New Year, New Normal
After a year of loss, upheaval and disillusionment, let’s focus on adjusting to a life which has been changed beyond our control, rather than trying to convince ourselves we need to be changed to accommodate it, writes Jonathan Hart
by Jonathan Hart | 12 January 2021
Let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning: I have never, and I mean ever, made a New Year’s Resolution. This should in no way imply that I think I am perfect, and that there is nothing I need change regarding my personality, lifestyle or habits which would result in my becoming a more agreeable person. Most of the time, I think the opposite of myself. It’s more that, despite the fact that I would say without hesitation that I am not the same person I was at 18 or even 21, I feel so entrenched in my ways that I genuinely feel it would be an unmitigated waste of time to try and alter them. This is no doubt informed in part by the fact that I am fortunate to be, in general, in good health, and those habits which I have not managed to shake off are not so severely harmful as to merit immediate addressing. But the fact remains: 2021 is not going to be my year, I don’t intend to try and make it so, and if there is anything about me which is different on 31st December 2021, it won’t have been precipitated by the blank page marked January in the calendar.
This piece is not intended to be read by those who have made resolutions as an attempt to convince them of the futility of their aims, or as a snide swipe for entering into a contract with themselves aimed at self-improvement when so many others are doing the same. Good luck to you, and don’t let the fact that over 90% of people fail to ride out their resolutions over the succeeding 12 months discourage you. I’m rather hoping those of you who have not made resolutions – whether that’s because, like me, you know you lack the willpower and drive to see anything through to completion, or there are things you would like to change but are at a loss as to how to instigate it – might find some element of comfort in being told that you’re not a lesser person than everybody else as a result.
I’ve written previously about what I consider to be the toxic proliferation of ‘self-improvement’ culture, which I feel is less a positive response to the increase in free time engendered by current restrictions on movement and socialisation than a negative reflection of society’s assumption that nobody is good enough merely as they are. Although this has certainly become more prevalent over the last 12 months, it is not a new concept. The dawning of January 1st has been, for as long as I’ve been alive and beyond, a time for ‘positive mental attitude’, ‘new year, new you’ and other well-worn catchphrases, albeit in my view initiated too often by self-loathing and the overarching belief that we need to be better than we are. Frankly, I imagine the failure to address these unhealthy conceptions of self-image are probably responsible for more abandonments of new year resolutions than any other cause.
The way I view resolutions has remained virtually unchanged. If there is a lifestyle change you want to make, a habit you want to break, or something you want to take up with a view to simply making you feel better about yourself, is it absolutely necessary to set a specific date, especially if it’s the exact same one used by the 8% of people who supposedly see a new year resolution through? The only thing that will make your new goal feel like a success is to actually succeed; the date on which you started to pursue it is purely an arbitrary construct. If you want to mark the date with a view to commemorating it in the future, fine – but why does it have to be January 1st? Why not April 25th, a day which is neither too hot nor too cold? Or October 3rd? Even the most anonymous of markers in the passage of a year can become imbued with significance.
However, if you don’t know where to begin, don’t allow the media-propagated notion that you should be thinking of ways you can better yourself to influence your approach to this year. If you’re anything like me, the failure to achieve an aim will, in time, become a stick with which to beat yourself; or, you’ll find any negative eventuality which befalls you will give rise to the feeling that you shouldn’t have bothered trying to ameliorate things in the first place. I’m absolutely not the kind of person who will suggest that everybody is perfect as they are – to me, if we all were, nobody would ever feel anything less than euthymic. But, to me, self-improvement should be about self-appreciation – it’s easier said than done, but now more than ever, trying to merely enjoy life to the extent we are allowed is the best possible start to 2021. We’re all still confined indoors for the majority of our time, and save for the wilful ignorance of the rules, won’t be seeing friends or family with anywhere near the degree of regularity we normally would. I’ve said it before and I’ll do so again: just being here after the trials of the last year is an achievement in itself. Don’t focus on what you did or didn’t achieve. Right now, I’d settle for being able to go to the pub again, and if I get to do that before the year’s out, that will be enough to qualify it as a success.