Comedian and mental health guru Ruby Wax recommends steering clear of life-altering new year's resolutions. Here's why...
Who started this quaint impossibility of New Year’s resolutions?
This is yet another cutesy slogan that has no relationship to reality but sounds good on greeting cards. It’s a little like those 'Get well soon’ cards – as if you could make a person get better just by sending them a card? It’s another example of a misconception that we can be whoever we want to be if we just wish for it. I blame Disney for a lot of this crap, with one of his fairies from one of his films always telling us to close our eyes and dream a dream or think lovely thoughts (see: Tinker Bell).
New Year’s Eve resolutions fall into this camp called ‘wishful thinking’. If we could all just promise ourselves to change at a certain time on a certain day, there would be no reason to have AA or NA. Let’s be honest here, our resolutions are usually promises about giving up drink, drugs, cigarettes or losing weight. I know very few people who make resolutions about changing their car parking styles or brand of mouth wash.
Whoever thought up the idea of New Year’s Resolution was either incredibly stupid or viciously cruel. Life is hard enough without having to make a deal with ourselves (at a certain time on a certain day) to do something that we clearly don’t want to do, otherwise we’d be doing it or would have done it.
If your parents didn’t fuck you up enough, here’s a chance to do it to yourself, even more. Give yourself a resolution that entails picking out one of your biggest flaws and promising to yourself to get rid of it within a year – unscrew your screw-up. Then you can feel even more guilt because of the realisation that you haven’t been able to change yourself up until now. Hopefully next year you’ll improve, but probably not. When you throw down these challenges, you have officially replaced how your parents spoke to you by your inner voice.
'[New Year's resolutions] are yet another example of a misconception that we can be whoever we want to be if we just wish for it.'
And why pick New Year’s Eve to do your resolutions? What did it ever do to you? Why not say, 'On Thursday at 2:15am I’m coming off crack?'
I don’t want to be a New Year’s Eve pooper, but you can’t actually stop doing something unhealthy because of a resolution. You may say to yourself, 'I’m going to get help in the New Year,' but if you think you can just hope for the best, you’re probably heading for a cataclysmic disappointment. And as they say in the addiction biz, ‘the habit is only the symptom.’ The reason for the addiction lies hidden, underneath. You’re not even aware of it, otherwise you wouldn’t be so addicted to covering it up.
I’d advise you to say that in 2018 you’re going to change your medication, see a shrink, take up yoga, Pilates, tai chi or mindfulness. Those things help you get to know and be compassionate to yourself – not just hack off a habit. You have become who you are at any time in your life because of a multitude of reasons. If you mentally try to pick away at those reasons, it only exasperates the self-destructive addiction. Things like mindfulness, or something like cognitive-based therapy, prepare the mind for change; loosen the connections that make you stuck in a way of thinking, feeling or acting. If you get mad at yourself, believe me, you will smoke, drink, eat, snort even more. If you learn to make your mind peaceful, it will give up the habits more easily because you’ve lessened the fear. And it’s the fear that keeps you hooked.
I don’t want to get too heavy about such a lightweight saying as ‘New Year’s Resolution,’ but it’s those insidious, little snide challenges we give ourselves that eat away at our self-esteem and keep us locked in a self-perpetuating wheel of self-criticism. So this New Year’s Eve, to avoid giving myself any indication that I hope I can do better because last year I wasn’t so hot, I’m going to sleep right through it and pretend New Year’s Eve never happened.
More about the author
*FROM THE NUMBER ONE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF FRAZZLED*
A three way encounter between a Monk, a neuroscientist and Ruby Wax sounds like the set up for a joke. Instead it's produced one of the most fascinating, intriguing and informative books about minds and bodies and brains and mindfulness I've ever encountered. A triangulation on what it means to be human. Utterly readable and surprisingly wise. Neil Gaiman
How to Be Human is, without exaggeration, a lifeline; wise, practical and funny, it is a handbook for those in despair. It is actually for everyone alive, for the curious, or disillusioned or muddled or just plain happy. Ruby, the Monk and the Neuroscientist are today's Magi. Joanna Lumley
With this marvellous book, Ruby Wax has confirmed her position as one of the most readable, inspirational and engaging writers in the field of human mental health, happiness and fulfilment. Stephen Fry
It took us 4 billion years to evolve to where we are now. No question, anyone reading this has won the evolutionary Hunger Games by the fact you're on all twos and not some fossil. This should make us all the happiest species alive - most of us aren't, what's gone wrong? We've started treating ourselves more like machines and less like humans. We're so used to upgrading things like our iPhones: as soon as the new one comes out, we don't think twice, we dump it. (Many people I know are now on iWife4 or iHusband8, the motto being, if it's new, it's better.)
We can't stop the future from arriving, no matter what drugs we're on. But even if nearly every part of us becomes robotic, we'll still, fingers crossed, have our minds, which, hopefully, we'll be able use for things like compassion, rather than chasing what's 'better', and if we can do that we're on the yellow brick road to happiness.
I wrote this book with a little help from a monk, who explains how the mind works, and also gives some mindfulness exercises, and a neuroscientist who explains what makes us 'us' in the brain. We answer every question you've ever had about: evolution, thoughts, emotions, the body, addictions, relationships, kids, the future and compassion. How to be Human is extremely funny, true and the only manual you'll need to help you upgrade your mind as much as you've upgraded your iPhone.
You might like
Never miss a story...
Sign up to the Penguin newsletter for more reading lists and book recommendations.