The New Year is not a great time to try changing your life. You’re coming off the back of a series of unusual, break-from-the-routine days. Days filled with food, and travel, and spending time with people you don’t often see. You’ve been watching sentimental TV, loading up on more carbs than you thought possible, and generally separating yourself from the daily grind as much as you can. This is a bad state in which to try and make committments to change your daily routine. The circumstances are strange, and unrepeatable (at least until next year). It’s almost inevitable that you will try and over-reach and swing the pendulum too far the other way.
So, when you’re tempted to start thinking about resolutions, it’s definitely a good idea to revisit Mr. Merlin Mann, and a great post about New Year’s Resolutions:
“I’ll go further and say that the repeated compulsion to resolve and resolve and
resolve is actually a terrific marker that you’re not really ready to change anything
in a grownup and sustainable way. You probably just want another magic wand.
Otherwise you’d already be doing the things you’ve resolved to do. You’d already
be living those changes. And, you’d already be seeing actual improvements rather
than repeatedly making lists of all the ways you hope your annual hajj to the self-
improvement genie will fix you.”
He talks in this, and in a previous podcast, about Fresh Starts and Modest Changes, instead of resolutions. Doing something that’s achievable, and that you care about. Not expecting to transform into a new person overnight. And not getting discouraged when you fall off the wagon. You will. The first pancake in the batch will always suck. What matters more is getting comfortable with the idea that you will fail, and continuing to try anyway.
I am bad at resolutions at any time of year. Blogging, running, photographing, writing – all these things, increasingly captured in unflinching digital detail, testify to my ability to get to around 4–6 weeks of a habit before falling off the wagon again. This pattern is now so obvious, it’s getting very hard to ignore.
Still, ever the optimist, I have started again, with the New Year, and the blank sheet of digital paper it offers, to try a number of habits I have tried before, that I have seen benefits from, and see how long I can keep them going:
1) Run 5km with parkrun every Saturday. This is a committment to turning up at a specific time and place, which is always easier to keep. In practice, it hopefully means I also make an effort to run at least once in the week, as the thought of facing 5km without having done anything in the previous week is a daunting one.
2) 750 words, written every day on 750words.com. I’ve kept this one a few times before – and a couple of times have completed an unbroken month. It’s hard though. I find it most effective when I do it in the morning before work, but not being a morning person, this is a struggle. And if I miss that window, I often forget until the very last thing at night, when I’m climbing the stairs, and that’s a recipe for stumbling onwards and into bed. Still, the great thing about 750 words is that you don’t score your day until you’ve reached 750 words, and that it only operated from midnight to midnight – you can’t catch up on your words with twice as many the next day. Once the day has finished, that’s it. You can’t rewrite the past. You can only write again today.
3) Keep a dinner diary for every day. This idea comes from ‘Dinner: A Love Story’. I have tried doing weekly meal planning many times before, and it never even makes it to the end of the same week. However, this committment is very simple: by the time I leave for work in the morning, I need to have written down in a notebook what we will have for dinner that evening, and I need to have done whatever necessary to get it started. That might mean simply removing something from the freezer to defrost, or noting down which ingredients I need to pick up on the way home. But a committment like that makes it easier for me to consider how to best use what I have in the house, without resorting to takeaway or pasta again, just because I’m too tired to think.
These are the simple things I’m going to try to do. I hope they will improve a number of aspects of my life, and help keep some things in order. But it doesn’t matter if it lasts or not. All I can do, each day, is try again for today. You can’t do anything about yesterday. It either worked or it didn’t; it sucked or it worked. All you can work on is today. So do that.