Rachel Campbell


Do New Year's resolutions ever actually work?

As the bells rang to mark the beginning of 2019, I sat in the cloakroom of a packed bar, watching everyone clink glasses, kiss their loved ones and shout “Happy New Year!” I vowed then to not be in the same position next year, as I picked up sticky bottles and swept up confetti at 4am. Other than that I’ve never really been one for New Year's resolutions. I’ve never seen what raising one digit in the year category had to do with inspiring me to become a better person. If anything, this seemed to be the hardest time of year to try and change.

With the overindulgence of Christmas, some might say this is a motivator to hit the gym, cut back on drinking, and eat more healthily. Yet, with gifted bottles of booze lining the cupboards, and selection boxes still staring at you from the moment you enter the supermarket, temptation is everywhere. The cold weather isn’t a massive motivator to throw on your trainers and go for a run, and gyms are packed with fellow “resolution-ers”, who don’t show much solidarity when it comes to fighting for a place on the stationary bikes. 

New Year's resolutions seem like a great idea in the freedom of the holiday period; toning up and cooking homemade meals seems much more achievable when it’s been weeks since we’ve opened our notes. But when lecture schedules reappear on our calendars, suddenly the gym falls to the bottom of our list of priorities, and takeaways seem to call our names after a long day in the library. The year begins with a golden period of determination and hope, until we all get back on with our usual, busy schedules. The resolutions which were originally motivators, inevitably mutate into a weight on our shoulders, making us feel guilty; like we’ve failed before we’ve even made it to February. 

Part of the issue here is that with 12 months ahead of us in this new year, we tend to set goals which match the feeling of enormous possibility that 365 days can hold. Setting any kind of target for a whole year seems near-impossible. Looking back on 2019, I’ve achieved a lot which I’m proud of, the majority of which I could not have outlined on 1 January, as I’m sure is the case with most. Broad resolutions are almost always discarded; it’s easier to stop “eating better” or “hitting the gym” than it is to give up specific goals, like meat-free Mondays or joining that one gym class which looks like fun. Setting goals as the time nears for that opportunity also seems more apt. Maybe when September rolls around you decide to get through more of your reading list than last semester; or when the time comes, Sober October seems more doable than cutting out pints of fun for the whole year. Maybe after you finish your last exam and the pressure lifts, you decide to try and give up smoking, or maybe you decide you’re definitely going to visit home for your mum’s birthday this year. Smaller, more tailored resolutions made when it seems like the perfect time are clearly going to be far more likely to succeed. 

We don’t need more pressure on the precipice of a new year. I’m all for bettering yourself and trying new things, but trying to be a whole new person all at once just because Jools’ Annual Hootenanny is on again doesn’t seem like the best way of going about it. We live with unprecedented social pressure from social media, and it can be hard to see the carefully cultivated, edited versions of others and think you wouldn’t like to change some things about yourself. This only adds to the disappointment if we don’t achieve the massive goals we set on 1 January. It can feel like, “If everyone else can do it, why can’t I?” Comparison with others is no longer left at the door, it follows us everywhere. Social media can make New Year's resolutions yet another competition of who is “bossing it” the most, with the stakes often involving our mental health. If you want to try something new, or give something up, or try to be healthier, the time to do it is when you feel capable and determined, not just because your feed is suddenly full of gym selfies. We have to trust ourselves to know what goals we can achieve, and not pay attention to how much faster other people are achieving theirs.

Ultimately, if you want to better yourself, great. And if New Year’s Eve is a motivator to get cracking on some long-held ambitions, even better. But I’m resolving to take the pressure off of New Year’s, and make changes when it’s less overwhelming, when it seems more relevant and achievable (and when it’s easier to stop buying Quality Streets).

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