Tag Archives: resolutions

True, But Not Useful

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Happy February, lovely reader.  How is 2016 treating you so far?

I realise that I’m a bit late to discuss this, but today I want to chat to you about new year’s resolutions.  I think I’ve told you before that my friend Paul and I observe a slightly strange tradition: every year, we write five new year’s resolutions on coffee stirrers, and then play pooh sticks with them on the Hungerford Bridge.  Our vague/specious/utterly unprovable premise is that whoever’s pooh stick comes out the other side of the bridge first is most likely to succeed in their resolution.  Yes, we think it’s silly as well.  But what is friendship about if not exuberant silliness?*

The slightly more mature aspect of our annual custom is that we always talk our resolutions through before we write them.  Paul and I have been friends for a very long time, and our relationship allows us to be very honest and compassionate with one another.  We talk each other out of insanely ambitious ideas (“You can’t write an entire novel in a year.  You have to sleep and eat at some point.”) and we encourage each other to pursue things that we will enjoy. (“Write one about archery.  You love archery.”)

Every year we sit and assess the choices we made twelve months ago, and we try to work out what effect they have had on our lives.  If we fail to stick to a previous resolution, can (and should) we roll it over to this year?  If we try our best at something that doesn’t pan out, is sadness a good enough excuse to let it go?  How vague are we allowed to be about the fact that, underneath all of these promises to ourselves, we would basically just like to be happy?  And rich, ideally?

As he ages, Paul is becoming incredibly wise (which sounds insane to those of us who remember him at university), and this year as we sat and wrote our resolutions he advised me to approach things as either true or useful.  For example, there’s no point in making a resolution like “I will not fall madly in love with someone who is bad for me”, because it’s usually based on something that is true but not useful, such as “I have in the past fallen madly in love with people who were very bad for me, and I got hurt”.  And how the heck are you supposed to predict something like that, anyway?

It is important to know the difference between what is true and what is useful, my lovely reader.  It may be true that bad things have happened to you, but it is not useful.  It may be true that people have hurt you, but that is not useful either.  It may also be true that you have made mistakes in the past, but guess what?  It ain’t useful.  Thinking about your future plans under the umbrella of previous pain is negatively reactive, and your future should be all about being proactive.  God, I sound pretentious.  Sorry about that.

But the point stands: your future is an exciting thing, and what you decide to do with it should be based on how fabulous you want to feel, not how much negative stuff you want to avoid.  And I implore you, you lovely thing: be excited about the future.  Don’t be scared of it.  It’s only a metaphysical concept of an aspect of the fourth dimension, after all.

Also, have your favourite dinner this evening.  You deserve it.

*It’s also worth pointing out that last year Paul won with a devastating 4 sticks to 1, which corresponds almost exactly with how our resolutions panned out in 2015.
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Pooh Sticks and Perfect Intentions

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Happy 2015, dear reader.  How are you?  I hope your festive season was joyful, relaxing and as sparkly as possible.

I’m sure that everyone’s Christmas experience is unique, but there are a couple of thoughts that most (if not all) of us have towards the end of the holiday season:

1) I love my family, but I could probably go a few weeks/months/decades without seeing them now.
2) I have GOT to eat a salad.

Ending the year with good intentions for the future leads me neatly onto my main topic for today, which is new year’s resolutions.  Of course, many people don’t want or need the excuse of January 1st to try new things or give stuff up.  In some ways it seems bizarre to block out twelve months of our lives and classify them as having been collectively “good” or “bad”, and to make decisions about our future based on the events that took place during that time.  Is that why the tradition of making resolutions prevails in our culture?  Because we need to believe that we can divide our lives into units of what we have done and what we are going to do?

There is nothing wrong with doing this, of course, or with most traditions in general.  Tradition – as the characters of Fiddler on the Roof know very well – is extremely important.  Traditions can be religious, cultural or local.  They can even be something that only you and one other person abide by, such as the annual game of pooh sticks that I play on Hungerford Bridge with my friend Paul.  We do it on New Year’s Day, and each stick represents a resolution for the year ahead.  The original idea was that the person whose stick came out first was most likely to keep their resolution.  This year it was so windy that our sticks kept flying back to hit us in the knees, so we had to improvise slightly.  (“Shall we just go to the other side of the bridge and chuck them downriver?”  “Er…yeah.”)

I don’t know about you, but Paul and I usually find that our resolutions stay fairly similar year on year: there’s always a resolution about learning to manage our money, and another about improving ourselves in general.  There also tends to be something project-based (Paul: “Build a PC!”) and an optimistic love life goal (Me: “Sort it out”).  In some ways it is disheartening to think that our aims are inching rather than leaping forward, but then who can be expected to completely change their lives in just one year?  Or two?  Or three?  Or…oh…I’m spotting a problem here…

People’s resolutions stay similar because we are only human.  No matter how many years we are given or how good our intentions are at the time of resolve, we will probably never achieve complete perfection.  Paul, God bless him, never criticises me for the fact that “clear my overdraft” has been on my resolutions list for the last three years in a row, and I appreciate that.  He does remind me of my successes, e.g. last year I resolved to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe, which I did.

This time of year can be very tricky, because we are caught in a limbo world of recovering from the previous year and trying to plan the next.  If we think that we have made little progress over the past year, we can become pessimistic about what we are capable of in the next one.  The important thing is to keep going, keep trying, and to make sure that you have people around you who will remind you of how far you’ve come.

Have a glorious Friday, and a wonderful 2015.  You have achieved a lot more than you think.

Give Up and Give Out

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My friends are wonderful, intelligent and fascinating people, but sometimes their decisions defy logic.

This afternoon I went for a meal at T.G.I. Friday’s with a group of my closest friends, and we had a brilliant time together.  Three of us were waiting for the others at the bar for a few minutes, and our conversation went like this:

“Oh God, I’m so hungover.”
“Me too.”
“Urrrrrgggh.  What drink are you getting?”
“Bloody Mary.”
“Blueberry mojito.”
“URRRRGGGH.”

As you can see, our awareness of consequences does not always extend to making good decisions.  Lent starts this week, and although I am not particularly religious on a day to day basis, I am as ready as the next person to take advantage of the season of self-improvement.

I have decided (except on my birthday) not to drink alcohol during Lent.  Don’t look at me like that; I mean it.  Sadly, this is based on fairly small-minded concerns like money, calorie intake and my social graces (or lack thereof).  I think that most people give up things during Lent for similar reasons, though.  People give up smoking and junk food because they want to be healthier, not because they think that their decision will do the wider world any good.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that per se,  but I think during Lent it’s important to try to think about other people, too.

Again, this isn’t based on a religious idea so much as the premise that if you are working on self-improvement physically or personally by subtracting a bad habit, you should use the extra time/money/energy you have to go out and contribute something positive to someone else.  My house mate, who is already very good at thinking of others and being generous towards them, is considering taking up volunteering during Lent.  She’s suggested to me that I take up some kind of mentoring position, perhaps in a local school.  The whys, wherefores and the “holy crap, not another CRB check” aside, I am pretty excited about helping people.

It would be very easy  for someone like me (i.e. an unemployed person) to get bogged down worrying about myself and what will happen to me.  I am incredibly lucky, because I have got amazing friends and family who support my decision not to go after anymore office jobs, so I don’t actually have to worry about myself right now.  What I should be focusing on is how the extra time I’ve got on my hands can be used to help other people.

Obviously it would be nice to say that I will maintain my Lent resolutions forever, not just for a couple of months.  I should, in fact, be thinking about other people all the time, not just in the run up to Easter.  Some people think that it’s pointless to give up bad habits for a pre-defined period of time, and that’s fair enough.  But I hope that in making myself stick to a certain routine of behaviour for a matter of weeks, I will learn good habits that I will carry on automatically after Easter.  You never know…

Have a lovely evening everyone!