I’ve never been much good at keeping New Year’s resolutions. As a kid there was a good stretch of maybe three or four years where I promised faithfully, as of January 1st, I would stop biting my nails. I would get my mum to stock up on “Stop ‘N’ Grow”, I would give permission for people to slap me on the wrist if ever they saw me eyeing up my fingertips but, to this day (and literally this day) I still bite my nails. I believe at the beginning of last year I firmly resolved to be less busy, and what swiftly followed was perhaps the busiest year I’ve ever experienced. New Year’s resolutions are, apparently, not for me.
And yet we all make and break them, every year. Last year, I hypocritically gave five top tips for sticking to your resolutions. Reading that list back, it’s actually pretty solid advice but I’m beginning to think we’re looking at this all wrong. The point may not be in the resolutions we make, or how we go about keeping them, but rather in why we make New Year’s resolutions in the first place. Why, when the clock strikes midnight and the fireworks go off, do we suddenly feel compelled to become a better person?
At a deep level, I think a new year holds a strange power over us. In my experience, New Year’s Eve parties have either gone one of two ways: full of fun and excitement or a complete emotional disaster. We can’t help but look back at the year just passed and think, “Another year of my life has gone by. What was I doing?” And this can either make us miserable about our life choices, drink too much and make a few mistakes to regret come New Year’s Day, OR we can make a resolution. We can say, “Next year is going to be different.” Because if you manage to lose weight or learn the guitar or, yes, stop biting your nails, then the whole year wouldn’t have been a waste. No matter how many Trumps or Brexits or celebrities might let you down in the coming 12 months, this year you would have done something.
But then, once we miss a run or eat a cake or drink that glass of wine, we stop. We’ve broken our resolution, usually around the second week of January, and so we let another year go by and just happen to us. We let Netflix start playing another episode before we stop to think if we want to spend an entire evening watching The Crown. The weeks hurtle along, full of various plans we’ve made without asking ourselves if we want to be this busy. We’re bored and check Instagram, and then somehow we’ve spent hours looking at a tiny screen, filling out brains with pointless content. And then we berate ourselves come December for not achieving anything, because suddenly we realise that we’ve been living on autopilot for another year. Why didn’t anyone tell us?
On Tuesday, I had my last day of annual leave before going back to the office. A lot of people, including James, had already gone back to work and so I was left with a full day to myself. And I thought, “What am I going to do with this day?” I thought very hard about how I would spend this precious set of 12 hours. I didn’t do anything particularly extraordinary – I finished a puzzle, made a yummy lunch, had a bath, watched Beauty and the Beast – but it was such a phenomenally good day because I had chosen it. I had thought about what I wanted to do, and then done it. I had lived, a little bit, on purpose.
I think, when you look closely, that’s really what a New Year’s resolution boils down to: intentionality. We want to make our mark on this year, to not let it pass us by without even realising, to take a bit of control over our lives. And so I invite you to join me in perhaps the biggest New Year’s resolution of all (which is not really a resolution because those don’t really work, this is more about the heart behind a resolution and it’s already the 6th) but you get where I’m going here…
Are you ready?
Let’s do 2018 on purpose.
Let’s actively participate in this year. Let’s think about what we say, what we buy, how we spend our time, with as much integrity and botheredness as we can manage. Let’s think about the people we surround ourselves with, the amount of time we spend in front of a screen, the things in our lives that are having an influence on who we are. Let’s choose to see each day, each moment, as a gift which comes with infinite possibilities. Let’s make space for quiet, for stopping, so we might actually tune into what we want and connect to something bigger than ourselves. Let’s treat every day like it’s the first day of a brand spanking new year.
I’m not saying it’s possible to spend every waking minute intentionally – even on my delightful day off, I ended up watching a stand up show I’d already seen just because I was too comfy to move. Life interferes, big things happen to us, we get tired and stressed and sometimes need to go on autopilot for a little bit – that’s OK. But maybe, just a little bit more, we could try living. We could live as though we had a choice in the matter. And, most daringly of all, we could spend 2018 as if we had a say in how it turns out.
Because, amazingly enough, we do.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti