It’s New Year’s Eve, and every one of us has at least toyed with the idea of making a New Year’s resolution at one time or another in our lives. My in-depth research down the local bar has revealed that there are two very clearly defined camps: those who resolve to do something and do… and those who don’t.
There are those who make a plan, and stick to it, building something patiently in increments. And there are those who have taken out a gym membership, determined to go twice a week, yet not made it past February, or tried to kick a filthy habit or two and not even made it through next Saturday night on the tiles.
It’s disappointing for everyone, but most of all for the resolutionists themselves. Some people keep their resolutions secret for fear of appearing a loser, some shout them from the rooftops, forgetting them later anyway.
But why do we even feel the need to self improve? In the animal kingdom, beasts of any ilk are happy to keep on living the way they do, year after year. Aside from the occasional antler-clattering challenge to determine who is top of the pile for the next few seasons, stags seem quite happy to keep eating grass to the end of their days, and monkeys seem quite content, swinging from the same tree, eating fruit.
So why do we always strive toward perceived perfection, to be fitter, richer, more successful?
There are people who claim to have never made a resolution in their lives and are perfectly happy that way, but chances are, even if they are not aware of it, they have been consistently working towards a goal, honed a skill over a longer period or accepted some form of hardship in exchange for a long-term reward.
Whether it happens tonight, or in the middle of March, setting and realising goals and ambitions, no matter how small, does contribute to a happier fulfilled life, and, most importantly, to the feeling that you are master of your own destiny. Self determination: my favourite thing in the whole world, second only to cycling no-hands down a tree-lined boulevard in autumn.
According to some advice columns, writing resolutions down helps to cement them and make you more likely to succeed. Anecdotal evidence from my life and those of my peers, however, suggests this might be completely irrelevant. I remember getting together with my three best friends a few years ago to write down our resolutions together.
Mine was to write a cookbook, an idea that had been brewing in scribbled recipe form for years.
One of us resolved to be married before the year was out; another wanted to retrain as a midwife; and the last wanted to start her own business. Suffice it to say you will have to do without my amazing secret cookie recipes for a few more years while I get on with the million-and-one other things that somehow seem more important to me now. The bride-to-be decided she didn’t want to be married to that guy after all, and babies yet unborn are still waiting on some hands to catch them. Life happens. So don’t forget to be prepared for the fact that those things that seem so important now, might be just a giggle away from irrelevant this time next year. (But, champagne-cork-pop, the girlfriend who wanted to start a business actually did so, and has a whole set of new challenges to negotiate and resolve.)
We are told that multiple resolutions are also a surefire way of failing, so best stick to one, or two if they apply to different areas of your life (say, running twice a week and reading three pages of War & Peace a day).
Of course it’s also easier to stick to your goals if you formulate them positively: “I will send one friendly introductory email to a new company every week,” rather than “I will stop being crap about acquisitions”.
There can be no resolution without a prior conflict, so it is often when you are conflicted in life that you are going to be looking to change things. I have the luxurious problem of having so many things I would love to be doing, some of which pay the rent and others which emphatically do not. So I have to negotiate terms by which I can allow each pursuit a certain space in my life without a) risking the roof over our heads and b) without leaving out something that I consider to be essential to my well-being (writing or running).
Being a curmudgeon in general when it comes to NYE parties, for me New Year’s Eve is a time to take stock, to review what worked and felt good in the past year and what I would like to do differently in the future.
I’d like to spend more time writing and being creative so I need to have a game plan for how I can make that happen, else the day to day stuff will just happen and before I know it another year will have slipped by. Hence sitting here and writing this!
Naturally, I’d also like to read more, paint again, learn Spanish, lose some weight and do more sports. But as the Germans so charmingly put it “Wir sind hier nicht bei wünsch-dir-was” (roughly translated as: “If wishes were horses…beggars would ride).
I think staying realistic is a key factor here: there are only 24 hours in a day, and if your goals number more than the days of the week you may not have time to do the shopping or shower in the mornings.
So when you sit down to write your New Year’s resolutions (or alternatively drunkenly shout them across the bar counter tonight), remember to congratulate yourself on how far you have come (preferably in good health, with a decent career you enjoy and some genuine friends who make you laugh). That is a rich harvest indeed, and more than any stag or cheeky monkey can hope for.
Happy New Year! Guten Rutsch!