When I worked in publishing, part of my job was helping to work out when we’d want a book to actually publish. The publication date – the day on which the book would start its new life in the world – would be a key factor in how well the book sold. You might be reading this thinking, “Well, obviously you’d want to publish the best books in time for Christmas – that’s when everyone is out buying stuff” – and you’d be right. Except the books I worked on didn’t sell the most in the Christmas shopping rush. I worked on self-help titles, which meant the books that did well came out just in time for January – or, as we called it: New Year, New You.
Yes, it’s that time of year when you decide to do things differently. You declare, “This is going to be my year.” You download all the apps and, yes, you buy all the books. You’re going to get rid of all the bad stuff in your life; declutter your home, eat less junk, stop using plastic, reduce screen time. You’re also going to fill your life with more; more confidence at work, more time together as a family, clean the house more. And you’ll do a proper Bible study every day, and 40 minutes of yoga, and a full skincare routine. Oh and make time to see that group of friends, and that other group of friends, and learn a new skill – maybe knitting? Or DIY? Or a language? And come next New Year’s Eve, you’ll be such a better person, you’ll hardly even recognise yourself. New Year, New You.
Except you don’t do all these things. You go all in for Dry January, Veganuary, any other kind of –anuary, and then you’re miserable 10 days in because you’ve given up too much, and added in too much other stuff, all at once. You can’t keep up the pace. You slowly forget all those vows you made to yourself, and soon it’s December and last year’s resolutions come flooding back and you kick yourself. What happened to your plan? What happened to yoga, and decluttering, and all the other stuff you were going to be brilliant at by now? You’re not a New You, you’re the same old you – only now you’re a massive failure.
What is it about January that makes us all think we’re capable of infinite improvement? Why do we pile all these expectations on ourselves, when the cliché goes that no one really sticks to their New Years’ resolutions anyway? Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for self-improvement, but why do we load the front end of the year with all these promises instead of trying to achieve something that’s actually, well, achievable? You can’t overhaul your entire life in a month, no matter what Queer Eye would have you believe.
Last year, I set a bunch of resolutions, and I can’t tell you what most of them were. I looked back at 2019 and couldn’t see much about my life that was better than the year before. In fact, I could see a few things that were worse, and I began kicking myself. But then I remembered one resolution, one small thing I had named and decided to improve upon: boundaries. I had been saying yes to too many things – work stuff, social stuff, church stuff – and burning out. I decided to be better at setting boundaries with my time, with my mental space, with a whole load of things and, turns out, I actually did it.
I’m not perfect at saying no to things but I’m better at it. My calendar is still a little fuller than I’d like it to be but it’s not as jam-packed. My first instinct is still to swoop in and take responsibility for other people but now my brain does say, “Really? Is this our job?” and sometimes I listen. I’m not a whole new person, but I’m slightly better at that one thing than I was. It’s not “New Year, New You”; it’s “New Year, Similar but a Bit Better You” – and maybe that’s enough (albeit less catchy).
Because taking things one year at a time – going more “tortoise” than “hare” with your resolutions – means you’ve got a far better chance of making them all happen. We declutter the kitchen cupboards and then we’re more in the mood to clean the oven. We decide to stop eating meat on Mondays and then realise there’s loads of veggie food we love and so go even more plant-based. We get on top of our finances, which means we can then buy more ethically because fairtrade stuff is often more expensive and now we actually have money. The driving force that makes us make loads of resolutions is actually a good thing; one good thought begets another good thought because that feeling of virtuous productivity and self-care is good and so you want more of it. We just need to slow the instinct waaaaaay down, to make sure that those changes are sustainable.
Maybe 2019 wasn’t “my year”, but 2019 was “my year of setting boundaries”. And now that’s more of a rhythm in my life, something I don’t have to think about quite as hard, maybe 2020 can be the year of something else. Because now I have more time, thanks to my excellent boundary setting in my diary, there’s more time to take on a new hobby. Or now I’m better at saying no, thanks to my excellent boundary setting in conversations, maybe this year I can try working on handling conflict better. Doing one thing last year – and doing it properly – may seem like slow progress, but it’s actually put me in a stronger position to take something else on this year.
So as you go about your 2020, and not just January, I invite you to focus. I invite you to hone in on one thing (or maybe two) that you really want to achieve. I invite you to start small and build up, rather than go crashing in guns blazing. I invite you to improve yourself, while also looking after yourself. And when you notice something else you want to work on, something else in your life that isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, I invite you to acknowledge it without beating yourself up that you haven’t managed it yet. I invite you to make a note of it but put it to one side for now, because you’re busy working on your 2020 resolution first. In fact, I invite you to join me in my new mantra, for 2020 and beyond: great idea, maybe next year.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti