I have never once made a New Year's resolution, but as I get older, the more I feel like time is running out on me. When I was 18, I thought I’d learn maybe five languages, minimum, by the time I was 30. Now I just about cope with one (and a half, if you count my terrible Mandarin). When I was 21, I thought I’d get buff by the time I was 27. Well, 27 came and went with me working out exactly as little as I did when I was 21.
So, now, I'm starting to get the point of resolutions as I accelerate ever-faster towards decrepitude. Why not give yourself a little annual motivation shot to do the things that you always thought you’d get around to? As I’m such a newbie to this, I figured that I may as well give myself an immersive primer on what it’d be like to live a new life based around making—committing to—my New Years resolutions. This is how I ended up doing all 10 of the most common New Years resolutions in a week.
Exercise more (38 percent)
According to ComRes, 38 percent of British adults make a solemn vow to exercise more in the new year. Fortunately, a gym near my office does a seven-day all-you-can-exercise deal. For £24, I can exercise as much as my heart’s desire or till my heart explodes, whichever comes first.
On the first day of my resolution, I wake up at 9 AM and fail to go to the gym. On the second day, I finally drag my ass in for a class that promises to be a “hybrid full-body workout combining high-intensity, high-impact cardio achieving high fat loss and small muscle isolations and and isometric holds." I sweat so much that my face continues sweating, even after I leave the shower, and I’m exhausted all day at work. Is this…fitness?
By the end of the week, I’ve exercised four times, including three days in a row. I feel marginally fitter (I can do mountain climbers now!), but am also finding it increasingly difficult to fathom a life in which I get up at 7 AM and do this every day of the week.
Love London Fitness founder and personal trainer Roger Love advises me to start simpler: “If you are doing it alone, start small. Don't feel you have to do the perfect, super-complicated work-out. Do something simple—a brisk walk, or some jumping jacks, squats, or press-ups. Undoubtedly, it will not be the workout you are still doing in the spring, but it will get you started.”
He’s not surprised when I tell him that I’m finding it hard to consistently work out. “Remember: It does not have to be perfect. If you have a bad day, it doesn't need to lead to a bad week. You are not a robot; you will have bad days and make mistakes. Dust yourself off and go again. Remind yourself why you started training.”
Good point—I haven’t actually set myself an aim for why I’ve actually started going to the gym. Do I want to be stronger? Bench press my own weight? Be able to handle myself in a fight? Maybe it’s best to see working out as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
Lose weight (33 percent)
Read my lips: I have no desire to lose weight. Instead, what I desire in winter is to be wrapped in a warm and huggable layer of flesh, like a human mochi ball or an especially plump dumpling. Also, I don’t own a bathroom scale.
“At this time of year, the media is awash with new diet crazes which often have no scientific backing. Some can be unsafe ,so many diet resolutions are often not sensible anyway,” says Kiri Elliott, a lecturer in dietetics at Birmingham City University. “New Year’s resolutions around food are often related to weight loss, and as desired results aren’t instant, many lose motivation to continue.”
Just because I think this resolution is a waste of time that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do this resolution. Since I can’t weigh myself, I do the next-best thing—I measure myself around the waist and hips with some tape. I figure that in four exercise classes’ time, I will almost definitely have lost an inch or two.
Turns out this is absolutely bogus! By the end of the week, I display no discernible weight loss around either my waist or my hips. In fact, I may even have put on some weight, because I started my period during the week and have started to bloat into the plump dumpling form I prefer this time of year, anyway.
Love tells me that viewing exercise as a route to weight loss isn’t the best approach: “This is not about losing weight; it is building a way of living that will keep you healthy and active for a long, long time.” Given that my weight fluctuates so much, I’m tempted to agree.
Eat more healthily (32 percent)
On the first day of my resolutions, I virtuously get a lemongrass chicken salad for lunch. By about 4 PM, I’ve caved and eaten my coworker’s emergency bowl of Skittles. This rollercoaster continues at dinner, when I order a macrobiotic bowl that tastes like something yakked up from a fermented cow stomach and end up eating the rest of my friend’s fries. After departing the restaurant, I am so angered by my poor food choices that I walk directly into a nearby Taiwanese dessert café and eat a brioche ice cream sandwich.
“Many New Year’s resolutions are actually quite radical,” explains Elliott. “Rather than small manageable steps towards healthier eating, they involve drastic changes which are hugely difficult to adhere to.”
“It’s much better to break a resolution right down into one or two 'SMART' [specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely] goals, which are well-thought-out and -planned,” she adds. “For example, rather than aiming to shed a stone by following the latest 600kcal detox diet, it would be better to consider overall health and perhaps choose to switch one unhealthy snack per day to one healthy snack such as a piece of fruit, and to add an extra half hour of exercise into my week.”
This is great advice which I absolutely don’t adhere to over the course of the week. In fact, the command to eat healthy appears to have flipped some kind of switch in my brain, so I actually eat even more shittily than I did before. It doesn’t help that my sudden upswing in exercise means that I’m suddenly ravenously hungry all the time. During a mid-afternoon lull, I eat a whole bag of potato chips and then a banana in a guilty attempt to compensate.
By the end of the week, I’m eating instant ramen and microwaving leftover cauliflower cheese in a plastic takeaway box. The one good thing is that I’ve cut down on my Diet Coke consumption. I’m not a dietician, but I think that the macrobiotic bowl got the whole thing off to a bad start. Trying to limit my own natural food consumption—I would never ordinarily order something like it—set myself up for failure.
Take a more active approach to health (15 percent)
After this much exercise, I have no desire to do any more physical activity. Instead, I decide to do something good for my health that I’ve been putting off for ages: I visit a dentist.
My last appointment was sometime in 2016 (don’t judge me), so this is visit is long overdue. As I settle into the dentist's chair, I’m suddenly plagued by flashbacks of terrible dentist visits from my childhood, including having a suffocating wad of orthodontic cement shoved in my mouth so I could mold a retainer for my lispy underbite. This, I realize, is what’s been preventing me from booking a dentist appointment. As a grown-up, why would I willingly revisit a place I associate with memories that still make me physically gag?
“How often do you change your toothbrush?” my new dentist asks.
I hazard a guess: “Uh…every four to six months?” There is a long pause. “You should change it every two to three months,” he tells me, a note of sadness in his voice. I imagine how hard it must be for dentists. Theirs is not the glamorous job of heart surgeons; you can’t imagine one ever being called McDreamy or starring in a beloved 14-season long TV drama scripted by Shonda Rhimes. They’re really not the bogeymen that I grew up believing they were.
By the time my dentist tells me I’ve got some signs of early gum disease (great), happily takes a photo of me lying in his chair, and schedules me in for a cleanup later in January, I’ve warmed to this resolution. Visiting the dentist honestly wasn’t that bad, and I’ve potentially averted a much more serious health crisis. Plus, thanks to the National Health Service, it only cost me £21.60 for a first-time checkup. Socialism—and dentistry—works!
Learn new skill or hobby (15 percent)
I could definitely have done something less extra for this resolution, like learn a new language, but I figure that 2019 calls for extreme measures. Who knows what will happen after Brexit? By July, I could be fending off survivalists for the last tin of baked beans in an abandoned supermarket in Walton-Upon-Thames. I’ve got to prepare for the worst. Hence: axe throwing.
Whistle Punks bills itself as one of the only places in the UK where you can learn to hurl axes with pinpoint accuracy, so I head down to their outpost in South London to try some “urban axe throwing.”
James Bidgood, the head of marketing at Whistle Punks, tells me that throwing axes is actually easier than it looks. “You don’t have to be strong to do it,” he says. “It’s all about using your body and getting your rhythm.” He tells me to perish the thought of axe throwing being the reserve of huge, barrel-chested men in lumberjack shirts. “You do get macho guys in here to chuck axes as hard as they can, but they usually embarrass themselves.”
My instructor, Yamthe, beckons me into one of the training alleys. They’re decked out like baseball batting cages, with a bullseye carved into a sturdy sheet of wood at the end of it. My first couple of axes go terribly and bounce off the target, but then I manage to find my sweet spot—it’s all about leaning into the momentum of your swing, as opposed to hurling it as hard as you can. My axe scythes through the air and implants itself with a satisfying thwack near the bullseye. I’m a natural!
My next few axes bounce harmlessly off the wood. Maybe not. “We do get a lot of new customers in January as a New Year thing,” Bidgood says. It looks like it may take more than a single session for me to get lucky again, so maybe I should have stuck to learning Spanish.
Spend more time on personal well-being (12 percent)
I am not the kind of person who takes bubble baths or invests in skincare as acts of self-care (no offense to those who do—I just find baths kind of boring). Can I do something easy that doesn’t involve bankrupting myself on SK-II sheet masks?
I turn to Samata, a fashion and media entrepreneur who is the author of THE TRIBE Empowerment Journal, a new book that encourages women to write down one thing they celebrate about themselves every day. “Journalling is a great way to steer your inner narrative. We share so much publicly and online these days,” she says. “I like the idea of taking that control back. We are entitled to feel proud of ourselves and are allowed to celebrate our achievements without the public applause. It's a non-judgmental place to be heard.”
I forget to journal on my first day and retrospectively do it on my laptop the next afternoon. “Proud of: only drinking half a glass of wine on Monday.” Second day: “Proud of: telling an coworker some office gossip from the Christmas party that made them almost choke with laughter.” I’m not doing so great at this, clearly. Something about living in the UK—the land of crippling self-awareness thinly plastered over by a sense of irony—has made me unable to journal sincerely.
By the end of the week, something has happened that does make me feel a little proud of myself. A guy outside a pub with his mate calls me a “Chinese bitch,” and I simply and efficiently flip them off and keep walking.
This is such an upgrade to how I’ve previously responded (think: immediate and undignified tears) that I’m actually pretty proud of myself. Unfortunately, I’m also so angry about it that I also end up tweeting about it. As far as more official journalling goes, I do feel pretty pleased with myself when I write down the words, “Proud of: giving a racist man the finger.”
Spend more time with family and friends (12 percent)
I breeze through this resolution, as I’m seeing friends almost every other night this week. Who are these losers who can’t find time in their lives for the people who matter most? Then I remember that I spent most of 2017 and 2018 in the dark cave of the British Library writing my book series, Forgotten Women, and I sober up. Sometimes, life and work do get in the way of hanging out with your nearest and dearest, but it’s always good to recalibrate.
I text a friend to see what she’s doing later in the week, and then cook dinner for 10 of my friends on the weekend. I realize I haven’t seen some of them in months. Even better—some of them help me do the dishes.
Drink less alcohol (12 percent)
I’m slightly surprised that only 12 percent of the population want to booze less, given that people around the world are actually drinking less than they did before. Given that we’re heading towards the end of the Christmas party season, it seems like almost everyone has overindulged and is trying to cut back before heading home for the holidays. By the end of the week, I’ve had half a glass of wine and a beer in total. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on drinking at all.
The only time I am tempted is when I head to the pub to catch up with an old work friend I haven’t seen in ages, and she invites two of her friends along. Being the odd one out with a pint of lime soda almost makes me order a vodka tonic, but luckily I have to head off before the social awkwardness almost torpedoes my resolution.
At the end of the week, I find myself in a gay bar drinking another pint of lime soda and talking to someone who’s in recovery. “The best thing to do,” they advise me, “is to not tell anyone you’re not drinking.” Apparently, most people assume you’re drinking exactly like them, and not disabusing them of this notion cuts down on awkwardness.
Stop smoking (9 percent)
I don’t smoke (which is what I tell my mom), but I do smoke socially (which I don’t tell her). If I see a friend smoking when I’m bored or one or two drinks down, I will inevitably pester them for a cigarette. But this can’t be that bad for me, right?
Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and cofounder and chief operating officer of My Online Therapy, disagrees: “You might not be physically addicted to smoking, but you might have developed a psychological addiction. This means that your brain often gives the message that, in order to have more fun when you are socializing, you need to smoke. Over time, this becomes an association and a learned behavior, so you are likely to have urges to smoke when you are in that situation.”
I’m out at a Christmas party or a social event almost every night this week, which means an infinite number of possibilities to beg people for smokes. Touroni suggests having a game plan: “Visualize being in the social situation in advance of time. Rehearse how you might manage it differently. What do you say when others invite you outside the pub or the club for a smoke? Think clearly about how you can say no, what explanation you offer, and how you might feel afterwards.
"Think about all the feelings that might make you want to join them. Are you worried about feeling left out of the group? Are you worried you might have less fun? Whatever it is, consider all the reasons you want to give up, and next time you are in that situation try to bring them readily to mind.”
Sadly, this doesn’t quite work for me. It takes me about two hours before I cave and ask someone at the aforementioned gay bar for a cigarette. But I haven’t smoked in a while, and as the nicotine unpleasantly hits sober me, unaided by the boozy fugue I usually imbibe one in, I’m kind of wondering why I even bothered in the first place. Maybe these cancerous tar sticks are…bad?
Other (1 percent)
Only one percent of the British public has a resolution that doesn’t fall into the previous nine I’ve tried out, so here’s mine: I’m never doing another New Year's resolution again. Or, I’m never going to try doing almost all of them at once because it’s impossible to effectively fulfill all of them at one go. Here’s my advice: If you are keen on the idea of setting some 2019 goals, go easy on yourself, because you will fuck up. Don’t set yourself impossible targets, like trying to go to the gym every day or swapping all your meals for macrobiotic bowls. Finally, congratulate yourself on actually making it to 2019—you did good just surviving 2018.
Oh! And go to the dentist.