I know that for some people, making new year’s resolutions is an integral part of their life experience.  Each year in December they start to think about what they need to do to improve themselves and how they could make positive changes in their lives.  Some people write stuff down, type it up and probably even laminate it. The mere fact that I am writing about this now, almost a week into the New Year should indicate how organised I am about making New Year’s Resolutions.  The fact is:  I am not making any.  I feel like I tweak things as I go along, and just as they say you shouldn’t make any major decisions after a traumatic event, the same applies to Christmas and the New Year.  Image

New Year, however you approach it – full of hope or full of regret – is a fairly natural time to reassess and make changes.  It is amusing that we feel we need an occasion or a specific time to change; diets always beginning on Mondays, for example, or quitting smoking in Stoptober instead of right now.  The truth is, there is a logic to doing things at the beginning of the year, week or month.  One can then measure the duration of their success. 

“I quit smoking for 3 months once” you often hear smokers tell you, “But then I went to a party and someone offered me a drag and next thing you know I was back to my old ways.  I’ll try and quit again one day, maybe at the beginning of next month, or in January or something.”

I was a smoker for many years, and I often thought about quitting.  The closest I came to it was giving up cigarettes for rag week when I worked at a University.  I made loads of money for charity  too because all the students didn’t believe I could do it.  But it was only a week, and I survived, even if the university peanut supply didn’t.  After that I would only talk about quitting in the abstract as something I really should do, but never actually did.  I guess you could say I was lucky in the end, I made it on my first attempt, although I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to it.  I have spoken of this before, but my sister picked a date a few months in the future and we aimed for it.  Come that day, I put my cigarettes away and never lit another one.   Had I known it was that easy, I probably would have tried it sooner, but there you go, I needed the push, and the coughing, hacking and inhalers required for me to breathe easy every day were not enough of a push, it appears, I also needed my sister.

Dieting is another New Year’s resolution that comes up regularly. 

“This year, I am going to make healthier choices, lose weight and exercise more.” Is the oft-heard statement at this time of the year.  And living near a park as I do, the evidence is out there – joggers are all over the place, brand new track suits in evidence – the so-called ‘resolutionaries’ running off their Christmas excesses and turning over new leaves etc. etc.  You can tell they are full of the early motivation that the new year brings.  There are giveaway signs: new clothes and accessories but mostly it is what they are attempting that makes them stand out.  They often are not satisfied with just running, they also carry weights and do bicep curls as they run.  They do not look as if they are enjoying themselves at all, just gritting their teeth and enduring it.  The first day of rain and the park goes suspiciously quiet, the new shoes stay by the front door and the resolutionary tells him/herself that they’ll get back out there again when it stops raining.   I am not judging these people at all.  I mean, I do think they’re crazy – who goes jogging for goodness sake? – but the fact that they ‘fall off the wagon’ or cannot sustain increasing their exercise by 250% over a long period does not make them failures in my book. 

Maybe our goals need to be more attainable.  I mean, I lead a pretty sedentary lifestyle.  Yoga once a week, occasional forays into Zumba, I walk some places but definitely not as often as I should.  So me waking up on January 1st after having spent the Christmas holidays cooking and eating for the nation and decide that I will now start jogging every morning for an hour whilst doing bicep curls, join a gym and do weights three times a week and go swimming three times a week is unrealistic at best.  First of all, I reckon my body would just shut up shop – the inner monologue would go something like this: 

“Are you kidding me?  Forget it, we’re shutting down. Here’s a dose of the flu or shingles. Maybe a sore back or hip – oh wait, we already tried those and she still chose to do this to us.  Ridiculous woman.  It’s cold out here.”

Secondly, I just don’t think that that lifestyle is sustainable for me.  Can I increase my activity?  Sure, no problem.  Can I train for Iron Man Events?  Hell no.  The idea is preposterous.  There is something to be said for recognising your limitations.  I am a realist.  I am aware that the levels of fitness required to be an Olympic athlete are not within my sphere of motivation.  And I am ok with this, I have dealt with it, processed it and moved on.  My dreams of being an Olympic sprinter (haha) are behind me.  This year we watched the fireworks on TV on New Year’s eve.  The woman whose job it was to stand around with a microphone trying to look attractive in the rain and wind, asked loads of people in the crowd where they were from and what their resolutions were.  They all revolved around food and exercise.  That’s 10 or 15 random strangers in a crowd, and they all came up with the same answer.  What are the odds?

I think that the problem is that at the turn of the year, we all succumb to the grandeur of the occasion.  It’s New Year!  Your resolutions can’t be piddly!  You can’t get away with I’ll try not to argue with my family too much, or I’ll try to remember to wear mascara more.  It has to mean something!  So resolutions and changes you vow to make at this time of the year are always bigger and more spectacular than ones that you make at any other time.  For instance:  ‘travel and exercise more and eat less’ allows you to feel like the goal is within reach.  But that is never enough.  It has to be ‘conquer Everest and subsist on a diet of nettle soup and celery’.  For a year.  Come on folks, it’s not realistic.  Or pleasant.  And your friends and family will not appreciate the miserable person you have become in the pursuit of these goals.  Plus which come January 2nd  when mince pies go on sale, you will be wondering what you were thinking.

So, back to my point.  I don’t make resolutions and here’s why.  The first reason is that when, for whatever reason, you don’t succeed, you are then compelled to deem the whole year a failure.  In a year when you didn’t achieve your goal of losing five stone in a fortnight and running the London marathon in under 5 hours, you can now call yourself a failure.  What a burden to carry around with you until next January 1st – it will colour every decision you make.  But it doesn’t have to be anything as major and traumatic as what I just said – let’s say you decided that this year you were going to write a novel, or take up the piano, or learn a new language.  If it is a resolution it takes on a more onerous meaning.  If for example, you decided that as part of your new year resolutions you were going to learn French, then anything less than fluency by October would be disappointing.  If you woke up one morning and said, I think I’d like to learn French, you could go about it at your own pace without people asking you every time you see them – how’s the French going?  Are you chatting to French people already?  Wearing a beret? Selling onions and garlic on a bicycle?  Growing a moustache?  Eating brie, camembert  and baguettes every mealtime?  (Actually that sounds like a good way to learn French, I must look into it.  Immersion learning I think they call it. Hmm something to think about)

The second reason I don’t make resolutions is entirely childish.  It’s a rebellious thing.  Why should I make resolutions just because someone out there decided it’s a good time?  I won’t do it and they can’t make me.  So there.

The third reason is because I feel that the changes we make over time are gradual and organic.  They are often responses to experiences and events.  For example,  I had some friends who were involved in a horrible and extremely difficult situation as a family.  This was reported in the press.  I realised because I knew the family that a lot of what was being said in the press was unfair, inaccurate and very misleading.  Often in the past I would be carried along with what the papers were telling me,  forming opinions  based on the photo they put on the front page, or gleaning information from the choice of words in the headline and subsequent article.  I never realised I was doing it until I was confronted with a story where I knew a lot of the facts, and the stuff that was in the papers had very little to do with them.  I resolved then and there to change how I read the news.  To no longer base judgement on information that I was fed from only one source, and to not form opinions until I felt I was better informed.  The incident in question happened one April.  I didn’t wait until January 1st to implement these changes.  I just made them.  No lists, no telling people about them, just a resolution, effective immediately.   I guess the truth is, I do make resolutions all the time, just not at New Year’s.  And it’s not only a teenage rebellious thing, it’s probably that I don’t have time at this time of year to sit around and evaluate my life.  I am too busy preparing for the family rituals and meals and gatherings, and shopping and returning things, and setting tables, and repairing Christmas lights, and baking and generally rushing around.

So the answer to the question – “Any resolutions this year?” is as always,

“No, ask me in August, I’ll have had more time to think about it then…”

Happy New Year everyone, and to those of you who have made/typed out/laminated lists of resolutions – may the force be with you. x

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