“Resolution number one: Obviously will lose twenty pounds.” Like Bridget Jones, many of us make ridiculous, half-hearted claims upon the arrival of a new year. Some have given up with this ritual, labelling it pointless and unproductive. They are the sensible ones perhaps. But there is a long-tradition in this practice – we (human beings) have been making New Year’s Resolutions for 4000 years. The Babylonians made promises to their gods, and believed if they kept their promises they would stay in favour with them, and, like the Babylonian’s, Roman people would make promises to Janus of their good intentions for the coming year. Although many of us aren’t making sacred promises to our favoured gods, human beings across the world in the cold, dark, dwindling days of December vow that on the first day of the new year, hungover with matted hair, eyelashes laced with crumbling mascara, that they will start afresh, become better, become more – become a ‘New Me’.
It is a biologically advantageous instinct that we have an innate want to self-improve, but it is not always compatible with our contemporary environment. Yet the idea of a ‘new’ version of ourselves come January the 1st [insert year] is deliciously tempting to many. We live in an era devoted to curating a presentation of honed perfection – crimson Maldives sunsets and couples photos galore – for all the world to see, and so to improve oneself is perhaps as attractive as it has ever been. Although the logical, sensible parts of our brains remind us that indeed, you will be no happier or fulfilled on a fundamental level if you do actually learn italian/ become a harmonica virtuoso/ go on the juice cleanse/ write that novel/ run that marathon – there is still a part of me that whispers the suggestion that perhaps actually these things are all achievable if I just commit to them and that I, like a phoenix from the ashes, will rise afresh as a purer, more refined, lighter yet richer version of myself. Becoming a ‘New Me’ has long been a tempting notion – doesn’t it sound fun? But perhaps we should make our new year’s resolutions in the spirit of which they were originally intended: a promise to try and behave better next year.
To rest in these outlandish fantasies of becoming a ‘New Me’ is harmless to an extent, but a creature who achieves perfection isn’t human. So why do we continue to hold inhumanity as an ideal, which we do in promising ourselves perfection? It intrigues me greatly what we think will happen to us if we carry out all our resolutions flawlessly. If, for example, you drink celery juice everyday for 365 days, will you transcend humanity itself and become a deity? Has anyone actually drunk celery juice everyday for a year? These people: Are they poreless? Do they float? Are they green? I imagine they’re perhaps bots sponsored by the Wellness industry, now worth $4.2 trillion globally, which promises all those who are fighting the daily fight to become a ‘New Me’ that if they s̶p̶e̶n̶d̶ ̶e̶n̶o̶u̶g̶h̶ just try hard enough they will succeed and upgrade to this next-level status of human.
Perhaps you think I’m being unfair to those who aspire to be one of the ‘New Me’s’. Perhaps you’ve made a plethora of very reasonable and noble goals for personal growth which you will execute calmly and seamlessly. Afterall, according to Forbes, 8% of those in the US who make New Year’s resolutions succeed in their endeavours – which I think is actually a surprisingly vast number. I imagine these are, on the whole, the people who set themselves goals not to become a ‘New Me’ but plan on staying themselves, but versions of themselves who maybe eat more oranges, swim three times a week because it makes them feel free or talk to their mum more. Perhaps, for them, the New Year marks the start of small positive changes or habits that make their lives better.
I think it is time for me to let go of the notion that a new year’s resolutions are just another attempt to better myself. An obsession of bettering has bled into the most ridiculous now – in the wake of national lockdown in the UK, I and many others took it as a novel reason for self-improvement – my plans in March 2020 for remastering the violin are going terribly for those wondering. As we trip and stumble into 2021 and are in a new year and a new lockdown, there is no shame in setting goals and challenges for yourself. But rather than trying to melt away into inhumanity, challenge yourself to do things imperfectly and badly and un-routinely and relish in the trial and error of it all. Run very slowly and take in the trees, watch all the Wes Anderson films with your housemates, and try to bake as many flavours of cakes as you can. Although it is fun to flirt with the prospect of being a New Me, rest easy in your humanity, you’re doing ok.