new year. same me.

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New year, new me. Turning over a new leaf. Out with the old, in with the new. As a society and maybe as a species, we seem obsessed with change. Forever seeking to hone the self, to shed our perceived negative traits like snakeskin, whilst seamlessly replacing them with aspirational qualities – the way we would like to be as opposed to that mediocre, uninspiring image we often see in the mirror. In some ways, I get it. We haven’t gotten to our role as apex predators and resource-devouring extraordinaries without constant adaptation and evolution. Growth is what allows everything from Taylor Swift’s eighth album being her best (don’t even start), to prison-leaver reform. As human beings, we have huge brains seemingly capable of limitless imagination, self-realisation and re-development – the possibilities feel endless. Yet just because we can do something, does that always mean we should? Yep, a $64,000 question but let’s explore it any way. 

Despite what you may have learned at school, the British didn’t invent everything. Depending on which link you click, Google informs us that various New Year traditions have been floating about since 4000 BC-ish when the ancient Babylonians reflected on their misdemeanours from the previous year and promised the gods they would be rectified in return for a bountiful harvest. When they weren’t building aqueducts or re-drawing maps of Europe, the Romans were up to their old tricks of tinkering with the human experience. It was Julius Caesar who decided that the 1st of January should thenceforth be known as the first day of a new year. The Roman overlord of January was the god Janus, obvs relative of Boris Johnson and possessor of two faces: one looking backwards and one forwards. This goes some way to explaining the renewed focus of reflection on the year completed, and on the year to come. 

Unlike our more secular experience in modern day Britain, the previous millennia was dominated by religious pre-occupation. Ditching old habits in the new year was less about intrinsic self-betterment and more about saving your soul from the fires of eternal damnation. With the decline of religious adherence and subsequent collective hand wringing, cunning minds sought to fill the vacuum for their own gain. Enter stage right, best pals, capitalism and consumerism! Just as Black Friday targeted ads recently convinced me that there was a gaping hole in my bathroom agenda, fillable only by a sonic (still not entirely sure what that means) toothbrush, it now increasingly feels like New Year is one big sales opportunity for someone to sell us the idea of a better life and a better ‘us’ through a twelve-week set of puppy yoga classes. Do we need it…probably not. Do we want it? Absolutely. 

Now I appreciate the tone of this blog has veered mostly between negative and cynical so maybe I should wrap things up on a more positive note? I think the key here is to really understand what you want, and why you want it. Reflecting on what you value and how much energy you allocate to those things is crucial. We can get stuck in ruts and patterns of behaviour that don’t align with our values as much as we’d like and challenging these is important in living as purposefully and positively as we can. However, it is just as important that we include an assessment of how much time and energy we have to give. We have finite life spans, finite levels of attention and energy. It might be possible that we can re-arrange our priorities to give the gym an extra few hours a week, but it is very likely that this will come at the expense of something else that we value. It might be that you decide that sacrifice is worth it, it might be that it’s not. But the key is that you should decide that, not indiscreet comparisons or social media. An ideal lifestyle is just that, rooted in idealism. It takes no heed of existing pressures or external factors: constantly guilt tripping us into blindly striving and stretching – scraping our reserves over ever larger slices of bread until only the most meagre layer remains.  

Whilst we often want our lives to be less ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and more ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’ – the truth is that sometimes we really do need the former. Procrastination; rest; relaxation; activities with no tangible outcomes, these are all necessary features of the human condition in an overstimulating world with a brain that, in evolutionary terms, is still bewildered that you’re not sat in a cave eating berries and trying to figure out the workings of the wheel.  

And that brings me to my final reminder, call it a late Christmas present if you will. You’re almost certainly doing fine, more than that, you’re probably doing pretty good. Are you crushing every single part of life? Highly unlikely. But trust me that your CEO, older sister or that bloke with the six-off Instagram won’t be either, despite how it might seem. That to-do list won’t ever be empty so the more we can accept it, the more we can focus on what is real and what is now. By all means make some changes in the New Year if you have the capacity, the wherewithal and the desire. Break things down into baby-steps, keep them achievable, celebrate every single day that you do it and try not to beat yourself up the days that you don’t – there’s always tomorrow. Smile, have a brew and know that at least Spring is around the corner. The earth will continue to spin, even if you did miss one of those puppy yoga classes. HNY.