We appear to be programmed with insatiable ambition and aspiration. We want to achieve – tick things off, get things done. Life without goals would be aimless and therefore, surely, pointless? We fear drifting from day to day without direction, without making progress. We feel the need to cross things off our bucket list. And so we diligently line up our targets – tasks to complete, projects to finish, habits to resist, skills to improve, experiences to enjoy, items to possess.
Some of these tasks are kindly given to us by other people, or dished out rather unevenly, by life itself. Many are never-ending – getting up for work, cooking dinner, cleaning, washing, topping up our phone or filling up our petrol tank. Then we have all the other irregular and random tasks which hit us infrequently or unexpectedly – something to repair, a form to fill in, an appointment to book, a person to see. I have just completed my tax-return for last year. I am feeling a genuine sense of achievement. And hey – for once they owe me money.
We all have some sort of mental, physical or electronic “to do” list plus a letter box and at least one inbox. And whilst we complain about our daily tasks; they give us a structure and a plan of activity for our lives, without which, well, what would we do? What would we achieve? Doing nothing, does not appear to be an option for some of us.
But we also love to raise our heads above the day-to-day tasks and treat ourselves to a few bigger mountains to climb. Ones we have chosen and believe we will enjoy. Maybe ones which will impress other, lesser mortals – something for a carefully worded facebook posting or a Christmas letter? (carefully wrapped in words of sincere humility of course).
Which brings us to January 1st and our New Year’s Resolutions. This is our annual opportunity to select some big goals and set ourselves some audacious challenges. And then, to raise the stakes by bragging to others about them. The prospect of public adulation – or more likely, the fear of public humiliation – is usually the best motivator of all.
In previous years I have boldly declared positive, life-enhancing, ambitious resolutions. One year I was going to get an article published in a magazine. Any article. Any magazine. Another year I was determined to learn the piano. I didn’t say to what level of expertise. I got nowhere with either.
Last year I went for something more prosaic, some might say dull. Something which had daily achievement built in, rather than the ticking time bomb of one-off failure. I set myself a net weekly target of calories to consume and a weight to maintain. Tick and Tick. I didn’t specifically intend to bore people continuously with postings of run times and calories burned on Facebook. But I did that too. So an extra tick there. Feeling good. But what about 2015?
Well, I am keeping that resolution going – which means entering everything I eat into my phone (electronically not literally). This is actually the hardest part of the challenge now – recording it. I’m getting bored with that.
There is a point where lofty ambitions descends into tedious, tiring routine and hard-work. We set off with great gusto, enthusiasm and energy. But at about 35% of the way in, we become becalmed and slightly dejected. This isn’t as much fun in reality, as it appeared in prospect. A bit like that new coffee-machine we drooled over.
A friend of mine has challenged me to run the Copenhagen Marathon in May. It sounds exciting and ambitious. But I know that after a couple of weeks, the training will become monotonous, burdensome and painful. And should I get that far, I also know that 9 miles in, when there are 17 miles left to run, I will become demoralised and frustrated, but be unable to give up. I will take a look at the website once I am pretty sure it is already over-subscribed.
And such are New Year’s Resolutions. Established with commendable and well-meaning enthusiasm and intent, but quickly brought down to earth with the gravity of harsh reality. At which point we either shrug our shoulders, give them up and live with the failure; or we plough on and learn to loathe or tolerate them. Not surprising that more sensible people go for more modest aspirations – and are more modest about them.
So, to avoid a year of disappointment or misery, I have limited myself to a New Month’s Resolution: I will drink no alcohol in January. I did manage to maintain my weight and fitness in 2014 and hit my calorie targets most weeks (do let me know if you want the full analysis). But this was absolutely no thanks to alcohol at about 70 kcal per unit, plus accompanying snacks.
I am good and virtuous until about 10pm. At which point, I wander into the kitchen for a cheeky glass of wine, and wake up a couple of hours later in front of the TV with a half-empty bottle, an empty box of pringles and having also consumed 4 (or more) squares of chocolate and maybe some conscience-salving crispbreads. It’s just a good job I spend so many nights in hotels. Just don’t upgrade me to the “free mini-bar”.
Therefore, I am raising money for charity by abstaining from alcohol for a month. Or more accurately, I am abstaining from alcohol for a month, under the guise of raising money for charity.
I have publicly declared this on Facebook, cemented it by sponsorship and told you in this blog. I know I will do it – I hate ritual humiliation. It is a modest personal challenge to myself – and I will feel better physically and mentally for it.
So if we say we want a resolution, my advice is to go for bite-sized ones – not so small as to become routine and boring, not so big as to be impossible. And, without going crazy, let a few people know, as that sort of helps with the motivation. And, of course, no cheating. Because we know who we cheat when we cheat, don’t we?