Why in January – the bleakest, brokest month of the year – would anyone draw up lists that prohibit, restrict and deny?
Everyone seems be slightly sick of Christmas by now, so New Year seems to be the latest craze. I have already had a handful of emails kindly inviting me to try out products with dread-inducing “New Year, New You” subject lines. In fact, if I see another one, I think I might throw the last mince pie across the room.
I used to join in with all of this resolution stuff. I think it started in about 1992, when I asked for, and received, the Cindy Crawford workout video for Christmas. She was my dream woman. I wanted her caramel skin, her perfect abs and her upper-body strength. In my diary on New Year’s Eve, after my first red-faced attempts at press-ups and painful lunges, I wrote: “Lose two stone by Easter and tone up my flabby bottom.” Ha! How I laugh now. By April of that year, the local charity shop had a whole library of my various workout videos. I was still 30lb heavier than Cindy Crawford, and my bottom continued to wobble like aspic when I wore a bikini.
Since then, I have stopped trying to morph into someone else, but the process has been slow. I refrained from making New Year’s resolution lists long ago. They are just unbelievably ridiculous in my eyes. Why in January – the greyest, bleakest, brokest month of the year – would anyone choose to draw up demand lists that prohibit, restrict and deny? Even when written in the affirmative, the suggestion of these lists is: “Stop doing something you like and replace it with something utterly joyless.” So I am an active anti-resolutionist.
Of course, it is fine to want to do better, to strive to change bad habits, or look to a future that is not marred with future re-enactments of ugly episodes from the past. But I am damned if now is the time to do things that leave the soul feeling unnecessarily wretched, unless there is very good reason.
Instead, I have a slightly better way of dealing with change when it is so arbitrary: I leave it until it becomes something so uneasy to live with that it demands change. And if it’s simple and small enough to be dealt with easily, then I deal with it.
For example, I just threw out a bag full of odd socks that I have been meaning to sort since 2011. Deep down, I knew the reason for holding on to a lumpy bag of rags was ridiculous: the partners of the odd socks were sucked up into the ether long ago. Once I binned them, I felt strangely lighter. Hopefully, the odds will be reunited with their long-lost partners at the refuse site.
The things that don’t fall into the odd-sock and blocked U-bend category tend to be life-long projects: they cannot be pounced on in January, and dealt with by May. They are not things to be solved by writing them down in permanent marker (which ludicrously used to suggest to me that I wouldn’t be able to renege on my promises). Lose weight, be happy, drink less, think more, meditate, love yourself, love thy neighbour. Surely most of us are doing some of these things for some of the time already, without even knowing it. There is no need to be absolutist about it all, because that is where madness begins.
Looking back at last January, R embarked on a big resolution: no drink. He had done the dry January thing (which incidentally you’ll find lots of alcoholics do, as a way of saying: “Look, world. I can go for a whole month without drink so I can’t have a problem!”) But this was different because he seemed a bit more serious about it when he embarked on his first visit to residential rehabilitation.
But like my workout regime, it didn’t work out quite as he had hoped. And although I’m not saying that it won’t ever work for R, and that he will never get sober, perhaps it will take a few more attempts. Or it will eventually just happen when it happens, not because he has set a date, but because something in him will just say that change has to be permanent and it has to endure, and be maintained. Like the Cindy Crawford body I now work so hard to keep in shape.
Of course, that last bit was a joke.