New You?

Not everyone is a fan of New Year’s resolutions. As many have pointed out, you don’t have to wait for the 1st of January to reinvent yourself as a better person. Plus, rather depressingly, statistics show that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are broken within the first month.

Regardless, as a friend on social media recently ranted (and I paraphrase), ‘people who complain about new-year-new-me-ers… Yeah forget* self-improvement, let’s all just carry on being awful. Let’s never reflect on our actions and carry on like the selfish pooh**-tanks we are.’ I believe she has a valid argument. Personally, I relish the opportunity to take a good hard look in the mirror and set some goals for how I might be a better person in the coming year.

The likelihood of achieving long term change doesn’t look good admittedly, but I definitely like the idea of a periodic life audit and the identification of areas for improvement. It’s a bit like a more brutal version of the work performance review (assuming that you’re more invested in yourself as a human being than you are in what your boss thinks about your ability to use a spreadsheet, for example).

The week of lazy nothingness that is sandwiched between Christmas and New Year is to me the perfect time, since it’s possibly the only opportunity that we actually get to think about things beyond the usual ‘what do we have in for tea’ and ‘have I paid the council tax’. This festive week of purgatory usually involves continued gorging on cheese and wine and bad telly, accompanied by a creeping sense of lethargy and self-loathing. Or is that just me?

So, as it usually goes, from this dark hedonism emerges a kernel of hope. It doesn’t have to be this way! I can work on these flaws and emerge in Spring happier, healthier, more productive, and generally a better human being than the sad sack I’ve become over the Christmas period.

It probably comes as no surprise that the top three New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, get fitter, and eat more healthily. And by the 1st of January, healthy eating feels like a welcome hug after the fat, sugar, alcohol and excess of Christmas. Vegetables are my friend.

However, this year my quest for self-improvement is more about my mind and soul than my body, and I have decided that 2017 is the year to focus more on my writing. I have set the (rather manageable, I think) goal of completing two short stories, and perhaps entering a competition or two. This seems realistic since most of my time is spent either at work, keeping on top of the house and looking after my young daughter. However, I have grown fed up of having the desire to write more, but never really managing to. Often, the distractions of day-to-day life get in the way.

So, my initial task of the year was to attend the first Vale Royal Writers’ Group meeting of 2017. It felt good to tackle a new writing exercise, where we changed the vowels in names that we had chosen to create new characters. As I created a seedy bar scene for Jock and Bull, I wondered how many of the people I was sat with had also set themselves some writing-related goals for the New Year.

In order to maximise success, I have researched a little into what can be done to increase the likelihood of sticking to a new year’s resolution. The key message is that your goals have to be realistic. Strict diet regimes are difficult to sustain over long periods of time, and it makes sense that this also applies to other areas of your life. With lots of other commitments, it would be daft to expect myself to have a novel written by April. However it can’t be forgotten that virtually all writers say that in order to be successful (and to quote Stephen King), you need to ‘read a lot and write a lot’.

Psychologists say that the long term success of New Year’s resolutions relies on making new habits or changing existing ones. You need to pick a small action (for example, taking the stairs to your desk at work rather than the lift), and attach it to a previous habit (such as walking through the front door into the office). This new habit must be easy to do for the first week (achieved by leaving a note to yourself in the morning reminding yourself to take the stairs), and then the new habit will ‘stick’ after you’ve repeated this around seven times.

With this in mind, I’ve set myself the following new habits for 2017:

  1. Read in bed every night, rather than reaching straight for my iPad.
  2. Listen to an audiobook in the car on the way to work rather than Radio 2.
  3. Spend 15-30 minutes every lunchtime writing. Something. Anything.

So here goes. Post-it notes have been stuck all over the house, and calendar reminders have been created to make sure I remember to establish and keep up my new good habits. I am hopeful that these new habits are achievable, yet enough to ensure that this year is my most productive yet. I’m also hopeful that my partner doesn’t get too cross about all the post-it notes that will be inevitably floating and fluttering all over the house this month. But then again, he’s doing Dry January so he’ll probably be too busy staring at the bottles of wine in Sainsbury’s and wondering whether all this self-improvement business is really worth it.

*She didn’t really say forget.

**She didn’t really say wotnot either.


Helena Abblett, 25th January 2017