As someone obsessed with self-help, self-improvement and all manner of Oprah-related life enhancements, I find the focus on “the new you” as one year moves into the next completely unbearable. In December, the impetus for change gathers momentum, resolutions become an acceptable topic of party conversation and I find myself shrinking into the ground. “How was your year?” “What did you achieve?” “Where did you fail?” “What would you do differently next year?”
Friends, I dwell on all these questions year round, month round, day round. I do not evaluate myself on an annual basis. I evaluate myself on an hourly basis. Why would it be helpful to increase the amount of energy I devote to that pointless pursuit, rather than reduce it? It all feels like people shouting in my face: “HAVE YOU BECOME GOOD ENOUGH YET?” Seeing as I ask myself this all the time, New Year is a moment when I would kind of like a cessation in hostilities, rather than the outbreak of a new war on a new front.
Instead, I have become convinced of the power of year-round small resolutions – to be adopted at any time, not on a special date. And they should be easily achievable: like giving up sugar for a fortnight or going for a week without alcohol. One thing I’ve learned from studying the work of habits expert Gretchen Rubin as if it were the bible (she’s the author of Better Than Before and The Happiness Project), is that there are two important things human beings need to learn: 1) we are very much like other people and 2) we are all individuals. The first bit is important, because the truth is this: most people (almost all people?) cannot keep New Year’s resolutions. This is a tried and tested fact. Just think of anyone you know anecdotally who made a huge change in their life as a result of a New Year’s resolution. (Think about it now.) There isn’t anyone, is there?
What can you change now, today, tomorrow, this week, which will make a tiny, achievable change to stop you from vowing to become an unachievabley massively different person at the end of this month?
But the second bit is just as important. Much as we all follow the general rules and fallibilities of being human, so are we all also a bit special. And it’s in our uniqueness that we can find the strength for personal, bespoke resolutions. Like bestselling author Isabel Allende, who began her writing career by starting a novel on the first anniversary of her grandfather’s death. Or everyone who has ever undertaken a marathon in remembrance of a loved one. Or anyone who has ever ditched mince pies because of her horrific seborrheic dermatitis. (Yes, this is me. It’s a weird facial irritation that flares up around your eyebrows when you eat too much sugar.)
There is a raft of evidence that New Year’s resolutions are counterproductive and we all know we’ll be reading an article in the third week of January that bemoans the existence of resolutions or celebrates the joy of not making any in the first place. Spare a thought now, though, for January, and how you will feel in four weeks’ time. And think about how valuable it might be to move any resolutions you might have for 2019 forward to today. What can you change now, today, tomorrow, this week, which will make a tiny, achievable change to stop you from vowing to become an unachievabley massively different person at the end of this month?
Best-case scenario? You make some changes that will make you feel smug and ahead of yourself in January. Worst-case scenario? You fail and can enjoy a hedonistic, self-indulgent Christmas safe in the knowledge that resolutions never work anyway and at least you got your failure out of the way early. Note that I haven’t advised you to do nothing and accept yourself as you are, because you’re good enough. You could try that, though, too. I know, I know. It’s a crazy idea. It’ll never work.