Sandra Gibson looks at ways of actually fulfilling New Year resolutions, for example, to improve your lifestyle, without them being doomed to failure.
By Sandra Gibson
Photograph: Geoff Edwards, 2017
“She was going to do that Dry January thing but she only did it for five hours.” This is what I overheard in the local supermarket on January 2nd 2018. It reminded me of the time I had broken all of my Resolutions by noon on January 1st 2015:
- Start writing Booker Prize novel at 7 am – nope: brain mashed up.
- Go for nature-themed walk – nope: could only find one boot, and that wasn’t mine.
- Eat healthily – nope: finished some stale brioche I found on the mantelpiece.
- No alcohol – nope: finished the Dubonnet left in a Spiderman mug.
- Phone estranged relatives with messages of good cheer – nope: no good cheer.
Already the New Year was imbued with fat failure and guilt.
It’s no way to live, is it?
The main problem with The New Year’s Resolutions thing is that it arises from a period of excess, therefore the list is dreary with abstinence (no booze, no Toblerone, no Doritos, no money) and hard, boring work at the gym. No wonder people hate January.
I was thinking about how to turn this around, so that my need to improve my lifestyle could be met without it being so doomed by negativity. The first idea was to divorce it from January bleakness. There is no need to start the New Life New Me thing whilst suffering from the aftermath of the festive period. It’s enough that you pick up the party popper debris, and get the empty bottles to the recycling before anyone sees you in pyjamas and last night’s stilettos. So start when you feel less wretched. Start when you want to.
If you want to. Yes, this might seem like a radical idea, but you can reject the whole gamut: from the abstemiousness of January to the beach-body readiness of July to the extreme hirsutism of November. Just say no – but then you might also find yourself being too resolute. It’s an absolute minefield.
The second idea was to make things more cheerful and more in tune with my own needs. I found a website* that caters to my list-making zeal, as well as offering a strategy for creative self-help. Briefly, you find time and a solitary space to write down 100 ideas about something you are thinking about: e.g. ways to be more creative; things that scare you; ideas to make money; strategies to travel more, and so on. This list must be completed quickly, with no interruptions and without any pondering or censorship. If you repeat yourself it doesn’t matter because this just means that a particular thread is more important than some others. Daft and fantastic ideas are welcomed because one of the points of the exercise is to get beyond the ordinary, mundane thoughts, and into the creative and taboo stuff that’s in the subconscious. That’s why you mustn’t reject anything; that’s why you do this on your own.
Nobody needs to read what you would like to do with James Norton and maple syrup; that’s your business.
Once the list is completed, you can see what themes emerge by colour-highlighting them. Then you count the recurrent ideas and because there are a hundred, it’s easy to see the percentages and the gaps. At least by this method you are likely to get a realistic appraisal of how you would like to spend your time, (e.g. travelling, writing, watching crime fiction …) plus some unlooked-for possibilities, like hot air ballooning with Tom Hardy: you writing a love poem to him whilst he pours the tea. What? Of course it could happen!
Surely this is more appealing than the fun-quelling puritanical Resolutions we are conditioned to adopt?
The third idea was to eliminate the notion of self-destructive failure and the fallacy that creates it. If you have overdone your calorie count by the end of breakfast on Day Two, does this mean you should throw the scales in the bin and comfort-munch your way through the months, until the Twelve Days of Christmas, when it actually becomes ‘legitimate’ to do so? And then start again with the doomed Resolutions on January 1st? Failure and self-loathing are part of the social conditioning that encourages us to aspire to certain body-image and life-style ideals, set by those who want to control our thinking and harvest our spending. For that reason alone this must be resisted.
So it seems to me that we should stop having such heroic ideas about Resolution and stop setting ourselves impossible tasks. Resolving to run a marathon is huge; resolving, this day, to go for a thirty minute walk is an entirely possible thing to do. Maybe. And it doesn’t mean we have resolved to do the same tomorrow, and it doesn’t mean we will not ever run a marathon; it just means we are managing and achieving things in the moment. It’s hard to eliminate guilt, but small steps …
I did the Hundred Ideas thing. It emerged that I wanted more communication with nature, but only if the weather wasn’t uncomfortable, and only if I could get shelter and drink tea at a moment’s notice. And it must involve writing. So I spent time in the garden; the kettle was on and I filled the dreary January afternoon concentrating on the scents of winter. I have vestiges of lavender and I have rosemary, sage, mahonia, witch hazel and winter honeysuckle. To fulfil the writing requirement I relished the Latin names on my scented plants ** list:
Witch Hazel – Hamamelis x intermeia
Sage – Salvia officinalis
Skimmia – Skimmia Japonica ‘Rubella’
Daphne – Daphne odora
Sweet box – Sarcococca confusa
Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis
Wintersweet – Chimonanthus
Mahonia – Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’
Winter Honeysuckle – Lonicera fragrantissima
I hadn’t managed last year’s Double Digging/Massive Pruning/Paint the Sheds Resolutions, but I felt quite fulfilled and successful after this time in the garden, where scents compensated for the lack of colour, and where I managed a little gentle weeding without thinking I should save the whole fucking planet.
That’s for tomorrow. Maybe.
** Found in the January 2018 edition of Gardeners’ World Magazine