January clichés

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Photograph: Alan Cleaver

January, the first month of the year, is not only the beginning of a new year, but for many people it also represents the beginning of a new life. We are ready to start fresh and become the person we want to be. Unfortunately though, the initial boost of energy seems to vanish as soon as the month ends. Why do our New Year’s resolutions always fail once the year is not so new anymore?
Usually we tend to blame ourselves for being lazy or for having not enough will power. However, not all of us always consider that it may not be us who is not good enough. It might be the goals we undertake instead. Let’s look at some typical examples of New Year’s resolutions. Some of them are typical for students, other apply in general. They all have one thing in common though: they generally prove non-functional:

1) Weight loss: Probably the biggest January cliché of all. As soon as we indulge all the Christmas treats, we start to think about consuming less and burning more calories, and about becoming a fitter, slimmer and lighter person. On average, most women plan to lose at least half a stone in the upcoming year, and they intend to keep the newly achieved weight afterwards. The weight loss goal is usually connected to resolutions to go to the gym more often, to abandon sweets, to eat healthier food and to consume more fruit and vegetables. The reality is that even though most people do lose some weight in January (and possibly February), they tend to pick it back up afterwards, due to giving up their healthy eating and new exercise habits.

2) Saving money: In addition to spending less, many people decide to work more, and many students decide to find a part-time job. We set ourselves a weekly budget and reject ourselves all the little lifts and joys we used to waste our finance on. Nevertheless, eventually, we come to realise that saving up is not worth refusing all our friends’ invitations and wearing the same jeans whole year.

3) No more procrastination: Anybody who has ever finished their essay half an hour before the deadline will probably agree with me that it is a very stressful thing to do. No wonder that we want to become more responsible planners, to not experience a similar rush ever again. Yet, despite our firm decision, we tend to find that our life is way too crazy and that we have way too many things to do, and that today is just too busy for doing something that we can easily do next week. Often this resolution is accompanied by the desire to get more sleep – to go to bed earlier so that when we wake up in the morning, we don’t feel tired already. That would have been easy and great, if there weren’t so many better things to do at night than to sleep…

4) Quitting a bad habit (e.g. smoking): There are moments in life when we become annoyed with ourselves. For example, when we find how much money we unnecessarily spent on cigarettes or how ugly our nails get if we bite them every time we are nervous. From January the 1st, many of us ban ourselves from doing those annoying things at all ever again. However, this ‘never again’ attitude usually lasts until a first feeling of nervousness or sadness. Habits are very hard to break.

5) Learning something new (e.g. to cook): In most people’s lives, there’s something they’ve always wanted to do, but never have. For students it is often cooking a proper meal. However, it can also be a new sport, language, or playing an instrument. After several lessons, though, we tend to find out that the new hobby is just too time-consuming beyond our options, too difficult to learn or too expensive.

6) Being nicer to other people, especially to our parents and other family members: Thinking backwards, we often realise to how many people we haven’t been the nicest to in the past year. All of us have, sometimes, offended someone, shouted at someone, or even hurt someone and regretted it later on. As much as January is a good time to find out that we treated somebody badly, February is a good month to rediscover the reasons we had for it…

What makes those resolutions a certain failure? First of all, we attempt to jump instead of making slow, careful steps. We quit smoking completely instead of cutting to a couple of cigarettes a week. We want to go to the gym three times a week right away instead of just once. We aspire to look like a super model almost the next morning after starting our diet.

Also, we don’t look at the reasons why we have or haven’t done certain things until now. For example, somebody who is a member of five societies and who also works part-time twenty hours a week can’t logically expect to stop procrastinating and to sleep and eat regularly, without cutting out some activities.

Therefore, I have only one New Year’s resolution this time, and that is: Make realistic wishes, estimate your options, and achieve them slowly step by step.