They have to be some of the least enticing words in the English language, crudely shoved together to make everyone feel bad about themselves on an annual basis: New Year's Resolutions. Eurgh.
There's a good reason 92 per cent of us can't keep them. Unlike Lent, when there's a pleasingly finite and restricted period in which to abstain from or recommit to something – and where there is a specific, God-related purpose behind it all to help keep you on the straight and narrow – NYRs have an indeterminate, seemingly endless timeframe. The implication is not simply that you will do/not do this thing for a year, even, but rather that you should be doing/not doing it for the rest of your natural life.
Whether it's detoxing, volunteering or learning Chinese, whatever you choose is usually big, difficult, life changing and something you feel vaguely guilty about on a day-to-day basis. It's something that, in the back of your mind, you feel certain you should have been accomplishing all along, and the resolution is just a catalyst to help you "kickstart" the new, better you.
Thing is, if it were that easy, you would be doing it already. Just because the day is January 1st, it doesn't mean you're any more likely to consistently keep up this daunting, never-ending task hanging over you. With the best will in the world, it's usually just too overwhelming, and too long, a commitment – it will end up driving you crazy, simply serving to ensure you feel inadequate all year long. No one needs that.
So here are five resolutions that I resolve NOT to make this year:
1. I will NOT read the Bible every day
I start off every New Year's Day scribbling down in a notebook "Read Bible every day", before piously absorbing 10 pages of the New Testament. The next day I read two pages. The day after that, I forget until 11pm, and then fall asleep midway through one measly chapter.
It's a fine enough ambition, and aiming to read the Bible regularly, perhaps carving out a specific time each week, is a great shout. But every day? I've learned over the course of many, many, many years of feeling disappointed with myself, that it's just not feasible for me. I end up accidentally missing a day and throw a tantrum, deciding I'm a useless failure and there's no point in bothering. Better to start with a less ambitious goal that I actually stand a chance of keeping.
2. I will NOT meditate by myself for 20 minutes each morning before work
Again, a noble calling – but one which exists in total isolation from the realities of my personality. Every time I meditate, I come away feeling blissfully peaceful and vowing to do it more often. At New Year, I think, "Hey, I'll just get up half an hour earlier every day and meditate!" This would be perfectly reasonable were I a morning person. Unfortunately, I am not. Cue one month of setting my alarm, snoozing my alarm, cursing at my alarm, and nodding off again.
Sometimes it's good to get a little help in these matters – joining a Christian meditation group that meet regularly is far more likely to have longevity as a plan than a half-hearted attempt at 7am in my pyjamas.
3. I will NOT put myself on the tech rota at church
You're often in such a "turning over a new leaf", energised, enthusiastic mood in January, that you just want to say yes to everything and everyone. What a lovely, generous impulse!
You know what's not lovely? Overcommitting, coming down with a stress headache, and feeling utterly paralysed by having too many responsibilities by the time February rolls around (with the only obvious solution being to lock yourself in the loos at work and have a little cry).
Volunteering for extra jobs is great, but only if you have the capacity, and only if it's something you can actually contribute helpfully to. I'm not one to hide my light under a bushel – I have many useful skills as a human being. Making audio/visual equipment work during services, with the eyes of the whole congregation on me as I struggle to switch on a laptop, is not one of them. Sometimes, it really is better to just say no.
4. I will NOT give an extra £100 to charity each month
Unless you are extremely lucky, it is highly unlikely you'll have had any kind of pay rise in the last, oh, I don't know, FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. Taking the time to reassess your giving is good. Blindly pledging another chunk of your salary when you're already incredibly financially overstretched, not so good. Times are hard, and while it's still important to tithe, bankrupting yourself with overzealous generosity is not particularly sensible or responsible.
5. I will NOT lose two stone/give up booze, chocolate, cake, crisps and live off kale and green tea
Life is hard. Depriving yourself of all the nice things for an entire year is not only unrealistic; it's pure, unadulterated madness.
Now, do excuse me while I finish off another leftover selection box.