Don’t give up on your resolutions already

“A month” doesn’t have to be January

I’ve been talking to a lot of people about their New Year’s Resolutions; as I do most years. It’s always interesting to see what people want to change about themselves and how they plan to do it.

As ever, I’m disappointed by the number of immeasurable resolutions. “Get fit” and “eat better” crop up every year and people seem none the wiser when I ask how they’ll tell if they’ve achieved them. But that’s not my biggest bugbear this year.

Far too many people I’ve talked to this year have already given up on their resolutions. Less than two weeks in and already their plans for betterment have fallen through.

For some, that’s because they’ve re-evaluated; and that’s fair enough. New Year can be a difficult time to choose resolutions: many of us are in the throes of parties and over-consumption, haven’t returned to our work and our daily lives in a while. Priorities during a hangover may not be the best way to set your annual goals.

But I don’t consider that “giving up”. I trust my friends to be able to responsibly evaluate what’s important to them and their development.

A common situation of giving up, I’ve found, is alcohol abstinence.

A lot of people choose to withdraw something for a New Year’s Resolution and “Dry January” is a popular choice, with participants not drinking alcoholic drinks for the first month of the year. It’s an opportunity to detox, save some money and demonstrate that you don’t need that crutch to support you.

The Dry January website also lists “losing weight, sleeping better, [having] more energy” as good reasons to go alcohol-free.

The thing a lot of people don’t realise is that it can be very hard work. I did a month of abstinence after waking up in hospital after a night’s drinking once and, despite having real desire and drive to complete it, struggled the whole time.

Personally I didn’t the lack of alcohol so much a problem as the social pressure. Going to social events, being around a friend’s for dinner; there were too many occasions when everyone else was drinking and I felt left out, or unusual. At least giving in January is common enough that people are more understanding, but the subconscious pressure remains.

To this end, I’ve spoken to several people who have attempted Dry January but have either given in to temptation, or just plain forgot. Offered a glass of wine with a meal, or being bought a drink in a bar, they’ve indulged in the forbidden (fermented) fruit.

The sad response to this is people saying they might as well give up. Their January clearly isn’t going to be dry so why bother trying? But this is a disappointing and cowardly attitude to take.

Firstly, you can try again. If your plan was to not drink for ~30 days then start the clock again. You could have a Dry Feburary or a Dry mid-January to about mid-February. The effect is still the same, even if you’re not getting the slogan you aimed for.

Secondly, you can just continue. Sure, you had one misdemeanour; but, if you can keep it up, having only one drink in the whole of January is still pretty darn good. Assuming you don’t have a serious problem with alcohol (which is generally the case amongst my friends), having just a couple of glasses of wine in a 30 day stint is still a solid achievement.

If you do have a drinking problem, there are some great charities who can help.

In either case, you’ve lowered your alcohol intake for a fixed period of time, and that’s still a positive thing. Don’t throw that goal away because you made one minor slip-up.

A lot of my abstaining friends are quick to tell me “I don’t have an alcohol problem, I don’t need to give up”. And generally I believe them. But those who are giving up within a month because they faltered one time have a commitment problem. Obviously the two aren’t directly comparable, but both are issues that should be addressed.

Falling off the resolution horse and being strong enough to get back on it and try again is an incredible demonstration of strength of character, whether you’re giving up alcohol, taking up regular sport, or trying to eat healthier. Giving up at the first hurdle is weak and makes it look like you’re looking for excuses.

Having the strength of mind to commit to your resolutions, and the resilience to see them through will surely bring you other benefits in life. Not being able to commit is a hindrance in your personal development, your relationships and your work life.

So, sure, you’ve messed up on your resolution already. Forget about it, keep trying. Go back to the gym, put down that salty food. Otherwise you’ll have the same resolutions in twelve months and you’ll have failed to fix those problems one more year.

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