At this time of year, I used to line up all my New Year’s Resolutions. But these days, it’s easy. I’ve only got one, and it goes as follows:
I am never going to try to stick to a New Year’s Resolution ever again. (Except this one).
On December 31st, New Year’s Resolutions seem like such a terrific idea. It’s a 2,000 year old tradition to take this time to look backwards and forwards (not simultaneously, you’ll do yourself an injury), and it seems to have arisen from Janus, a mythological early Roman king that became the double-faced god of transition and lent his name to the first month of the Roman year, Januarius. At the beginning of this month, citizens exchanged gifts, reflected on their lives thus far, and resolved to be a better member of the Empire next year. (Easy as I-II-III). Today, we’re still doing something similar.
The theory is fine. The problem is how.
The statistics don’t paint a rosy picture. A recent study by the University of Hertfordshire found that of the roughly 1,500 people in a sample of 3,000 who believed they would keep to their Resolutions, less than 400 managed to do so. The study concluded that it was vital to set specific, achievable goals (and to not leave it until New Year’s Eve to decide what those Resolutions would be).
Personal journey time. It’s 1993, and thanks to a slovenly lifestyle and a diet I’m too ashamed to list here, I’m very unhealthy and somewhat overweight. I dread New Year, because it follows the festival of Yuletide self-indulgence when the “rules” (whatever they were) don’t apply. People rarely see my face at Christmas, because it’s obscured by food. As the New Year approaches, faced with the annual ceremony of whittling a new hole on my leather belt and a mirror that was telling me what I already knew…I’m aware that I need to change my habits, fast.
So each New Year’s Eve I put together a list of physical and mental standards a Mensa-qualified Green Beret would raise an eyebrow at – and usually managed to stick to them for a truly painful week, before abandoning the New Me with a weary shrug of self-disgust.
For many people, their New Year’s Resolutions are whoppingly ambitious revolutions. That’s part of the excitement – a New You – but they fail so often by trying to build Rome in a day (a feat beyond even Janus). The goals of the top ten American resolutions aren’t achievable by flicking a switch in your brain. Human beings are analog, not binary. In every sense, we don’t suddenly change…we evolve.
Twenty years ago, I somehow twigged this. From that point onwards, I stopped trying to reform my habits in one huge stride. Instead, I inched my way to good health in lots of small, sometimes laughably tiny ways. Sometimes I lapsed, and felt bad. But instead of overcompensating to try to catch up, I kept with the small steps. After a while, they because habits, and then second nature – part of me. I didn’t need to apply any effort because they were what I did naturally – which meant I had the time to work on some other aspect of my lifestyle that irked me.
If New Year Resolutions never work for you – try New Year Evolutions instead.