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Unresolved: Why We Need New Year's Experiments Not New Year's Resolutions

04/01/2017 14:26 GMT | Updated 04/01/2017 14:26 GMT

I carry a second self.

She is me but fitter, more productive and understands her tax return. She is the person I am always just about to become.

Like most of my friends I tend to say I don't 'do' new year's resolutions. We nod and enjoy the implication that we are year round will-power machines compared to the saps who crowd gyms (/insert other standard New Year aims) in January and are back on the sofa by February. But maybe I have conflated the NYE ritual with space travel because I can't fully shake feeling that the countdown at midnight on December 31st ought to be followed by some kind of launch.

It's hard avoid the spirit of self-flagellation at this time of year. Wandering into Waterstones on New Year's Day in the fug of a post-Christmas cheese coma, I was met by a huge display of books on wellness (thinness) and self-improvement (from Marie Kondo telling us contentment lies in folding our socks to Fearne Cotton's wisdom on 'the stuff that's going to really hit up that happiness on a deep and nourishing level').

The symbolic draw of 1/1 runs deep. The Babylonians and Romans used New Year as a time to make promises to the Gods and around a 32% of Britons and 45% of Americans will have set resolutions for 2017. This is despite a widespread arguments that anchoring our goals to the start of the year rarely helpsus achieve them.

But 2016 has made me suspicious of the idea of 'personal progress' that abounds as the year turns.

2016 that taught me that that bereavement is not linear; that you can begin to feel like a pretty good approximation of a normal 20 something 3 years after a loved one's death, dance in the forest at a festival, astonished by how much happiness life still has to offer you, then find yourself a few months on struggling to walk to the end of the road under the shocking weight of loss. In 2016 my heart got a bit smashed up and I felt like, instead of progressing, I was being sent back to the start (Of what?? Base camp of Relationship Mountain?). And it was a year in which another family member got ill; an effective use of time became watching back to back box sets with them and I had to confront the fact that the frailty of ourselves and those we love is never 'dealt with', never ticked off the list.

I think these hurdles were harder to face because I have swallowed the notion at the core of resolution making; that I am project and life, with a few tweaks, should run increasingly smoothly.

People talk about willpower at New Year (before embarking on diets that will diminish their blood glucose and potentially therefor their willpower) but what about the willpower to resist cultural messages that we are not good enough, not achieving enough and that our bodies are sites of failure?

Yet however sceptical I am, the vision of my Second Self still hovers, somewhere in the near future with a smoothie in her hand and no clutter under her bed. Resolutions often fail because they are vague, but vagueness is Second Self's superpower. She comforts me with the idea that there is a cleaner, leaner version of my life, which doesn't include death, doubt or failure. And it all starts with losing half a stone or getting some kind of filing cabinet.

As a storyteller I think a lot about a different type of resolution - the part of a story where everything comes together and we get our sad or happy ending. Perhaps resolution setting stems from a sense that we can tie up all the loose ends in our lives, complete the project. But real life doesn't work that way. Sometimes we make linear progress, but it's often more like snakes and ladders. And the fact that life doesn't wrap up once and for all (until we are dead) is what makes it painful and magic and interesting.

I've always liked the idea of being an experimental artist; embarking on a voyage of discovery to make work rather than following a map toward the known.

I wonder whether 'New Year's Experiments' would serve us better than resolutions.

For better or worse, for me a clean diary will always feel like a chance to make change, but I accept that success in 2017 might look like career triumphs or might look like dragging my body to the end of the road when it feels like a rain-soaked sofa left out in someone's front yard.

Whatever happens, I hope to face this year curious rather than judgemental. In 2017 I resolve to stop expecting life to resolve.