Written and published first on 31st January 2016
Every year, in the quiet space between Christmas and New Year, I clear my desk and tidy my inbox. This might not sound like a momentous event but, when you enjoy a degree of chaos like I do, telling yourself it is a freedom you allow your creative soul, it becomes necessary to occasionally take yourself in hand and sort stuff out. To do so is to avoid disappearing under a pile of papers and a stream of hastily subscribed to newsletters and blogs. Inevitably, it is also the time I start thinking about what the New Year, a blank page, might represent to me. Although I’m not a fan of New Year resolutions there is one which I find myself becoming more devoted to as I grow older.
In January there will be few spaces in the gym car park because all the people who have decided to get ripped in 2017 will be getting to grips with the shiny equipment. There are machines to work pretty much any muscle group you care to mention in that building but by February it will be almost deserted again, until next year. Outside, there are roads and parks you can run in, there are trees you can swing from. In your house there are stairs and chairs you can press and squat from, all in your pyjamas.
Tomorrow there will be a lot of people doing “Dry January” in an effort to detox from the excesses of the Christmas season. In addition some people will be beginning new diets, determined that this time it’s going to be different, that January 1st represents a new start. But January isn’t a golden ticket. Nothing different happens when the calendar clicks across at midnight. Addiction support groups will swell more in response to the date than a genuine desire.
The reason we don’t use our gym membership is the same reason we don’t stick to the diet or kick the bad habits. We’re adding complexity to a situation desperate for simplicity. When we put intricate structures in place they are diversions from the real core of what we want to achieve. We don’t need to overlay our enthusiasm with a multitude of strategies, plans and expensive programmes if we really have enthusiasm, because desire always beats a plan. If we have the desire, the plan comes to life.
Most people are short of the same commodity, time. It seems as if there is less time to do everything. Less time for ourselves, less time with our loved ones, less time way from work. What makes it even worse is that, in those ever shortening spans of time, everything has become much more complicated. We need pin numbers for everything and apps for increasing simplicity (which is an hilarious irony, don’t you think?). The pace of technological development is such that we are forever playing “catch up”. That is, unless we choose something different.
What if New Years resolutions were about removing rather than adding? What if, this year, you pledged to increase simplicity rather than complexity? How about considering what it is you want rather than what you think you should want? What impact would it have to do less rather than more?
An undoubted feature of 2016 has been the sudden realisation of rapidly passing time for those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s. So many icons from our formative years have perished this year, but rather than seeing some hidden and terrifying meaning in all of this doesn’t it just remind us all that we’re getting older, and there isn’t anything we can do about it? If we are filling our lives with “stuff” we are more easily diverted from all that truly provides meaning. We experience less connection, less contentment, and hope becomes a fanciful dream more than a direction in which we move.
The predictable passing of the seasons is a steadying and sobering constant in life, but despite this continuous cycle much remains largely the same. If you struggled to find peace and balance last year think carefully before you give yourself more hoops to leap through and additional boxes to tick. Spend a moment considering what really lights you up and gives you a feeling of vibrancy and joy. Will your resolutions take you towards it, or will they simply shield you from the necessity to see what you are ignoring.
The less we do the more able we are to experience the life that we already have. If that life is not how we would want it we can change it. We really can. But simplicity is key, because the less we demand from ourselves the more easily we are able to deliver. Demand suggests a reluctance, but simplicity creates the space to be who we are. Becoming who we are is really the intent of New Year resolutions but it’s an intent often misguided. We believe that by doing A, B and C we will become the person we must be. Instead, try accepting the person you already are and trying to build from that quite beautiful foundation.
My desk is clear and tidy and my inbox is down to below five mails. The house is quiet and I’m off to make coffee. More than that, I don’t need right now.