New Year #Goals

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New Year #Goals

7 January 2016

It’s 2016, and plus ça change. But what constitutes progress? Our columnist’s attitude to resolutions is still far from resolved .

Last week, while hosting a New Year’s Eve dinner of leftover cold meat washed down with warm beer, I asked the assembled gathering if they had any resolutions for 2016. “Yes,” piped up one of them. “I’m going to stop making a sighing noise whenever I sit down.” Another friend followed suit. “I’m going to spend less time trolling the Daily Mail comments section,” he said. “And, while I’m at it, I’m also going to make a conscious effort to stop saying, ‘You too’ when a waiter says, ‘Enjoy your meal.’ I hate it when I do that.”

As my friends took it in turns to set forth their hopes and expectations for the coming year, I began to notice a trend. Not one of them professed a desire to learn a new language, lose weight, train for an ultramarathon or otherwise reinvent themselves as a better, stronger, happier person. Instead, they all plumped for what your in-house management guru might refer to as “the low-hanging fruit”. So low in some cases, in fact, that it appeared already to have fallen off the tree and begun to rot among the leaves. Is 2016 the year of the laughably unambitious resolution? I sincerely hope so.

That’s because these are the only kind of resolutions I’ve ever managed to stick to in the past. They’re gestures at best, deliberately expressed in such loose terms that they’re nigh on impossible to break. “Be more mindful”, for example, was one. Was I any more mindful that year? I couldn’t say, for sure. But I can’t prove that I wasn’t, either. “Write more” was another. That one was easy. As I’d just started a new job, as a writer, that year, I might as well have rephrased it “show up for work”. Meanwhile, resolutions with more easily quantifiable goals – “get a promotion” or “go to the gym three times a week” – have met with markedly lower success rates.

You’ll understand, then, if I don’t take advantage of the arrival of a new year to announce my plans to pen an era-defining work of literary art. I regret to inform you that I won’t be revealing my intention to develop a rock-hard set of abs in time for summer, either. And as for my apparent determination to run a marathon on every continent in the world, well, I simply don’t know where you’re getting your information from. Call me a pessimist if you will, but I don’t see any point in signing a contract that I know I’m going to break. Besides, I’ve got bigger fish to fry – and bigger social expectations to sidestep – in 2016.

Low-hanging fruit? My resolutions appeared already to have fallen off the tree and begun to rot among the leaves

Why? I’m turning 30 this September and with my twenties all but at an end – a decade of sparkling, youthful promise dwindled down to a few short remaining months – the question of “how did you spend them?” is looming large on the horizon. What should a man have achieved by the time he hits the big three-zero? Money? Last week, when I visited my bank manager for my annual start-of-year financial check-up, he used the actual phrase “treading water”. That’s one up from drowning, I thought, and rewarded myself with a pair of new Nikes on the way home.

Health? While it pains me to admit that my physical peak may now be behind me, I can’t say I feel terribly guilty about having let it pass me by. Aristotle once said “it is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable”, but I’ll bet he never had to spend two hours a day on the London public transport network. Stick to Ancient Greece, pal. I’ll do 2016.

What about love? When we were young, most of us would probably have pictured ourselves as married by the age of 30. I was no different. With apologies to my younger self, I’m afraid to say I’m even further away from achieving that goal than I was a year ago. What about children? Well, I’ve only got eight months left till the big 3-0, so unless I got someone pregnant over Christmas – and I’m roughly 98 per cent sure I didn’t – then I guess I’ve missed the deadline for that one, too. But then, what the hell did we know as kids? We were just projecting our parents’ lives onto our own.

Last week, when I visited my bank manager, he used the phrase ‘treading water’. That’s one up from drowning, I thought

Here’s a resolution for 2016. Instead of measuring my life by the yardstick of another’s, I’ll take comfort from the fact that nobody has a better idea of what it means to be a very-nearly-30-something man living in London with a bit of student debt, an underperforming stock portfolio, a 0.08 per cent investment in a house, a few good friends and a love life that’s patchy at best – in other words, what it means to be me – right now than I do. Not my parents, not my bank manager, and no, not even the philosophers of Ancient Greece.

It means accepting who I am, realising that my goals aren’t necessarily the same as everybody else’s and living my life accordingly. It means, crucially, channelling my efforts away from trying to be a “better” person – a desire that seems to lie at the heart of most ill-advised new year’s resolutions – and just trying to be a little truer to myself instead.

Yesterday, somebody asked me how far I felt my life had progressed since this time last year. His question dripped with sneering condescension. This is a man who strolls through life with the smug-faced air of someone who has never once questioned his own choices. I told him how, on 1 January 2015, I’d woken on the floor of a strange house somewhere in north London with a hangover that could have taken down a rhinoceros, or at least given it serious cause to question its recent life decisions. And how this time, though I’d welcomed the new year in a similar physical state, I had at least woken up in my own bed. Unambitious? Perhaps. But try and tell me that’s not progress.

Illustrations by Mr Giacomo Bagnara