Since 2016 I have kept a diary, and over the past five years I have somehow managed to write in it every single day. No breaks, no omissions: just 1825 pages of my random scribblings from the ages of 14-19, peppered with strange anecdotes and long tangents on events of interest to no one but myself.

And since 2016, on the page marked ‘January 1st’, I have written my New Year’s Resolutions, apparently in the desperate hope that by setting them down in pen they might actually come to fruition. But out of the 15 goals I have set for myself over the past five years, I’ve only stuck to one! This leaves me with a staggeringly unsuccessful 6.67% success rate when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions.

Wondering how I had gone so wrong I looked more closely at what I’d resolved to do, and as I did so several common themes emerged:

1.    Attempts at fitness: “do some form of exercise once a week” (2016); “exercise at least once a week” (2017 – unoriginal copy of last year’s resolution); “exercise 3-4 times a week” (2018 – a massive increase on the previous year’s target. Not sure where this sudden unjustified enthusiasm for the gym came from).

2.    Healthy eating: “eat less unhealthy food” (2016 – uselessly vague); “not to eat mindlessly” (2021 – broken mere hours into the New Year when I found out I wouldn’t be allowed back to Oxford until at least the 25th and had to eat 2 bowls of Shreddies in rapid succession just to feel something).

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3.    Relationships: “Do something re my crush???” (2018 – questions marks suggest I was already highly sceptical that I would ever do this); “get over my crush” (2019 – a resolution achieved, but only in the year after I set it so it doesn’t count).

Interestingly, the one year for which I made no resolutions at all was 2020. Perhaps deep inside I knew what was to come and that I should not bother – or I simply forgot to write them down. One or the other.

Why do we set these unconvincing and often unachievable targets every year? With the emergence of the #selfcare movement there has been increasing backlash against the idea of ‘New Year, New You’, most notably from celebrity activist Jameela Jamil who stated on Instagram last week that “we deserve to focus on a happier and more mentally stable us” rather than “the stupid fucking diet and detox industry”.

She has a point. Many, myself included, feel pressure to overhaul themselves come January 1st, throwing out their ‘old self’ along with the Christmas tree and the Bounties at the bottom of the Celebrations box. No one better embodies this desperate desire for change than Bridget Jones, who lays out her New Year’s resolutions on the opening pages of Helen Fielding’s genius novel. She asserts, amongst other things, that she will not “smoke/spend more than earn/get upset over men/bitch about anyone behind their backs”, but instead will “stop smoking/be more confident/be more assertive/eat more pulses/form functional relationship with responsible adult” and so on.

25 years on, these declarations remain funny because we are still making ones exactly like them: Bridget’s resolutions, like mine, could fit into the exact same Fitness/Food/Relationships categories listed above. So many of our years begin with such indefinable goals such as “get fitter”, “be happier,” or “be nicer to others” without setting out any realistic way of achieving them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve, as long as it’s for the right reasons, but if you are going to make a resolution it has to be one you can actually stick to or measure. It’s all very well saying that I will eat less mindlessly this year, but what must I do if I want to achieve this? (This is a question with an easy answer I don’t want to accept: stop buying Shreddies.)

In the social media age I see more and more people resolving not to exercise more or eat less, but instead to “be proud of themselves no matter what”, “get help when I need it”, or “learn to say yes/no more”. These are more positive resolutions than Bridget’s list of musts and must nots. But I’m beginning to realise the arbitrariness of it all: why does it have to be ‘New Year, New Me’? Why, if you want to do something, can’t you just decide to start at any point in the year? If you want to take up stamp collecting, or pet more dogs, or stop listening to the same six songs you’ve had in your playlist since you were 14, why wait until January 1st to do it?

The single resolution out of the 15 that I did manage to keep dates back to 2016, where I announced that I would “write in this diary every single day”. I have managed to stick to it for over five years now, just because keeping a diary combines writing and moaning, my two favourite things. If the failure of the majority of my resolutions has taught me anything, it’s that you have to make them with conviction or there’s no point doing it at all. And I swear I really am going to stop mindlessly eating this year – just as soon as I finish this bowl of Shreddies.

Art by Rachel Jung