It's the middle of January. You've been back at work for at least a week or two, you've drunk several cups of coffee, and you're well and truly engaged with the all-consuming existential dread that comes from the never-fucking-ending start that is the new year. You know this feeling; we did it last year. And the year before that. And every year before that, going back to a certain age. The age where you started to get that itch that got you wanting to start things rolling yourself, rather than just letting them pan out on their own.
Mine started earlier than most I think, around my late twenties, when the creeping feeling that January was the tester month, the try-before-you-by option of the coming year, kicked in. Happily far enough away from the holiday weeks of eating crap and sitting around doing nothing, you were still actually on leave, but you could start planning your goals and ideals for the coming year.
Then my thirties hit, and the constant low-grade, high-functioning anxiety with it, so that was good fun. Except, obviously, it wasn't. I still got stuff done, but I started to worry about what I was getting done, how much I was getting done, and if the things I was doing were worth getting done.
Before I lose you all in vagaries, think about all your 'new years' resolutions'; eat better, exercise more, spend less, spend more time with people you actually like, doing things you actually enjoy, etc., etc. I don't do new years' resolutions anymore, for lots of reasons, but we'll come to that. I think they're all good and well, helpful even, but problematic. Mainly due to aforementioned anxiety. And I'm not alone in this. We all get it. That's why January, even into the great grey beast February, seems to drag on like something alive and sinister, swallowing us and all our good intentions whole before we can even get into the swing of the new year.
Soz. Went a bit dark there for a moment. Blame Clive Barker.
Anyway. Where I'm going with this is this; the first few months of the new year are almost always rather brutal. Even when you're feeling on top of the world, buoyed by great plans and expectations, it's almost always a monumental effort to slog through them; the constant struggle to get back into a routine, the fake cheerfulness, the repetition of said goals to yourself and anyone else who'll listen. And I'm here to tell you something I've realised, something simple, yet mind-blowing when you get into it; it's all bullshit. Grade A, first-class, bullshit.
I know, mental, right?
So we're all following the same thread, let me lay it out for you, starting from all the way back when. In November, the giddy feeling of completing another year starts to infuse our whole being. The general impression that we did the best we could, we won some, we lost some, but we got out there - it all sinks into our very bones, ready for the kickback atmosphere of the holiday season. This feeling lasts for a good few weeks.
Around mid-December it all goes sideways obviously, with lunches and catch-ups, parties and get-togethers; basically any excuse to add booze to a meet-up. Which is fine and well, and also where the line of forward planning becomes real fuzzy and hard to grasp. Somewhere between drinks with the team, family lunches, and plans for that weird break between xmas and new year, we lose all sense of time and space, forgetting what day it is, let alone what month we're in. And then suddenly we're back at work, hunched over our desk, having a mild panic attack about deadline and meetings, how much weight we've put on, and craving yet another ill-advised chocolate bar from the leftover xmas stash.
Ok, maybe that last part is just me. Then again, all things considered, maybe not.
And then it all goes *seriously* pear-shaped. Real, deep and meaningful panic blooms like a fungus, and then, here we are; back at the existential dread stage. You start to question how much you can achieve this year if you're already so overwhelmed you feel like you can't breathe. You sweat over whether the amount of debt you accrued over xmas will ever go away, or whether you'll get that promotion you've been angling for. You worry about your family, your health, your general sense of wellbeing, and finely dissect every conversation you have with every single person you speak to, like the carefree being you were over the holidays never existed at all.
There it is. The giant roadblock that fucks you up and halts any forward motion of beneficial merit. Paralysed by indecision and self-doubt, you instead incessantly second-guess yourself about things you've either already planned for or are totally out of your control. Out loud, it sounds like you're just checking yourself, dotting i's and crossing t's, but inside, you know exactly what you're doing. And it's horrible.
This is the part where I call bullshit. This is the point where I took a solid look at myself, all those years ago, and gave it a hard pass. Where I decided it was all too hectic, too stressful, too much, and went yea but nah. And I think you should too. You know why?
Because, exactly like I said, it's rubbish. Society has conditioned us to think like this, marketing has compelled us to believe all sorts of crap, and we do. Needless to say, nothing has changed. Not really. We've just physically moved from one year to another, and society has drilled into us this awful sense of foreboding that if we haven't started achieving anything, openly and matter-of-factly producing results, by the time you notice it's another year gone by, we're less than we were. We're not, obviously. I know this, you know this, everyone actually fucking knows this. But we fall into the trap of believing all the magazines and all the newspapers, touting this 'new year, new me' malarkey, force-feeding us on how to work and live and even breathe better (you wish I was kidding with that last one. I'm not). Why? Because it's designed to tap into making us feel better, making us feel accomplished already, without any of the blood, sweat, and tears that actual work requires. We get the brief moment of euphoria, that opalescent glimmer of our theoretically better selves and strive to reach that, before crashing rudely back to reality and all the shit we haven't done.
At which point, we read another stupid article on the best way to lose belly fat or save money or, kill me, how to be the best version of you, and suddenly we're catapulted back up to the unrealistic heights of expectation that are never, ever going to happen.
This is because fear is not a great motivator. It's great for momentum, not so much for getting people to change. Change comes when you genuinely want things to be different. When, despite the fact that staying the same would easier, nicer, and much, much more physically and mentally comfy, you really want the thing at the end of the transformation. More than you want to do nothing.
Plus, everything is more palatable to deal with in bite-sized chunks. That's why real change is also about habit; if you get used to feeling a little bit uncomfortable, knowing that at the end of the incrementally annoying tunnel there's a big fat light, you find it so much easier to put up with it.
Again, this is why 'new years' resolutions' are bullshit; if you really want to change, change now. Right now. If you really want to lose weight, don't eat crap all the time - let yourself have treats and exercise more. If you really want to save money, balance your spending with your saving, and do the research on how to budget with what you have. If you want to have a better relationship with people, don't wait until January 1 - stop being an asshole now and start talking to people more.
Using an arbitrary date with which to make life decisions is like staying up until midnight every weeknight and trying to catch up on sleep at the weekend; it creates a debt. One which you can never overcome, you can never beat, you can never recover from. Expecting the results to be different isn't just ridiculous, it's stupid.
Here's the thing. Let's begin the new year as we mean to go along. Not with 'resolutions', but with affirmations, or reaffirmations. Look at all the things you achieved last year, and keep doing those. Look at all the shit that held you back, and stop doing that. Go easy on yourself in the first few months of year, because habit takes time and no one is holding a gun to your head. Pretend January (and February really) are August and October. Take one step, one week, one month at a time, and try to enjoy the sluggishness of the first quarter, because you've got a whole year to hustle (and by the gods, you will). And trust me, in three months you'll have achieved more than you thought you could, struggled less than you realised, and still got to have a good time.
So. Breathe through the panic attack. Have another coffee, but maybe not the danish. Think about all the cool things you're going to get done, but don't obsess over them. Give yourself a pat on the back and a quiet little round of applause for getting this far.