It was New Year’s Eve 2008. I had spent six hours tirelessly working at the family desktop computer creating a ‘New Year, New Me’ Bebo Skin (a term used for the background of your Bebo profile, for those not in-the-know). Painstakingly, I had designed what I considered to be a modern masterpiece; a black background emblazoned with pink stars, and the aforementioned slogan placed right in the middle for all to see. I thought it was impossible for my group of online friends not to notice my change in attitude. “What do you think of my new Skin?”, I text my best friend. “I’ve decided that this year I’m growing up. I’m going to have my hair cut short, and I’m going to lose four stone. I’ve bought a weight loss DVD and everything.”
Suffice to say, my new-found optimism lasted no longer than it would have taken me to finish off a packet of chocolate digestives. The use of the weight loss DVD was short-lived, following waking up at 5:30am one morning, changing into my PE kit and tiptoeing downstairs to work up a sweat in the living room. After fifteen minutes of burpees and jumping jacks, my Mum came bounding in, furiously telling me to go back to bed or I would wake the whole house up. The DVD was placed to the back of the cupboard, and with it, all my motivations to fulfil the slogan on my precious Bebo Skin.
I wish I could say that my failed attempts at self-improvement were left in 2008. The truth is, however, that the onset of the new year still brings with it a compulsion to start afresh; to rid your bad habits and become a better version of yourself. Combined with the nauseating status’ on Facebook about ‘smashing 2018’ (probably written by people you haven’t spoken to since Year 11), you must also contend with the onslaught of brand campaigns convincing you to buy their juice detox kits, their meal planners and their sports bra’s. There is nothing worse than a January inbox filled with ‘Feeling Sluggish?’ emails, preying on your insecurities and urging you to combat the effects of the indulgence that they were promoting just a month before. The marketing of these products throughout the whole year literally relies on our self-doubt, as Mark Manson says, we are “existing in a culture designed to make us feel like shit… so we’ll always want to overcompensate in some way.” The effect of this is often an overwhelming pressure to set drastic goals, such as unachievable weight-loss targets. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t set up a meal plan for myself in the past that consisted entirely of cucumber, Ryvita and boiled eggs.
But what happens when you fail to achieve the personal goals that you have set for yourself? Often, this can lead to a sense of failure, and what Janet Polivy calls the ‘false hope syndrome.’ Feeling self-conscious about a certain aspect of yourself will result in a goal being set, and then when you fail to achieve it, you can end up feeling even more insecure than before.
This sense of expectation is not limited to the start of a new calendar year, either. It can occur throughout your lifetime, and is particularly apparent to me at the start of a new term. I will often foolishly set myself unfeasible academic and organisational goals, such as making sure I’ve read every one of my set texts in the summer months. When September rolls around and I’m frantically googling the plot to the novel I’m reading in my next seminar, I can’t help but curse at my own incompetencies.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that the setting of goals is a futile exercise. There was wide discussion on social media at the end of December that those posting about their New Year’s Resolutions were attention-seeking, and I do disagree with that sentiment. However, I believe that we do need to be kinder and more realistic with ourselves when we wish to progress, so what we are aiming for is more attainable, and we don’t end up berating ourselves when things don’t go to plan. For example, instead of saying “I need to get a place on a graduate scheme this year”, you should think, “every application I apply for shall be done to the best of my ability.”
I didn’t set myself a New Year’s Resolution this year. The truth is that throughout 2018 we will all learn new skills, encounter new experiences and undoubtedly grow as individuals. We will receive grades, travel to new countries, make new friends and read new books. Some of us will even graduate and move to different areas of the globe. Setting goals with a definitive end, such as getting that particular job, or reaching those numbers on the scales, will only mean disappointment if you fail to achieve them. Instead, this year I have decided to say yes to more opportunities and be open to change. Maybe if it was 2008 I would have even put that on my Bebo Skin? Who knows!