This time I’ll be perfect: On New Year’s Resolutions

This year my New Year’s resolution is the same as it has been for every other year: become perfect. Be true to yourself while ensuring that everyone likes you, lose weight while simultaneously developing a healthy attitude to body shape and food, develop comfort in your own skin while also stopping ageing in its tracks, always be right while maintaining the humility to know you could be wrong, be Yoda-like in your wisdom, bend time and space, become immortal, that sort of thing. The usual.

When it comes to resolutions, I am extreme. What is the point if you’re not going to be? Make your resolution too much of a SMART objective and you might even stick to it, and where would be the fun in that? The whole point of resolutions — and of womanhood, I’m increasingly inclined to believe — is to be a self-flagellating work in progress. You’re rubbish now but tomorrow you might not be (that said, you’re also obliged to live in the moment, so don’t get too carried away).

It often feels to me that New Year’s Resolutions are merely an extension of women’s glossy culture. Or maybe it’s the other way round? Either way, there’s a great deal of similarity to the way in which the likes of Glamour, Marie Claire and Elle tell you that “your best body ever” is just around the corner and the way in which the new year is meant to make self-control and perfection suddenly attainable. You’re meant to spend each month, each year, convinced that this is the very last one in which you’ll be such a total failure. You’re getting better, you are! Nearly there, just one more push … And then it gets too late and you die and the only consolation is that at this point, you genuinely will lose weight.

I know people who don’t read rubbish magazines make resolutions too. I know it’s human nature to always be dissatisfied in oneself and want to change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The alternative — wandering through life thinking that you are flawless — would be insufferable (that said there will always be an article ordering you to “love yourself” in between all those shiny pages telling you how useless you are). But our expectations of ourselves are beyond ridiculous and the irony is, the more we hate ourselves, the more we end up behaving as though we’re the only people who matter. There’s no time to be kind when you’re busy being cruel to yourself, no space for perspective on world poverty when you’re battling with a self-imposed hunger strike. This is the case even if your resolutions are broken by January 2nd. You now have a huge expanse of time in which you could be looking outwards but instead you turn inwards, asking yourself why you aren’t a better person (the answer is that better people don’t dwell on why they’re not better people but just get on with it. Now there’s another meta-worry for us all).

I did have one year when I stuck to my resolutions. Never again. I was fifteen and filled a whole exercise book with statements of what I would and wouldn’t do for the new year, divided into subsections such as Food, Exercise, Social Life, Charity Work, Cultural Awareness and GCSEs (yes, I know. Even I worried about it at the time). I did not spend the year being a paragon of virtue. I spent it being a miserable sod who did the bare minimum of everything I’d set myself, with no time for anything else (and actually, I broke one of the resolutions anyhow, which was “be much more relaxed about everything”). Perhaps if I’d stopped to think that for once I was actually doing all the things I’d set myself, I’d have been filled with a profound Weltschmerz. Thankfully at least that didn’t happen because I had always had next year’s resolutions to plan.

Obviously I’m never going to resolve not to make resolutions, because that is terminally naff, not to mention difficult, because how can you be sure something isn’t a resolution and just a plan? There’s always going to be something worth doing to make yourself less of a loser. But I do wonder about this endless wallowing in the impossibility of being you and the need to change. Surely there’s a better way? Once I’m perfect I will tell you what it is.