Some advice on New Year’s resolutions

The origins of the ethos ‘new year, new me,’ began over 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon and not, as popular culture would have you believe, on a Sweaty Betty t-shirt. Apparently the Babylonians vowed to do good deeds at the beginning of each new year in exchange for the gods to bless them with whatever they most desired. A few centuries later, the Romans invented the New Year’s resolution as we know it today, declaring the 1st January to be the start of a new year in honor of the god Janus, whose two faces represented looking to the future year as well as the past. Ever since then, millions of people around the world use this date as a sign post to make dramatic changes to their everyday lives.

But without the fear of the god of wheat smiting you for not losing 12 kilos by March, modern day resolutions seem increasingly difficult to keep. My own experience of this dates back to 1st January 2001 when I wrote in my diary, “Have decided this year I will grow my hair really long and get really thin and become really good at French. Also going to start writing my novel in the notebook Mum got me for Christmas.” The entry concludes with “NO MORE EXCUSES,” written in red glitter gel pen and underlined for emphasis. Not surprisingly, the novel remains outstanding.

Despite my early failures almost 20 years ago, I have continued to make resolutions every January. Some have been successful (read 24 books a year) and others not (move abroad), but what I have learnt from almost two decades worth of attempts, is the ones that stick have a similar criteria in common. Unless you’re the person whose New Year’s resolution is to not have New Year’s resolutions (yawn), then allow me to offer up my advice.

If I was trotting off tonight for a champagne fuelled evening with friends, my party piece would be telling everyone my aim to learn to identify 25 different species of trees and topless sunbathe for the first time, albeit not at the same time.

Firstly, the best resolutions are absurdly specific. Not only does this make it easier to remember what it is you want to do or change, it also makes for scintillating dinner party conversation (I’m not sure if you can remember dinner parties, but they’re usually when members of more than one household meet in someone’s home and eat and drink together without the fear of contracting or spreading a deadly disease). If I was trotting off tonight for a champagne fuelled evening with friends, rather than making a turkey curry for my parents, my party piece would be telling everyone my aim to learn to identify 25 different species of trees and topless sunbathe for the first time, albeit not at the same time. If the group discusses it for more than five minutes, you’re onto a winner.

As well as being specific, a resolution should be measurable. If you can’t tick it off a list at the end of the year or count how many times you’ve done it, it’s likely you never will. So if your overarching aim is to be better with money, it’s much more effective to make your resolution a clear deliverable like investing in a stocks and shares ISA, or increasing your salary by 10%. This approach may not make for such electric conversation, but it will give you the opportunity of accomplishing something you’ve identified you actually want to accomplish. The murky waters of vague intentions will sink your resolution before it can even contemplate swimming.

I like to think I have the self discipline of a North Korean Storm Corp Soldier, but the reality is, any goal that involves me drastically cutting something out never works out well

Equally, denial of self will undoubtedly lead to disappointment when attempting to keep a New Year’s resolution. While I like to think I have the self discipline of a North Korean Storm Corp Soldier, the reality is, any goal that involves me drastically cutting something out or embarking on a fanatical new regime never works out well for me and, by extension, anyone around me. If you love carbs, why deprive yourself of the joy? If the thought of reading the great Victorian novels fills you with dread, why put yourself through the pain? Instead, build on a foundation of joy and abundance and most importantly reality. For me, online shopping is a non negotiable, but writing a list of all the non essential things I buy in order to become more conscious of my spending habits feels reasonable. Similarly, visiting two countries I’ve never been to before sparks excitement and hope rather than the dread of giving something up. Far better to strive towards something, then spend 12 months straining against it.  

Finally, as a lot of the best advice boils down to; be kind to yourself. While 11-year-old me showed passionate conviction in my “get really thin” initiative, that energy would have been much better put towards a more nourishing alternative such as teaching myself how to cook a handful of delicious and healthy meals or starting tennis lessons with a friend. Life is already a tough concoction of stress and anxiety and after a year full of so much collective grief and isolation why lump another dollop of misery into the mix? Instead, melt a big old bowl of self indulgence and commit to dipping your finger into it every day. The “new you” will thank you for it.  

Lauren Saving

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