‘Have you ever made any New Year’s resolutions?’ I presented this question to my husband recently over breakfast. ‘Hm?’ he replied, not deigning to look up from his iPad. ‘You know,’ I persisted, ‘goals for the year, positive changes you’d like to make in your life, et cetera.’
Now he looked up at me with a furrowed brow, deeply suspicious. ‘Never. Load of rubbish. Why? Have YOU?’ It was more of an accusation than a question.
And here I paused. Did I have any? I mean, I certainly have goals for my life, but they’re not neatly filed under the categories ‘Short Term’, ‘Long Term’ and ‘One Can Dream’. I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t even have a five-hour plan. Of course there are certain things I’d like to change in my life ¬– the usual culprits: drinking less wine and exercising more, and also wasting less food – but they’re sort of ongoing self-improvement projects. I’m afraid I simply cannot get my head around the idea of saying to oneself, ‘Right. Henceforth – it being the first day of the new calendar year – I shall always/no longer (insert modified behaviour of choice here).’
I mean, if you’re going to quit smoking, why not do it RIGHT NOW? If you want to lose weight, change your eating habits NOW. Why put off till the 1st January what you can do today?
What irks me about the whole concept is that it almost seems spring-loaded for failure. I understand there is something auspicious about making a profound, life-enhancing change in your life, but if you really are serious about stubbing out that cigarette forever, or whatever, are you really going to wait until the stroke of midnight on 31/12? What if it’s July? Do you have to put off the benefits of a healthier diet for six months?
No, I suspect that the idea of the New Year’s resolution appeals to the kind of people who are, in fact, not quite ready to alter their behaviour in a meaningful way. They think that, somehow, making this resolution will galvinise them into lasting, meaningful change.
But unless a significant internal shift has occurred, your chances of success are slim. In 2009, The Guardian reported on a study by a university psychologist who found that 78 percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions do not follow through on those vows.
My advice? If you’re going to go ahead and make those resolutions, make ’em ones you’re likely to stick to. I personally vowed not to feel guilty over spending an insanely large portion of my Christmas bonus on truffle oil and various other culinary delights, or picking my neighbours’ hydrangeas, or worrying about their reaction when I feel like twisting the volume knob all the way up when listening to ‘Eighties Monster Hits’. My husband conceded that if he had to choose a New Year’s resolution, it would be to spend more quality time alone with his iPad. ‘What do you know,’ he said. ‘I feel better already.’