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New Year’s resolutions – an expert’s opinion

Apparently one in five of us actually mean what we say when we promise that this time, this time, the fags are going in the bin and the paycheques are going in the savings account
"Mid-March is a much better time to make a resolution. I’ll never understand why we put our agreed “self-improvement” date at a time of year when I literally get up for work in the dark"

As December draws to a close, Christmas presents are thrown into the back of a wardrobe and the nation collectively sweats out a week of cream liqueur and pigs in blankets, the introduction of a new calendar year means that even the most lethargic and monotonous drone leaps out of bed in a fit of motivation and self-belief and is transformed, there and then, into a non-smoker, a devoted gym-goer, a determined entrepreneur and a globetrotting philanthropist.

The change is exhilarating, and this incredible shift in personality doesn’t slow down until, perhaps, the third week in January, when these ideals are forgotten about and the familiar routine of crisps, red wine and tedious labour creeps it way back into one’s life like a persistent weed.

I’m sure this committed decision to immediately rid yourself of bad habits and become a walking bastion of human achievement, followed by a dejected return to dull normality around a fortnight later, rings a bell with most of you. An estimate by Forbes – in what I’m sure was a stringent and scientifically rigorous piece of research – estimates that 40% of US citizens make New Year’s resolutions every time January rolls around. I’m not sure if that number can also be applied to the UK but I’m sure, much like in film release dates and ill-advised military excursions, we’re not far behind the Americans.

So where does it all come from? Why do we claim to be making important changes to our routines at the beginning of a new Gregorian calendar instead of, y’know, when we need to? Apparently, the ancient Babylonians promised to their gods at the start of each year, which began in mid-March, that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts, and this now translates to our using the 1st of January to loudly proclaim that we’re ridding ourselves of all the urges, addictions and habits that gnaw away at our self-esteem, only to sack it off once we realise that self-reformation actually takes effort. (As an aside, mid-March is a much better time to make a resolution. I’ll never understand why we put our agreed “self-improvement” date at a time of year when I literally get up for work in the dark.)

Perhaps I’m being a little cynical. Perhaps it’s not just a front and some people genuinely use New Year’s Day as an opportunity to put into practice the ideas they’ve accumulated throughout the year. The Journal of Substance Abuse, which tragically isn’t the title of a rockstar’s autobiography and is actually a well-respected scientific publication, published a study in 1989 which, in their own words, “tracked the self-change attempts of 200 New Year’s resolvers over a 2-year period in order to more fully understand the coping determinants of maintenance and the natural history of lapses and relapses.” The results, which could just as easily have been published in The Journal of the Bleeding Obvious, found that very few of us keep to our word for longer than a few weeks. The interesting part, though, is that 19% of those studied kept to their resolution for the full 2 years. If I can use my limited scientific knowledge to crudely extrapolate these figures to the nation as a whole, this means that, essentially, one in five of us actually mean what we say when we promise that this time, this time, the fags are going in the bin and the paycheques are going in the savings account.

When I read this promising statistic, I was filled with exciting ideas about how I could make a robust effort to join the hallowed ranks of the 19% and finally keep a resolution. I already eat well and the cigarettes are staying firmly where they are for the time being, so instead of going for the clichéd January vows I’m committing to giving up dragon fruit, ice fishing and ayahuasca.

Admittedly, I’ve never indulged in any of these in the past, but it’s the thought the counts, and I’m looking forward to feeling smug about my perfect record for the rest of my days. I feel like New Year articles like this are supposed to end with drippy, sentimental platitudes, so how about this: Instead of choosing an arbitrary date by which you judge your efforts to improve yourself, be comfortable with who you are and when you identify an aspect of your routine that needs improvement, do it in your own time and for your own happiness. Aaaah.

 

- Jack Rayner

 

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