In defence of all the New Year’s resolutions you made a month ago
You haven’t learnt the guitar yet have you?
Of course you’re supposed to look down on them. The ‘New Year, New Me’ brigade, I mean.
You’re supposed to share snide memes on Facebook which snarkily bemoan the onslaught of smirking this army of renaissance warriors: the only thing louder than their virtue signals is the Clarendon-filtered blue on their inspirational Instagram pictures of clouds.
You’re supposed to revile resolutions, disparage detoxes and sneer at self-improvement. I’m not entirely sure why, but in the virtual playground that is social media, it’s what all the cool kids are doing. Cynicism, it seems, has gone viral. All of which makes me sad react. For, I must confess, I am one of the Children of Resolution.
It all started when I was 10, and we went to visit some family friends in that no man’s land between Christmas and New Year. As I helped myself to a seventeenth vol-au-vent, my friend’s mother interrupted my one-man canape convivium to ask whether I had any New Year’s Resolutions.
I’d never heard this phrase before (and yet I knew “vol-au-vent”. Sickening), and asked what she meant. “Well, it’s promises people make to themselves when the new year comes around about ways they can be better people”. At first I was quite affronted by this – I wasn’t aware that 2006 me was so awful that he needed changing, nor was I sure what 2007 me was going to do to rectify it. I thought long and hard about it. Said friend’s mother chimed in again, “It can be something you take up, or something you give up, or even just a change of behaviour”.
Hmm, I could give up something, I thought. Then again, just last Lent I’d tried to give up chocolate and by day two I’d rendered it obsolete with my intricate list of caveats (“It doesn’t count if it’s on a biscuit, naturally, as that’s only a chocolate layer. Nor if it’s part of a pudding, on top of a cake, or consumed on the days Monday to Sunday inclusive”).
What about taking something up? Maybe I’ll learn French? Although as 2015’s family holiday attests, I didn’t. Equipped with a solitary hangover-from-GCSE phrase – “où est la patinoire?” – we spent a pleasant enough week sampling every ice-rink in Paris, but never did get to see the Eiffel Tower. The mother, seeing I was struggling, said, “For instance, my resolution is to go to the gym more”. And as I shoved in another honey-glazed cocktail sausage, I could have sworn her eyes narrowed slightly.
I always know I won’t succeed in my ambitions. I am fully aware, by now at least, that no matter how many checklists I pin above my desk, none of the items will be ticked off. Life, as John Lennon said, is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. But I think it’s important I at least make these plans. That way, as I continue to be the same me as every preceding year, I can savour these ambitions for the future. Why take up running now, I reason to myself as I fumble for the remote, when I might really appreciate it next year.
This is not to say that every attempt at renaissance has been a disaster. Often the lists are the same year after year, full of the usual stuff: eat more healthily, exercise more often, find a synonym for “more”. Standard fare. I find it can get off to a good start: January is, of course, the doyen of the self-improvement world. Even the most cardinal cynic is compelled to take up photography in January.
Similarly, I have about seven lovely but unused diaries recording only the first nine days of the year, and endless watercolours of bare trees and snowscapes as my recurring “Two Thousand-and-X is the year I paint” dream is briefly realised, before being consigned to the sketchbook of history.
So in theory by now, with all my resolutions, I should be a salad-ordering, guitar-playing, French-speaking artist who can run a four minute mile thanks to his regular visits to the gym. But even though this hasn’t happened yet (despite it being my Tinder bio), I quite like the process. I’ll continue making my resolutions and failing to keep them. And who knows, maybe one day I really will take up falconry.
Of course, this is all strictly between you and me. Our secret, this defence of the New Year, New Me philosophy. I’m off now to go and write a tersely-worded tweet about how irritating I find it.
Maybe that should be my resolution in 2017 – to be proud and open about my failed attempts at New Year’s Resolutions. But it’s February now, and I guess I’ve missed the boat.
Oh well, there’s always next year.