As the New Year comes to fruition, many will turn their minds to their respective New Year’s Resolutions. Notions of disciplined gym routines, vegetarianism, and other lofty ambitions will undoubtedly occupy the coming weeks’ thoughts. I, however, have always struggled to articulate my desire for self-improvement into tangible and achievable goals, and I suspect I am not alone. The prospect of defining an area of the self which requires attention is daunting.
Nevertheless, the (almost subconscious) pressure to reclaim the year, to reclaim the self, and to re-embark upon the quest for perpetual self-improvement means that in the end, I settle for some vague commitment to be nicer to my sister, to do more to help around the house, and to stay on top of my readings. Or something along those lines.
Without speaking ill of the staunch resolutions many genuinely hold, it seems as if we are subject to a potentially unhelpful narrative of self-improvement. The pressure to find something to improve, however mundane, seems to detract from the spirit of the New Year’s Resolution. A resolution for resolution’s sake, we begin the new year on a glass-half-empty note, finding ourselves wanting in areas of our lives we would rather not. As January progresses, we find our enthusiasm for our resolutions waning, further contributing to the negative self-esteem with which we began the year. And so begins the vicious cycle. Internal amplification of our minor imperfections, coupled with unrealistically high self-expectations, lead to disproportionate lows when we inevitably fall short. Everybody misses a training session.
Long after the fireworks have graced the sky, the pressure of continual self-improvement remains. Fuelled largely by social media, we are constantly reminded of the seemingly neglected aspects of our personalities and behaviours. What initially appears to be a positive and constructive mindset can have profoundly negative outcomes. Feelings of inadequacy quickly become overwhelming as we see people succeeding where we (often mistakenly) perceive ourselves lacking. Rather than instigating genuine self-improvement, the broader self-improvement narrative in the New Year’s Resolution can lead to diminished mental and physical wellbeing.
For first years and returning students alike, beginning university, or facing the prospect of yet another year of online study is overwhelming enough. Considering the tumultuous year behind us, and the uncertainty of the year we now face, we ought to cut ourselves some slack. The desire for self-improvement is virtuous, but the abnormal circumstances surrounding our return to campus dictate a relaxation of additional pressures, particularly those we place upon ourselves.
So, worry not. Commencing the academic year is an achievement in itself. We shall necessarily grow and evolve as the year progresses. Open-mindedness is all that is required to facilitate continual improvement. I think that’s my New Year’s Resolution. And if you’re still stuck, you’re more than welcome to share it.
Originally published in Woroni Vol. 72 Issue 1 ‘Evolution’