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New Year’s Resolutions: On the art of failing

On New Year’s Eve, frantically cobbling together a resolution that might actually be doable, I went through my diary from 2016 and found an entry of old New Year resolutions. What surprised me was how little my goals had changed. ‘Eat healthier’, ‘spend less time on my phone’ and ‘read more’ are all equally as applicable five years later. So what’s the point?

What originated in promises of good conduct to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, as a means of gaining favour for the year, survives as an industry of juice cleanses, Chloe Ting and publishers’ reading lists of ‘Books to Change Your Life’.

You might have made some mental goals before midnight, or contributed some flimsy ambitions to a conversation about self-love, or maybe even written a list in your notes app (that vast, interminable junkyard), but the chances are you have, or will, fall behind. I will be the first to say that I lasted an embarrassing three days on a goal to exercise daily.

And there’s a strong argument for the futility of New Year’s resolutions. A 2016 study found only 9% of Americans who made New Year’s resolutions felt they were successful in keeping them by the end of the year. Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz writing for The Guardian argues that social determiners inhibit our ability to commit to New Year’s resolutions, with factors like economic background found to impact the success rate of weight-loss goals.

Perhaps we should listen to Virginia Woolf, who in 1931 resolved to have none, but to be ‘free and kindly’ with herself. Anaïs Nin concurred, ‘I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticising, sanctioning and moulding my life, is too much of a daily event for me.’ The shining star of New Year’s Eve timeline was Sarah Lazarus’s tweet, ‘no new years resolutions. it is the circumstances turn to improve’.

And yet, there’s something quite lovely about a planet of people collectively making ‘impossible’ goals. As a child, I believed wishing on fallen eyelashes would make those wishes come true. Older and somewhat wiser, I’m fairly certain this isn’t the case, but I still wish on them. I think there’s something useful in asking yourself what you want most in your life at that exact moment. Sometimes it’s a cheese toastie and sometimes it’s a two-month holiday to Bermuda.

G.K. Chesterton writes that ‘Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.’ Perhaps then, the annual attempt to verbalise what you really want is just as important as actually carrying it out.

Image Credit: Herzi Pinki/CC BY-SA 4.0

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