogged more than ten yards), swearing to stop drinking altogether (which results in AA cards being dropped in your pocket when anyone sees you with a glass of wine), or vowing to meet The One (which just leaves people feeling sorry for you when you are still single in September). If there are genuine changes that you have wanted to make for some time, ask yourself why you haven’t made them yet. It is usually down to subconsciously having one of three beliefs. 1: you don’t think you deserve the thing you want. 2: you aren’t capable of achieving it. Or 3: you don’t honestly believe it’s worth the effort it would take. If one of these is the case, then it has been your expectations thwarting you all along. By all means see the start of a new year as encouraging, but know that making a promise to a tradition rather than yourself is about as effective as trying to ride a bike up a hill with no chain.
So how about making some simple resolutions for now and leaving the tough, self-loathing stuff until you can sort out those expectations? For this January 1st, how about resolving to cook a new recipe from scratch once a month, or go to the cinema regularly. Or maybe arrange to meet that friend you never see any more, but miss, for a walk once a fortnight. Achievable, heart-warming (or is that still from the Christmas food?) goals which don’t involve a costly gym membership you will never use, or other fanciful promises which you have about the same chance of pulling off as you do of winning the lottery.
Either way, with the year we’ve had collectively, let’s all just resolve to keep moving forward and we can worry about our wobbly bits as we go. If we can do that, we’ll be ok. There will be more than a few people who stay up this December 31st not to see the New Year in, but to make sure the old one is well and truly gone.
Originally published in Image Magazine, January 2017