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Are New Year Resolutions a Waste of Time?

Emily Armstrong decides this year to eschew the ‘New Year, New You’ mantra in favour of ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and finally lets go of the miserable January guilt trap.

New Year Resolutions - frankly, I’m done. I can barely get through the week with my plans on track, let alone plan a year and this year I honestly feel the concept of ‘New Year, New You’ feels outdated and tone-deaf at best and pie-in-the-sky nonsense at worst. I can say that without judgement given I was very much part of the message machine. For the past 20+ years, I’ve worked in magazines and digital women’s lifestyle media that pedalled a familiar message. Every January, content was a variation on the ‘New Year, New You’ theme. But really - we don’t need a ‘new you’, or even new years resolutions, we just need to be enough.

If you’re living in the northern hemisphere, January is the bleakest month imaginable - if you can get through it as the old you let alone a new incarnation, then you are already winning. If you’re somewhere with a more agreeable climate (like my homeland Australia) then all of January is the summer holiday season - when you should be basking in the sunshine, swimming in the sea and feasting with loved ones, without the burden of new routines and regimes. And anywhere in the world right now, you’re bound to be feeling some degree of stress - post-covid, the cost of living crisis, and/or the depressing news of political, social and environmental nature. So really, this is not the time to pile on any more pressure.

While new year resolutions are mostly positive, the issue lies in the retention of new habits and the often unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. According to a recent YouGov study commissioned by the Deliciously Ella brand, only 6% of us continue our new January practices past the end of the month. We get excited at the start of any new fresh chapter - there is a dopamine high from setting new goals but what often follows is a low. We get frustrated when our gym pass gathers dust, when we can’t get the whole meditation thing, and when the scales haven't changed despite giving up our comfort food. What happens then? Where is the joy?

This new year marks a first for me. It’s the first year I have given up the 'New Year, New You’ mantra in favour of ‘Right Here, Right Now’ and scrapped new year resolutions entirely. This is quite something as I was possibly the most dedicated ‘New Year, New You’ groupie that ever was. From my teens until my 40’s I would make endless lists - so many that I would have to categorise them. This is not strictly my personality as I am largely more impulse and heart-led than organised and list-led - but I felt very attached to the fresh start mentality - possibly due to media consumption and production and a steadfast guilt-ridden desire to always be a better person.

So what’s changed now? The rose-tinted glasses and the gloves are off! I’m mid-40s and wincing at every ‘New Year, New You’ message. Many things have contributed to this awakening - I am older, trying to be wiser, and I’ve lived REAL life - the pandemic, several international moves, love, loss, parenting teens and toddlers while navigating peri-menopause, ageing parents, experiencing family illness and tragedy, guilt and regret, but also an abundance of gratitude, positivity, hope and fun. In essence, living the reality of adult life and its normal ups and downs. I’m also acutely aware of this time in our history when women are simply not accepting the narrative that we must be, do, and look better.

Covid happened and it changed things. The biggest realisation is that we had to navigate a (very long) moment in time that was so wholly out of our control that we had to surrender - to disappointment, frustration and ultimately, our control over our plans - for the next week let alone year and started to live day-by-day. The term ‘pivot’ was overused as businesses and individuals justified their new ways of operating and living. But they were right. Pivot we must. Every day if need be. As we embrace the post-pandemic period, my vague suspicion that the ‘you only have today’ concept is absolutely the right one has been confirmed. For years, the quote ‘Forget the past, it doesn’t matter, forget the future, it hasn’t met you yet’ rang true but it was a lovely little sentiment that had no real impression on my life at the time. I pinned it on Pinterest. I rather nauseatingly posted it on Instagram and messaged my friends the screenshot who were enduring a life quandary. I shelved it for me.

Until now.

Having a child (my fourth) in my forties during the pandemic, moving countries (again) and all that entailed has taught me that we really only ever have this moment - not even the day - but the right here, right now. And yes, it helps me to chant it in my mind like I’m at a Fatboy Slim gig in Brighton in 1999. Right here, Right now. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.

It’s a notable transition from endless lists, plans, manifesting, hoping and dreaming (ok I still do all the hoping and dreaming bit, it’s in my nature and I’m fully invested in its role) but anxiety abides somewhat when you realise your power is in this very moment in time and not the future plans or the past mistakes. There is power in the now. I admit that sounds very Eckhart Tolle and not very me and yet, it calms me. It lets me forgive, myself. It empowers me. It’s a very manageable time frame and it works well to mitigate the fallout of regret and disappointment that past and future obsessing can stir up.

Manifestation or the art of manifesting is an age-old practice that has been under the spotlight in recent years and opinions are divided on whether it can actually work to realise the goals, hopes and dreams that you envisage. I have tried manifesting but somehow it didn’t feel right for me. The cynical side of the largely dreamy me would emerge when I was trying to create boards. I’m sure I wasn’t doing it right but it became too much about material things - the temptation to find an image of a beautiful house or a beach house, holidays and so on were really missing the point. When I sat quietly and worked out what it was I really wanted in any given year, I realised that I actually had everything I always wanted. Boom. There it was - the stunning realisation that I had enough. I was enough. 

When I sat quietly and worked out what it was I really wanted in any given year, I realised that I actually had everything I always wanted. Boom. There it was - the stunning realisation that I had enough. I was enough.

Human desire is a natural part of life and I will admit to ambition and to hoping and dreaming for more - trips to Australia, a bigger house and a renovation at least, more time for yoga, horse riding and a photography course, taking the family on safari in Africa and I really do want those Jessica McCormack gypset diamond earrings one day! But really and truly - life is a gift, health is wealth and love is all I need.

So what does a 'Right Here, Right Now' way of living look like for me? I’m yet to figure it out! But it’s largely about living each day finding little moments of joy, acting more like a friend to myself than an enemy, remembering to laugh, trying not to judge myself against the perceived success of others, and being open to whatever might be around the corner. And that feels both comforting and super exciting.

Always feel like something wonderful is about to happen.’ is pinned to my messy kitchen notice board in lieu of a vision board. It feels like the right amount of hopes and dreams for me this year. I am starting 2023 simply putting one foot in front of the other, feeling grateful and hopeful, and cheering everyone on for just doing our best - right here, right now.