New diary, new calendar, fitness products on sale and new gym trainers added to the shopping trolley, along with salad and green tea.
Seductive isn't it? The promise that when the calendar roles over to the January 1st, all of our past habits will be erased, we'll have a clean slate and we can start afresh. We'll become a completely new person, "out with the old, in with the new" we all cry as we crack the spine of our brand new planner and write in it with our finest handwriting. It's reminiscent of starting a new school year after the summer holidays.
"I'm going to be organised this year, lose weight, get up at 5am to go for a run, and actually use the slow cooker that's been sat, brand new, in my top kitchen cupboard for the past three years" we mutter to ourselves as we take the empty wine bottles to the bottle bank.
It's a heady time, full of promise, motivation and ambition. Everyone else is doing it too, so there's a sense of camaraderie in the air. Apart from marathons, the only other time you'll see so many people in neon gym gear running down the street, is the first week of January. We all tell ourselves each and every year, that that the start of the new year will be a fresh start for us all. We think that we'll just forget all the negatives of the previous year (there has been so many!). This year will be better. We will be better. Bad habits will be broken, family feuds will heal, our bank accounts will refill themselves, catastrophic political decisions will somehow turn out all ok.
I have bad news; the calendar lies.
A change of date, whether it's a new year or just another Monday, doesn't make the slightest bit of difference, if nothing else changes.
There is no such thing as a fresh start in life, we all carry our pasts with us, as any good psychologist will tell us. It makes us who we are and it's perfectly normal to have a string of both good and bad times behind us. This all sounds incredibly negative so far, doesn't it? I don't mean to be a kill joy - you see there is a positive message to take away from this and I'm getting to it, I promise!
Although we can't change our pasts, or erase our memories, or drop bad habits simply because we decide to one morning, what we can do is learn from them.
We need to look at why last year, last week or even yesterday went the way it did.
Did we drink too much on Friday, to forget our crap week at work, at the job we can't stand? Did we binge eat because it bought us emotional comfort where human interaction had failed us? Did we have a blazing argument with a friend, partner or family member because we hadn't communicated at the first opportunity how they were making us feel, so one day we just snapped?
Coping mechanisms come in all forms - whether it looks like a bottle of red after a tough day, avoidance of social situations or munching on biscuits all day at work. We either need to find alternative coping mechanisms for the circumstances we can't change, or address the source of stress and anxiety in the first place.
This article comes from a place of finally knowing, after all the past New Year's days and Mondays, where my own problem lies; it's not my habits I need to be working on, it's the reasons behind them. I love exercise (these days) and even healthy meals, but I still have the tendency to comfort eat when it all gets too much. I frequently fail to look after myself and take time out to escape and relax, when I'm dashing around after a toddler, running a house, caring for my father and growing a business.
I'm well aware of how important my health is, who isn't these days? It's not an awareness of health issues we're lacking. We all know what we should be doing (exercise, home cooked healthy food, water) so it isn't knowledge either. What is lacking in my own life (as I'm sure it is for many others), is support and practical help with the many plates I'm simultaneously spinning. This year, I need to ask for support and take time out for myself, instead of focusing on my tendency to comfort eat.
It's time for reflection, not resolutions.
Instead of vowing to not eat another tin of biscuits in one sitting or drink another bottle of wine from News Years day onwards, or to start a diet when Monday next rolls around, vow to look into what it is that drives you to do these things in the first place.
Target the cause of your behaviour, rather than the symptoms.
Boredom? Escapism? Comfort? Reward? Frustration? These feelings will come from your life, whether it's your current circumstance that's getting you down or past events influencing today's you. Really take time to pick out where these feelings originate from and then if you need to, ask for help and support to deal with whatever it is.
Join a community group, find your tribe online, find a hobby or interest you can really escape into, make time to care for yourself, seek out a counsellor or a close friend if you need to talk, see a GP about your mental health or have a chat with a career mentor about your job. Whatever it is, ask for the support and help you need to deal with it properly, instead of trying to eradicate your only coping mechanisms. By all means, set optimistic goals for the new year, or a new week, but make sure you're working on the cause of your habits and not the symptoms!
It's never too late to turn your lifestyle around and save yourself from a future of ill health. Start today, don't wait for the next Monday or January 1st.
Happy new year to you all!