Kelly Bertrand says a resounding ‘stuff you’ to the idea we have to become ‘new’ people at the start of a new year, because what the hell was wrong with the old people?
It’s a funny thing, the dawn of a new year. It’s a universal symbol of hope, of renewal, of opportunity and of closure – and that’s at the best of times.
So when we’ve endured a year that we might refer to as ‘challenging’ or ‘a shit show’, it makes plenty of sense that we’d be looking to the start of the next year as some kind of fresh start or new chapter, or whatever other cliché you’d like to call it.
It’s the time of newness, of resolutions, of determination and of change, and for women especially, that impulse always, without fail, manifests as a catchy magazine headline – ‘New Year, New Me’. As someone who has splayed that very headline across the cover of a magazine, I unreservedly apologise.
Because the ‘New Year, New Me’ idea is utter bullshit for anyone who doesn’t run a weight loss company, a gym or a boujee stationary brand. It’s a marketing tool aimed at getting us when we’re at our most vulnerable (and the most willing to part with our money).
While the start of a new year can most definitely serve as a motivating factor in setting and achieving goals, it can also set you up for failure even before you’ve downed that first glass of bubbles at 12.01, and that is exactly what we are NOT here for in the new year, team.
So, here’s why you should ditch the ‘New Year, New Me’ vibe and literally be your best self, without a keto diet or juice cleanse in sight.
What the hell is wrong with the old me?
Let’s start here with the most basic takeaway from the ‘NYNM’ mantra. Why do you have to be a new you – especially after what you’ve managed to achieve in the past 12 months? Because if you’re reading this, you have achieved a wonderful thing. You got through it. (And you also have wonderful taste in websites). And that means, you also grew.
The idea that you have to be ‘new’ is actually quite dangerous on the old mental health. While there is always room for self-reflection, adjustments and development, the idea is to grow, not replace. It’s a notion that mental health advocate and author Matt Haig took to Twitter to discuss, with the below tweet going viral:
“You don’t need a new you. You don’t need replacing every year like another iPhone. Don’t throw yourself away like another piece of plastic trash. Love the old you. Improve, evolve, do better, but head towards yourself, not away. Be gentle with your mind. Happy New Year.”
Think back to your life’s biggest mistakes – yeah, they sucked, but also think of the lessons you learned, of the pride you had in yourself when you didn’t make them again, when you bettered yourself by learning. Your power lies in all sides of you – the good, the bad, the sides you would really rather the world didn’t see. To try and discard all of that for a shiny, happy ‘new’ you is not only silly, but it’s impossible. And if you don’t realise that, you’re already doomed to feel ill of yourself.
It also feeds into a phenomenon we all face daily – comparison. It’s smacked in our faces every time we open up Instagram – ‘Shit, should I be getting up at 5.30am every day to go for a run too?’ ‘Why does her house look so much nicer than mine?’. The New Year can ‘inspire’ us to make changes to be ‘just like them’, and, again, it’s setting yourself up for failure. On that point…
Don’t set yourself up for failure before you even start
By (probably drunkenly) declaring that this year, you’re going to be NEW, HAPPY, SHINY AND SPARKLY as you watch the New Year fireworks by losing weight, saving money, eating better and finding your dream job (oh and of course finding your lobster), you’ve already A-grade stuffed yourself, because guess what – unless the universe is taking a particularly wonderful shining to you, all of that isn’t going to happen.
There’s a Latin phrase – deus ex machina – which I love, and think of every time someone talks about a new year resolution. It’s a term that literally means ‘god from the machine’, but also refers to a person, thing or plot device that is suddenly introduced into a scenario and unexpectedly provides a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem, often in a contrived way. (So, the whole last season of Lost).
That’s what resolutions are to me – just because you say you’re finally going to do something, it doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen, and people seem to rely on a deus ex machina turning up into their lives to fix a damaged and implausible plot.
Do you actually know of anyone who has kept a New Year’s resolution? The overwhelming majority of people who have made them have failed by February, according to a major US study, and it’s not hard to see why.
Psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert says there’s three reasons – they’re not specific enough, you’re not framing them positively, or the resolution isn’t about you.
It’s also not a great time to be starting most of the most common resolutions – diet, exercise etc – as we’re all out of our normal routines. It takes three weeks to form a new habit, and when you’re down at the bach with a perpetual bowl of chips and dip in front of you and a chilly bin full of seltzers at your feet, how the hell are you supposed to stick with it?
There’s actually another Latin phrase – tabula rasa – that literally means blank slate, and it’s what a lot of people reckon the New Year gives you. But you certainly don’t have to wait until the calendar flips over to start something new – and just because it does, it doesn’t mean you become a completely new person.
If you want to quit smoking, or stop with fast food, that’s awesome – but do it when you want to do it and when it feels right. Don’t wait for a date. The New Year shouldn’t be a time when you pressure yourself into doing something you aren’t ready for, or something you haven’t committed to fully in your heart and soul. Again, it’s setting yourself up for horrific failure.
So, what should you do instead?
- Make a vision board that depicts your hopes and dreams
- Write a list of everything you’re grateful for to set you up in the most positive frame of mind possible
- Create a bucket list of achievements you’d like to work towards
- Write a reflection of the past 12 months – specifically how you’ve grown, the lessons you’ve learnt, the positive memories, and how you’ve changed as a person
Say goodbye to the year that was
There are so many great memes going around at the moment that poke fun at the collective wishful thinking that there will somehow be a magical switch at 12.01 on New Year’s Day, and everything will be better. You know as well as I do that that’s a load of BS.
Instead, say a big so long and farewell to the past year – but take with you the stronger, more resilient and more enlightened person you became during the year that changed everything. Remember the lessons you learned in lockdown – less is more, homecooked is great, family and friends are everything. Retain the new skills you learnt because you had to. Continue to enjoy the simple things. Think about how your relationships changed – with others, and with the world around you.
Because, you already are a new you – one that grew and progressed through – God dare I say it, an unprecedented year. And you can go into a new year feeling bloody proud of yourself.