New Year's Resolutions: how to give yourself a chance (and not give up chocolate)

It’s that time of the year again. The season implores you to eat drink and be merry - perish the thought that you may not. We are carried away on a tide of consumerism, giddy on the season’s greetings.

Eat, drink and be merry... or else!

And then, after you have enjoyed the holidays and all that comes with it, we are further compelled into a global guilt hangover - we ate too much, we drank too much, we were excessively merry. Here comes the new year and the time for judgment and repentance. Our guilt for being happy, well-fed and relaxed paves the way for self-flagellation in the form of New Year’s Resolutions.

People everywhere resolve to “ eat less”, “drink less”, “spend less” as they feel that personal deprivation is close to worthiness. Now, obviously, these resolutions may be healthy and sensible if you have a problem with food, alcohol or money. But there is a more positive, and more effective, way to go about things.

Resolving to do less of something builds on the underlying principle that the thing you are doing is bad for you and you ought to be ashamed of it. However, in moderation (how dull, I know), these things are not bad for you. Life is for living and a good meal, a glass of wine and a treat here and there are a wonderful part of it. What is completely toxic though is the practice of feeling guilty and ashamed about something you enjoy. It’s also nonsensical. Everyone likes to be a bit naughty from time to time and we all know that if something is forbidden it takes on an extra level of attraction. The day we commit to never eating chocolate again is precisely when all we can think about is chocolate - it becomes a ridiculous beacon of happiness rather than a treat.

Eat, guilt, repent, repeat.

I know this because I have promised to eat less and drink more water every (day) New Year for as long as I can remember. I’ve never lasted more than a few days because my resolve to deprive myself of something I enjoy does not last. What does last is the feeling of guilt and failure. Eat, guilt, repent, repeat. It’s not a healthy or sensible way to live yet every year I would get carried away by the New Year New You messaging and declare that this year would be different.

2015 was different. On New Year’s Eve 2014 I was sitting on the sofa, probably stuffing my face, when I decided to approach things differently. I can’t remember where the idea came from but I suddenly decided that I would run every day for a year. I’ve never enjoyed running and I figured that if I did it every day for 365 days and still didn’t like it, I could call it quits. That seemed fair to me.

For all anyone knows you’ve just run 20 miles

The next day, luckily hangover free due to my rock and roll night in, I set off to go for a run. I hadn’t run in years and my running stuff didn’t fit me anymore so I wore a pair of cycling shorts, an old t-shirt and my coat. I must’ve looked like a complete fool, huffing and puffing along the canal, my face purple from exertion. I kept telling myself that “for all anyone knows you’ve just run 20 miles” as, 200m from home, I had to have a little rest.

I did a minimum of mile a day for the whole year of 2015, including a half marathon in June. I did have some low points - getting home from an evening trip to IKEA to remember that I hadn’t done my run and going out at 11.30pm was one. Another was the run the day before my half marathon. It was the worst run I’d done and I was convinced that I would not finish the race in time to get a medal. I had visions of the clean up crew scooping me off the street after 7 hours. Like Run, Fatboy, Run only less successful and heartwarming.

But I did it. More importantly than that, I realised some important truths - I did have willpower, commitment and determination. Things that 20 years of failed resolutions had convinced me I lacked. I felt powerful and proud and capable. I had lost a little weight but this paled compared with the makeover that my attitude had had. Instead of being focussed on “less” of anything I had become “more” - I had done something this year that was genuinely good for my mind, body and spirit. I hadn’t felt guilty or ashamed about my resolution once - even if I ran slowly I was still running. I was still doing it.

And now I love running. Not. But I have learned that I can do it, despite not being the fastest or most elegant runner out there. I measure my success by the shade of my face when I get home: it is definitely down to “healthy glow” rather than “do we need to call a doctor”.

A new year, another resolution? Oops.

2016 marked the end of my running every day streak. I was keen to celebrate my achievement and enjoy my freedom - at times it had felt pretty awkward to fit my running in (getting up at 5am to run before an early train for example). Between not rushing into a new commitment and not being able to think of an appropriate resolution I ended up not making one at all for 2016. But that was fine. I continued running despite the loss of my most loyal running buddy, my gorgeous dog Flo, but it was a relief not to have to run every single day.

In 2017 I made a new resolution to do the Great North Swim. I had initially said no to my friend who invited me to do it but then I realised that, for me, not wanting to do something is not a good enough excuse. In fact I am more motivated by the challenge of doing something I don’t feel capable of. I hadn’t swum since school - my body confidence was too low to wear a swimming costume in public so this was a big challenge for me. However, with some determination and help from a swimming coach at my gym and several emergency osteopath appointments right before the swim, I did it. Slowly, as ever, but still.

I had in mind for 2018 that I would do my first triathlon. However, as you may know, I did a couple this year, buoyed on by my new “I can do it” attitude. So now I have to get thinking again. One thing I do know is that I am forgoing the old ways and will continue to make resolutions that are positive. I have found it much easier to “do” something than to try not to do something. I have also benefited from this more positive perspective, I feel happier and more capable than I have for years, even though I still do eat too much and probably don’t drink enough water.

Perhaps you are a more balanced person than me and do not succumb to the same cycle of guilt-repent-repeat that I have fallen prey to so many times. But, if you do, I implore you to try to make a resolution that will make you feel better about yourself. That’s an improvement that could last a lifetime whereas I bet you a packet of biscuits that skipping chocolate for a few weeks will not bring the benefits you had hoped for.

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