New Year’s resolutions are a lot like the Irish summer. You head into both equipped with huge plans and a large dose of steadfast optimism, convinced that this year will be different; that finally, you will emerge triumphant. This flame of positivity burns bright for the first few days, but it is not long before the usual foes reappear to dampen your enthusiasm, whether they take the form of actual rain clouds or your friends insisting that one pint won’t hurt you. Somewhere along the line, the wheels will completely come off the wagon. By the end, you feel miserable, deflated and disappointed that for you, another year has passed without much progress being made.
However, in both instances, the problem may have very little to do with you. Just as hoping that the Irish summer will for once bring glorious heat and sunshine is a pointless and, frankly, idiotic belief to hold, using New Year’s resolutions as a means of self-improvement presents its own problems. People often make resolutions relative to their current habits and way of life; if you feel overweight, your resolution might be to slim down; if you feel your sex life has become stagnant (or perhaps non-existent), your resolution might be to get out and socialise more. Often however, these aspirations seem very vague and confused, and one is totally unsure as to where might be the best place to start. Moreover, there is a violence implicit in the notion of New Year’s resolutions, as if making a resolution involves a drastic overhaul of your lifestyle.
This violence can be seen in the wellness industry, for whom this time of year is extremely lucrative. Gyms and health clubs bombard potential members with adverts for boot camps and high-intensity interval training programmes, emphasising the hard work and sacrifice that comes with athletic and physical improvement. The adverts may feature beautiful people smiling on treadmills and exercise bikes, but don’t be fooled, these are usually gruelling and physically exhausting classes led by a perpetually pissed-off instructor who, at this stage, is probably 30% whey protein. They do not prioritise fun, but instead adopt a militaristic technique which focuses on the pain punishment. In other words, you might enjoy yourself, but it is not very likely.
Resolutions are not limited to fitness-based ambitions. Many people try to take up new hobbies such as learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Again, this can be a misguided pursuit, particularly if languages or rhythm are not your strong suit. After a few lessons, you may find yourself struggling and feeling overwhelmed and decide to give up, followed by the usual self-flagellation for throwing in the towel so easily. The can-do spirit evaporates so quickly; according to Forbes, 80% of people admit defeat within 30 days of making their resolution.
“Life is like a perpetually moving car, and New Year’s resolutions act as a handbrake, bringing you to a screeching halt and insisting you try a different route”
All this plays into a common misconception about self-improvement: that it has to be a complete and utter grind. New year’s resolutions are inherently designed as massive projects consisting of enormous amounts of hard work and sacrifice, with the small possibility that by doing all this, you just might feel a little bit better about yourself. Granted, most things worth doing are not easy, but they shouldn’t be excruciatingly difficult either. There are lots of theories as to what a New Year’s resolution should look like, and most people feel pressured into making them. If you don’t, it suggests that you feel that you are perfect, making other people see you as incredibly arrogant.
There is nothing wrong with not making a New Year’s resolution. Maybe you are content with yourself. That does not mean that you don’t see the need for self-improvement; in fact, it is highly likely that you think the best thing is for you to stay a-course and continue with your current way of life, adding in a few new experiences along the way. Eventually, the goals you set yourself revolve around things you want to do, based on your interests, tastes and personal ambitions. This outlook further points to the obsolescence of New Year’s resolutions, as they are usually objectives and ideas that you otherwise wouldn’t normally consider. Not all hard work is bad, and sometimes even your favourite hobbies may involve moments of stress and arduousness, but it is paradoxical to spend your free time feel constantly miserable in the interest of self-improvement.
Therefore, instead of drafting a convoluted list of resolutions, consider what it is in your life that really makes you feel content and fulfilled and try to fill your life with more of the same. Life is like a perpetually moving car, and New Year’s resolutions act as a handbrake, bringing you to a screeching halt and insisting you try a different route, before you either break down along the way or turn around and head back in the more familiar direction. Change and the desire for self-improvement are important, but they don’t need to take the form of some deliberate and aggressive action, like a military operation. Change can also be organic, and with a little patience, one will find that evolution, and not resolution, is the best way forward.