I've always thought of the calendar year as a line. You hop along it with a few humps and bumps, everything building up to Christmas until finally all of the pressure and hype is released and the New Year rolls around. Everything resets, the slate is wiped clean and everyone is free to start all over again.
Moving to a different hemisphere has forced me to acknowledge that this does not make as much sense for at least half of the world. August becomes a time of travel and relaxation and Christmas is a small break before people get hit with exams and deadlines. Instead of camping and music festivals, the festive season is dominated by Christmas Jumpers and mulled wine.
New Year New You?
Regardless of whether you see the year as a line or a circle or even an equilateral triangle, the New Year brings with it the annual debate about the validity and usefulness of making resolutions. Some people see it as being the best time to set new goals and re-evaluate priorities, whilst others see it as the time of year that you get duped into buying a gym membership that is doomed to have its last use in mid-February.
I can understand why critics claim that if you really want to make something happen you shouldn't have to wait until January the first. Setting realistic, achievable goals should be a habit cultivated throughout the year rather than relying on an extra bit of 'magic' to make up for the actual will power and planning required to make any kind of significant change.
Losing weight is a classic example of a common and tricky resolution. You've just indulged in all of the best things that the silly season has to offer but now the guilt is setting in and you feel like the only course of action is to resolve to lose those extra couple of kilos plus the other ten you've been meaning to get rid of. You don't really have any idea of how you're going to do this but you're sure that Google will tell you all that you need to know.
This is a pretty obvious criticism of the type of behaviour and mind-set that has the potential to do more harm than good. But personally, I don't see what's wrong with dreaming a little and if New Year is the only time that people stop and consider what they want to do with the next year of their lives then is that so terrible?
Looking at the evidence
I don't think the problem is resolution making in itself; the problem is the kinds of things that we have become conditioned into thinking should be the focus of our burst of energy and determination. Not wanting to generalise, I looked up what the top resolutions of 2014 were.
In an American survey the top five were as follows:
1. Lose weight
2. Get organised
3. Save money
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy
In the UK it was a similar story:
1. Exercise more
2. Eat better
3. Cut down on alcohol
4. Stop smoking
5. Spend less time on social media
All of these are sensible, reasonable goals. They are however lacking both specificity and creativity.
What do we really want?
Enjoy life to the fullest. I would imagine everyone would like to claim that they live life to the fullest but what does that actually look like? I would hazard a guess that this concept is something we think we should aim for but have no idea how to execute.
Making such general statements of intention is futile without a deeper awareness of yourself, your priorities and importantly what makes you feel alive and fulfilled. And narrowing a fitness goal down to "I want to get a toned body like Beyonce" is not quite what I mean.
If you've been making the same resolution year after year either it's something that you don't actually want or need or the rest of your life needs looking at because it's stopping you from achieving what you really want to.
Myself, I secretly enjoy the romance of viewing the New Year like one big blank or a giant opportunity where anything is possible, even if it's just for a day or two. I can't remember the last time I made a physical list but every year I pause to reflect, analyse and imagine. This year my hypothetical list would look something like this:
1. Keep taking opportunities to travel and try new things
2. Be cautious with what you fill your new routine with
3. Find ways to be connected with the community
4. Live simply, like you may have to fit your life back into a suitcase
5. Be present, wherever you may be
Helen McIntosh is a 21 year old trying to create more than she consumes. Writing is a way of banishing any circulating thoughts to make way for the new.
Helen McIntosh's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/helen-mcintosh.html