You know what I’m not going to do in 2018? Run a marathon. I’m not going to ban my phone from the bedroom or swear to never press snooze again. I’m not going to call my grandma more often. I’m not going to volunteer at a food bank. I’m not going to be more patient with my toddler son. I’m not going to have more sex or take better care of my skin. I’m not going to get into those jeans. I’m probably not going to get round to painting behind the radiators and I’m definitely not going to start opening letters.
I’m going to carry on buying all my groceries from the corner shop and going to bed far too late. I’m going to be as flaky replying to emails as I’ve always been. I’m going to keep spending money on items I already own and I’m never going to read the book Sapiens (which I took on three holidays last year and each time it sat guiltily in my suitcase, taunting me with the person I could be but am evidently not).
And that right there is my New Year's resolution: to stop trying to better myself. If that sounds like the worst kind of resolution, please let me explain.
See, this last year I’ve noticed that nearly all conversations with my partner are about what we’ll do differently in the future. A series of ‘whens’ and ‘ifs’, we oil regrets and verbally write to-do-lists too hard to ever achieve, casually adding ‘move to the country’ right after ‘dance more’. We rarely express gratitude for what we have or discuss the time and space we currently occupy. Instead we focus on what we’re doing wrong and what can be improved. It’s exhausting.
It was while dancing round the kitchen laughing at our 2-year-old's moves that we decided we should dance more; I suddenly caught us turning a lovely impromptu moment into a thing we should do. The fun we were having became something to achieve rather than just experience. That’s when I realised that constantly striving to better my life was making me miserable. I was fuelling a desire to self-improve with constant self-critique: I don’t dance enough, laugh enough, give enough, work enough, mother enough.
2018 is the year that I draw a line under beating myself up. I’m fed up of analysing everything I could do better and berating myself when it’s not good enough. Take not volunteering at a food bank. If that’s your goal this year then please, please do it, it’s noble, it’s right; it’s what good people do. But everyone who doesn’t volunteer for a food bank isn’t a bad person; the world is not that binary. And fuck, beating myself up for everything I don’t do is infinite: I haven’t saved the world's oceans, I don’t own a rescue dog, I can’t fit a year’s waste into a jam jar, I’m not yet living off-grid, I’m not wearing clean socks…
I’ve had a horrible feeling lately, a strange panic that there is just too much to read and learn and not enough time to do it. I can send myself into a head spin trying to keep up with The New Yorker and The Guardian long reads, and just when I think I’m ahead of the news cycle, someone will mention a Netflix series I must have seen, and I’ll feel panicked because I haven’t found 10 hours this week for the latest drop. I buy more books than I can ever read and if I do the maths on how many books I can possibly get through in 2018 at my current rate of reading, well, my chest tightens and my mouth feels watery. I physically can’t read any more, yet it is still not enough.
Somehow, I’ve convinced myself that happiness is a destination I will arrive at if only I stopped forgetting to wash my face before bed, moved to the country, read everything, gave more time to charity and followed whatever tips the latest clickbait-happiness tells me. Oh, and dance more.
Here’s the flaw in that thinking: "There is no there." It’s the inspirational quote that has ended all inspirational quotes for me. Of course if I believe my happiness lies in the future, when I’m a better person doing better things, then I will never get there, because when I do, there will be something else to achieve; there’ll always be more ‘there’. Finding happiness in the flawed human I am and what I’m lucky enough to have right now has to be a much safer bet.
So 2018, this is what I pledge for you: a ban on TED talks and self-help books; a lot more shoulder shrugging, messy drawers, reading for pure pleasure; some thanks for my lovely life, the occasional beer before lunch and quite probably a late tax return.