At this time of year, our newspapers are filled with reviews and summaries of the years gone by. In general, 2016 will be declared a stinker for reasons that I do not need to list in detail here. Anyone who has used social media in 2016 will be aware how these events have been received. On top of the celebrity deaths, there has been the reaction to Brexit and Trump, involving much name-calling, finger-pointing, chest-thumping and general displays of hatred, often in the name of debate or comment. It has been deeply unpleasant.
So what will 2017 be like? January is a month of hope, mainly because we have no idea of the atrocities and abominations that lie ahead.
Personally, I dislike January. It's usually quite cold and crisp, and I like that. It's the gym that irritates. Over the last few years, I've got into the habit of going for a swim most days after lunch, as I try to undo the damage of being hunched over a laptop for four hours a day. Swimming may not be getting me fit, or buff, but I like to think it's keeping me upright.
In January, however, the gym is packed with temporary fitness fanatics, or people turning over a new leaf, trying to lose weight and generally getting in the way. Swimming lanes that had previously contained one or two in November now have four or five bodies furiously zipping up and down. The only comfort for us boring smug regulars is that most of these folk will be gone in a few weeks. And their membership fees will continue to subsidise ours.
If all of the above makes me sound grumpy and curmudgeonly, then maybe January is an opportunity for me to work on that. It is traditionally the time when people consider self-improvement. We attempt to say goodbye to the old self and try to usher in the new.
This is something Christians should ideally be doing all year round, or at least weekly as we repent of the sins of the week gone by and commit ourselves afresh to serving Christ in the future. Because this should be done weekly, or even daily, I try to avoid new year's resolutions or annual fresh starts.
As a result, in the Autumn of 2016, I decided to not to wait for 2017 to start something new. I started taking lessons in the Alexander Technique. It's a thing actors do. It's related to Pilates and is concerned with making better use of our bodies, bones and muscles. As I learn, I realise it's not so much about learning good posture, but unlearning bad habits. My life with a laptop has led to a few pains and problems and this will only get worse. I'm hoping these lessons will help me reverse or at least slow down that process.
And here's the first lesson I learned that might be useful for all of us in making 2017 a better year. It's this: stop. Before you make a movement, stop and think how you're going to do it. Rather than merely reacting, or acting instinctively, you act intentionally. But this only happens if you pause and take a moment first.
How would 2017 look if we all did that? We have no control over the events that take place. We can decide how we react both in person and on social media. We can stop before expressing opinions, jumping to conclusions and impugning the motives of others. Rather than sharing a meme on Facebook that reinforces our opinions and belittles others, stop. If it's a joke, ask yourself if sharing it is helpful or kind. If it's a fact, check whether it's actually true, especially if it's the kind you'd like to be true.
It's hard to do this when all around you people are venting, tweeting and sharing all kinds of partisan bile. To these people, the truth is so obvious and the villains crystal clear. They revel in name-calling, knowing full well they will never look the victims of their speech in the eye. Here's a tip. Mute them. Unfollow them. Cut them out of your eye-line. If you don't, these people will drag you back to what you were, undoing all the unlearning.
Identify times where you're likely to get sucked into a petty debate. For me, it was Facebook fights I was prone to comment on via my phone when I was on a train or tube journey. My solution was to delete Facebook from my phone. Try it. Unless of course you're reading this piece via Facebook on your phone. Although it ends here. So what's stopping you?
James Cary is a comedy writer (Bluestone 42, Miranda) and author of Death By Civilisation.