New year is a time that can come with lots of expectations. Many people take the time to make resolutions that reflect what they hope the new year will look like. Others take up new hobbies or join a gym. If nothing else, for most people January is when they put the excesses of Christmas, the wine, chocolate and cheese , behind them and at least try to be a little healthy.
One thing I often hear from clients in December is that the outgoing year was ‘not their year’ and that everything will start again in a much better place in January. However, they often wake up on the 1st and things feel exactly the same. Even once the Hogmanay hangover wears off, the facts of life remain. What made it feel ‘not your year’ in 2019, is still there in 2020.
The thing is, we expect to arrive in January feeling different, somehow empowered to take the steps we couldn’t quite manage the year before towards the life we want. We’re told by every magazine headline and online article that with the changing of the date to a new year, we automatically get a ‘new you’. The issue with this is that it puts you in the middle as the problem that holds you back from all your hopes and dreams. The inherent message is that there was something wrong with the 'old you' and that you need fixing. Hear this loud and clear: you are not the problem.
On the other hand, I've seen an increasing number of comments, opinion pieces and even instagram posts slamming the very idea that January should be seen as a fresh start. In their argument, these voices point out everything from the amount of pressure it puts on people, to the fact that years, dates and even time are concepts created by humans and therefore meaningless. If subscribing to a new year doesn't come with a free gift of a new you, then why bother changing at all?
The thing is, I'm all for change. My work as a counsellor recognises change as an entirely necessary and healthy part of being human. But my work also teaches me that when people are made to feel that there is something wrong with them, that can actually prevent growth and development. So what's the way forward?
If you do want to make changes in your life, whether that be in January or July, here are some things to think about:
Firstly, take the pressure off. Stop expecting yourself or your life to feel different overnight. Real, sustainable change takes time. One study found that forming a new habit takes, on average, 66 days but can even take up to 8 months(1). Instead of looking at change as a one-time decision, seeing it as a series of small day-after-day choices (granola bar over twix, book over netflix, going to bed on time over staying up).
Secondly, ask yourself, who are you changing for? Are you joining an exercise class because you genuinely want to get more fit, or because you feel you need to confirm to some sort of societal body image standard? Are you taking up a new hobby because you really want to experience something new, or because you think it'll look or sound good in some way? When our primary motivation is doing something that we love, we are far better able to stick with it. When we allow the opinions of others to be our motivation, we get discouraged and give up much more easily.
Thirdly, be kind to yourself. We've already established that real change doesn't happen quickly. There will be days when you don't make it to your class, don't remember your keep cup, or can't be bothered being mindful. That's ok. Getting it wrong once doesn't mean you can't start again the next day. It may help to get other people alongside you who can encourage you and remind you why you were wanting to make this change in the first place.
For those who don't want to make resolutions or attempt any changes in the new year period, that's an entirely valid decision. Maybe you like the way life feels at the moment or maybe January already feels like a dark and cold enough month to get through without depriving yourself of wine, chocolate and cheese. Perhaps you could use the time to be the one encouraging a friend who is trying to make changes.
Whatever you choose to do, I'm wishing you all the best for 2020.