I honestly don’t remember my first new year’s resolution.
My memories of Hogmanay as a child are fleeting – being woken up at 11.30pm to celebrate the bells with my parents. The first year I was allowed to stay up all the way through, watching Jools Holland and awaiting the countdown. Then there was the time, aged 15, I got a glass of something stronger than juice to toast with – a sort of passing of the alcohol baton, I guess, as twelve months later my parents became New Years’ designated drivers, scooping my sozzled self and my pals into a car at 1am after a night of partying.
I don’t remember making any resolutions at the millennium when, aged 18, I stood on Edinburgh’s Princes Street with my friends and tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe, full of hope, and just a little fear that, come midnight, computers would crash and everything would grind to a halt, courtesy of the millennium bug. Remember that?
It’s easy to look back on the millennium now and giggle at our wariness. The bug, that year at least, was imaginary. But as a very different bug plagues our thoughts, one that really has brought life crashing down around us, it no longer feels silly to welcome a new year with trepidation and fear. I wonder though, whether a time of heightened anxiety is really a good time to make life-changing promises of self-sacrifice?
Promises we can’t keep
January 1, 2021, and here we are, once again pledging to become better human beings. Tradition holds hard. Resolutions less so. From weight loss to dry January, the ways in which we traditionally promise to self-improve are legion – and punishing. But who among us can truly claim to have clung joyfully to a resolution made at 11.59pm on any December 31? Not me.
During my twenties, my annual pledge to give up smoking became something of a joke among my friends. Lighting up at 1am, I’d insist the New Year didn’t really start until you’d been to bed. And then, really, who wants to make a major life change with a hangover? Come January 2nd, I’d usually have forgotten my resolve altogether.
I eventually nixed that filthy habit on a random Wednesday in March in my early thirties, courtesy of a sympathetic hypnotherapist. But I’m pretty sure my years of failed promises only served to make it feel like a more impossible mountain to climb.
Indeed, the only self-improvement promises I’ve ever stuck to have tended to be those arrived upon at random. Dry January always felt like a bit of a chore. But when a particularly bad migraine and anxiety combo led me to swear off the wine for a little while in early 2019, it stuck. I’ve now not had a drink in two years – but only, I suspect, because I’ve never said I won’t. The minute I ban something, it becomes all I want – and I don’t think I’m alone in that self-defeatist attitude.
What’s funny about me ending up binning booze in 2019, though, is that I’d failed at Dry January mere weeks before, having accepted a glass of (delicious) Champagne at a press event on January 5th, where I felt bored, annoyed at being forced to network when I really only wanted to be at home. As I boarded the train that night, I made the only (albeit late) New Year’s resolution I’ve ever truly stuck to – I was going to start doing what made me happy, rather than what I thought I was meant to do.
As I stopped drinking later that month, my anxiety subsided. I felt stronger, brighter, more energetic. I started doing other stuff – swimming in the sea, reading books again, writing just for fun rather than for a pay cheque. I quit a job that was making me miserable and took another short freelance gig that flew me across the world. For the first time ever, I attended parties with strangers without a drink in my hand and, once I overcame my nerves, I had a ball. A month became three, then six, then at some point I stopped counting.
Since then, I’ve done all sorts of things drinking me never would have done. Sober dating was weird and at times hysterical, but gave me a whole new insight into what I actually needed out of life, love and relationships. Going to gigs became more immersive without regular trips to the bar. Life became fuller. My confidence grew. I became more fun. Hell, I even started a business.
I say all of this not as a push towards sobriety. It’s my choice (one I am lucky to have, addiction being a very different ball game) and it works for me. Rather, what I’m trying to say is that by just listening to my gut and not imprisoning myself with false promises, I found a new way of life that worked for me – and it’s changed my approach to everything that’s come since, including the shitshow of a year we’ve all just endured.
So I’m here to urge you, don’t give up drinking today. Or embark on a diet. Don’t stub out that last ciggie and force yourself to the gym. Screw all of that.
The best thing we can all do today is take a pause and ask what we’ve learnt from the last year. What made us happy, when so much was taken away? What made us sadder, more anxious, more scared? The former – be it music or yoga or bloody cake – promise yourself more of that. The latter? Bin it. Don’t worry about what other people will think. Today isn’t for them. You’ve got enough to worry about going into 2021 without surrounding yourself with people or pressures that will make it all harder.
We don’t know what this year will bring, but between the ongoing pandemic, Brexit and a recession, we know it’s not going to be a bed of roses from the get-go. And the best thing you can do for yourself is make what’s coming as easy as you can.
Promise yourself happiness, whatever it looks like for you. It’s the only resolution worth making – and if you stick to it, it will be the only one you’ll ever need to make.