Originally published in U Magazine, December 2007
Like your first love, your first cigar and your first electric shock, you never forget your first New Year’s Resolution.
When I was six, I resolved to get to the moon. I’d seen it done on telly and we even sang a song about it in school, I thought it’d be a piece of cake. My friends, Cameron and Steven, volunteered to help me gather the bits and bobs together to build our rocket: three castors, a lawnmower engine and a metal bin. Having successfully procured the castors from a three-legged table in Cameron’s living room, we then hit a couple of unforseen snags. Firstly, neither of my mates had a lawn, never mind a mower, and, in any case, all our dads were fiercely protective of their sheds. Secondly, the standard-issue bins in town were made of plastic; I knew Mrs Davidson next door had a metal one around the back for her garden rubbish – but we couldn’t steal it because she also had a big dog.
It was downhill from then on. There were rumblings of recrimination, threatened reprisals and accusations of selfishness pointed in my direction when it dawned on the boys that there wouldn’t have been any room for them in the rocket. Well, I protested, it was my idea.
And that was that, my first New Year’s Resolution went up in smoke. Or rather, it didn’t. From a tender age, from my lowly position on terra firma, I discovered how inherently pointless it is to make ambitious, potentially life-changing promises to yourself on the basis that you’re starting a new calendar.
As grounds for making promises you can stick to go, the festive season is particularly treacherous. As any woman knows, men are full of promises when there’s drink involved. “Yes, I’ll be home early,” is one; “thanks for your number, I’ll phone you tomorrow,” is another. Worse than any regular Saturday night, New Year’s Eve is traditionally seen as an alcoholic Halloween, a frightening, mind-warping night where we raise glasses and down bottles to the ghosts and ghouls of an old year before the white-satin gown of a saintly, virginal new year tiptoes in around the prostrate bodies of drunken revellers, promising goodness and forgiveness for all. And the first empty promise made every year is? “Oooh, I’m never going to drink again…”
Why can’t people just be honest and enjoy the party season without feeling that they need to put themselves under self-flagellating pressure to stop doing things they like? Of course, everyone you meet will still ask, “are you making any resolutions this year?” I somehow find myself giving out the same answer every time: yes, I’m going to take up smoking, put on weight and write a Scottish recipe book – 365 Days Of Deep Fried Anything.
Women seem particularly obsessed with the idea that a New Year means a new start; that somehow you can wilfully purge your soul of the most sleepless, credit card-maxing and debauched of Decembers by turning January into a frugal, monastic cleansing experience.
Thousands of Euro are thrown at the annual, deluded self-promise to shed pounds, tone flabby bits and fill in the perforations on livers. January is a boom-month for gym staff and slimming gurus who don’t have to even think about going out into the cold with their clipboards to annoy people at tea-time into signing up for something they don’t want; the over-indulgent, corpulent and tragically vulnerable will come to find them. “Forgive me Weight Watchers for I have sinned,” you say; “that’s OK,” they say, “if it wasn’t for you lot indulging in all Seven Deadly Sins over a supposedly religious holiday, we wouldn’t even be here.”
If the statistics are true, 39% of resolutions are jettisoned by the end of January, thereby making liars out of millions around the world. People who have difficulty giving up a few simple pleasures for Lent shouldn’t even entertain the notion of resolutions. What exactly is the problem with them?
It can be summed up in four words: hard work and change. Not only is the festive season indulgent, it’s also bone-lazy. Most men are realistic enough to know that change isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you have to effect. You may be seduced by the TV ad for those little belt things that supposedly electrocute your jelly belly into a six-pack while you watch Star Trek marathons but even that delusion requires that you make a phone call.
If you really want to change, it has to be done soberly and involve calculation. For example, if you want to lose weight, it’s not about ‘giving up’ food and drink, it’s about eating the right things and exercising – crucially, spending more calories than you consume. It’s a notion that starts out sounding do-able and gets less and less exciting as January wears on. Winter is a dreadful time to consider this anyway; the weather is generally adverse, which discourages exercise, you want to spend more time snug on the sofa watching telly anyway and who wants to eat anything other than comforting stodge when it’s so cold out?
If anything, sensible people should resolve to enjoy January more than they enjoyed December; it’s a long month for salaried people who’ve overspent at Christmas, and the short days and unremitting frost make for an atmosphere of utter bleakness if these 31 days are not handled positively. By simply doing the things you enjoy, things that don’t necessarily cost much money, then, without the horrific pressure of the previous month’s present-buying crush, you could reach February more refreshed than you would if you had a list of half-a-dozen broken promises to your name. A little bit of what you fancy, and all that.
Therefore, I propose that the inherently negative New Year Resolution is scrapped and replaced by positive Spring Resolutions. The weather is getting kinder, the days are getting longer and men’s thoughts are getting slightly filthier. We should resolve to get up earlier at weekends to elongate our time off, not switch on the telly first thing, eat more seasonal fruit and veg, drink more water, have more sex, ring people’s doorbells and pretend to be someone from the overpriced local gym with a special introductory offer, then leg it back home to get some more sensual exercise. It’s not about preachy regimes, giving things up, self denial and martyring ourselves at the burning stake of evil indulgence; it’s just about adding positive things to enliven our lives and to avoid dragging us into the perilous pit of self-pity – that’s what Damien Rice records are for, after all.
This January, tear up and recycle that list of optimistic fibs you wrote; New Year’s Resolutions are simply the alcohol-induced good intentions that crazy pave our road to hell. And, God knows, we’ve seen enough Big Brother to know that there are plenty of other pointless pursuits out there without bothering with those.