Without even meaning to, lots of people find themselves doing a mental stock take in January. Why? Because New Year is a new page in a beautifully pristine white-paged book, with enticing potential to fill the coming days with pretty, bold and colourful lives. Even our Christmas presents – admirable, inspiring biographies; soft, tactile new clothes and lotions and potions – reflect our wannabe new selves. Also, we – I, at least – feel a bit fat and worn out after Christmas. Come January, the glossies and newspaper supplements are filled with bite size lists of how to change out lives, and how to do it.
But I don’t go along with this.
First, habits take six weeks to break (four weeks if you’re Danish, apparently, a friend from Copenhagen tells me – I don’t know why, I think the Danes are just cooler than we are, generally). So you really need to know that you really want to do it.
More importantly, though, January’s just not the right time of year. It’s cold, it’s dark and, after a busy Christmas, now is the time to sit on the sofa and indulge.
So here are my top ten tips on how not to make any resolutions:
- Don’t go jogging every morning to get fit in time for the London Marathon
I don’t know about you, but today it’s foggy and damp where I live. Not that it stopped us yesterday, in similar conditions, from wading through fields of mud to the next village. But that was for a warming Southern Comfort in the pub, and a roaring fire to come home to. Give the money to charity for a direct debit instead of wasting it on a pair of new trainers.
- Don’t go on a diet
Less waste, more waist. We’ve got ham, cold veg and mince pies in the fridge. And (although I don’t do New Years’s Resolutions. Obviously) I vowed last year not to throw away so much food.
Plus, it’s Winter and a salad just doesn’t do it for me.
- Don’t join an evening class
Actually, under normal circumstances, I’d thoroughly recommend this. I’ve done short courses in photography and Russian, and I’ve done longer terms in cello and Italian. There’s a group called the East London Late Starters Orchestra who I will write about later, because they are inspiring and life changing. But these are things that come along in the course of time, and are all the more valuable because they’re the things you just can’t wait any longer to do and you’ll spend every waking moment thinking about. Which isn’t the same as telling yourself you really ought to learn Spanish for this year’s holiday. And the reason you never got the Teach Yourself CD out of the library was…? Exactly. Don’t make the college send out yet another e-mail asking why you didn’t finish the course.
Plus, most of them start in September, anyway.
- Keep the clutter
Minimalism is good if you are incredibly organised. But your clutter is who you are. And after sweeping it all away, you’ll still be you. Also you’ll only want to go out and buy more to fill the empty cupboards. You’ve already spent the money, now pull everything out of your drawers, throw it on the bed and try it all on. If it doesn’t work, turn it into a cushion or a draft excluder. Oxfam don’t want your once-black now-grey sweatshirt, thanks.
- Don’t ‘do something challenging’
‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ is definitely something to aspire to, but there’s really no need to sign up for a charity sky dive. Feel the gratitude through something more mundane. Find your ‘Joe Simpson moment.’
My personal ‘Joe Simpson moment’ was three months of night shifts. Joe Simpson is a climber who got caught in a snow storm with his friend, Simon, who mistakenly thought Joe was dead and cut the rope attaching them, so that Joe was hurled off a mountain, broke his leg, climbed out of a glacier and, starving and thirsty, crawled several miles back to base camp, hallucinating and peeing himself along the way.
My rock bottom moment was trying to sleep at the end of a horrendous commute, following a twelve-hour night shift. Everyone in my block of flats had chosen that summer to redo their bathrooms and kitchens and the drills and banging were relentless; it was hot and sunny and I was trying to sleep while everyone else was out in the park sunbathing in their lunch hour. I went mad and resigned.
Now, Joe Simpson might have gone through slightly more of a trial than I did, but we can honestly say in annoying situations (I’m sure he won’t mind me speaking for him), “Well, at least I’ll never have to do THAT again.”
Recall the moment that you’re relieved you’ll never have to relive again and you’ll feel magically and deeply grateful.
- Don’t promise to ‘write that book’
If you haven’t written it already, but really want to, then go for it. But do it in Spring when the days are longer and the flowers are in bloom. Writers and producers and actors have spent a lot of time and money creating films and books for your entertainment. The world would be a poorer place without them, so savour them. I can recommend Touching The Void….
- Don’t enjoy quality with your friends and family
You’ve just spent Christmas with your family, give them a break. And you’ll see your friends eventually, anyway. If you need a list to prompt a visit, then maybe you should ask why.
- Don’t find a new job
Obviously, if you have a job that’s making you severely unhappy, then look after yourself and look for something new. But there’s probably something or someone you like about where you are. Throw yourself into it and be the colleague who makes the place run smoother. Someone has to.
- Don’t volunteer
Try volunteering instead to make life better for your closest family and friends. Don’t join a Time Bank so you can do your lazy neighbour’s ironing, do something lovely and unexpected for your partner/dad/kids.
- The one that actually might be worth doing:
If you’ve over spent and you can’t sleep because there just is no money to pay the bills, tell someone. Hiding it will make it worse. If you can’t face your spouse or parents or bank, get in touch with the CAB. At least call Samaritans. Both are anonymous.
Turn New Years Resolutions into something bigger.
Last year, the friend of a friend declared 2010 a Year of Monthly Challenges: no chocolate in January; no TV in February; no supermarkets in March, etc (pick you own, that’s part of the fun).
The previous year, a couple embarked on a Year of Learning and learned about, among other things, Bosnia, Gandhi and the Hundred Years War.
Personally, I’ll be reviewing things in April. But now, I’m going to have another slice of Christmas Cake and a cup of Dilmah tea.