It's that time of year again- new beginnings, fresh optimism and for lots of us, a long list of new year's resolutions overhauling our health, hobbies, lifestyle...the list goes on.
I used to make the same old clichéd resolutions on an annual basis to lose weight, learn a new language from scratch, begin exercising regularly, etc. I rarely made it to February with any of them in tact, leaving a lingering sense of failure and disappointment.
My new approach is not to make resolutions that involve a complete overhaul of my eating habits, an entirely new exercise regime or setting myself near-impossible tasks. Instead I propose more manageable, positive and fun resolutions. This year one of them is to go to the theatre more often. I made that one last year, too. I believe I went to precisely zero plays in 2017. So what will be different this year?
According to BBC Reality Check, we are more likely to keep our new year’s resolutions if we involve other people. In 2018 I have resolved to see more theatre with a friend who is also a drama enthusiast and who has independently made the same resolution so I may be on to a winner.
My conclusion about new year's resolutions generally is that the broader improvements to my life such as doing regular exercise do not come about from a rash decision made on a foggy-headed early January morning. Rather they should be habits formed gradually. With exercise the ongoing benefits to my physical and mental wellbeing have lead to them becoming simply part of my life now. Drastic changes don't seem to be sustainable, boring as this realisation may be.
Last year I tried to go vegan a number of times. The first time I went cold turkey (or should that be cold seitan?!) I found it unsustainable, going back to dairy after a few short weeks. The second time was successful for slightly longer, but ultimately the pull of cheese was too strong and I returned to my cheddar-chomping ways, making up for lost time. I tried again, for the third time, but this time I tried a new approach: flexibility. I gave myself permission to be flexible in my newly-formed veganism. I decided to chill if there weren't any decent vegan options when eating out (less and less of an issue nowadays), allow myself to buy eggs occasionally, nibble the odd piece of cheese without beating myself up. I now eat a roughly 90% vegan diet. Hard-core vegans and carnivores alike may scoff at my lack of total commitment to the cause. But my mostly vegan diet makes me feel like I'm making a difference, living compassionately and, crucially, I know that it is something I can sustain in the long-term.
I have realised that with new year's resolutions and changes I want to make to my life being kind to myself is key. Allowing myself to 'fail', not do something every day, sometimes have a break from whatever change I'm ultimately trying to make. As the Guardian's guide to making New Year's Resolutions states, “the biggest obstacle to new habits is self-criticism. Study after study shows that self-criticism is correlated with less motivation and worse self-control, in contrast with being kind or supportive to yourself, as you would to a friend – especially when confronted with failure.” That's the bottom line, and one I plan to hold onto in 2018.