Friday afternoon, and like clockwork the Empire film magazine e-mail blinked into my inbox. The opening paragraph celebrated the start of the new month; celebrated that people could drink for the first time since 2012, or release the shackles of whatever diet plan they had been following.
I was sure it was mostly light-hearted. I know people struggle to introduce good habits in January, but the idea that they are habits for only 31 days (at most) can’t be that ingrained can it? Surely it’s just a perception fostered by the media?
Later that evening, on the Radio 2 Drivetime show, a woman requesting a song mentioned that she was looking forward to her first drink after a dry January. It felt like the world was trying to prove me wrong…
The first Monday morning of 2013. We’d had a few days back at work, but they were largely meaningless and everyone navigated them in a collective daze. Now the usual festival could commence: the festival of people feeling sorry for themselves and committing to a period of healthy (or, at least, healthier…) living.
A few colleagues mentioned they had tins of biscuits at home, and they’d considered bringing them to work “to get rid of them”. I winced at the thought of others spending good money on food that people were ready to just give away – not out of charity, but to save eating it themselves – but that is a different topic. As well as the dieters, one guy said he would visit the gym every day, another would stay off drink, and yet another said he would get out on his bike more.
At the time, I dismissed all the talk as nothing new; the standard office blather of people trying to atone for festive excess without really meaning to do so. In the light of February’s ‘evidence’, I wondered whether I’d been right to adopt that attitude. I started wondering why people persist with an unsustainable approach to these things. Even BBC News had carried a feature about ‘how to keep resolutions’.
Why has this ritualistic behaviour suddenly struck a chord? In previous years, I wouldn’t even have noticed it happening. I might have joined in, bemoaned what I’d eaten over Christmas, but with no intention of doing anything about it. This time though, by accident, I’ve found myself doing the reverse of the standard New Year resolutions.
Keep On Running
Although the start of December was icy and made running treacherous, the mild Christmas period meant I could regularly lace up my trainers. It was a challenge to fit in around the usual Christmas traditions, and the times/distances weren’t earth-shattering. But it was exercise, and it kept my body ticking over. I even managed a run on Christmas Day, which felt good. It gave me energy, made me less inclined to vegetate all day and eat nothing but rubbish.
Then the weather intervened – unsurprisingly – and I was done. Where’s the sense in risking a turned ankle or a bad fall? It was time to sit things out, let the rain/snow/ice do its thing, and start again in February.
At first, the deliberate lack of exercise removed the incentive to eat well, and failing to eat well affirmed the desire to be sedentary (something the bad weather was doing a good job of encouraging anyway). A month is long though, and three weeks in I was on the ropes. Things got progressively worse, culminating in a day of quite shameful excess. Bad habits were re-emerging, boxes of After Eights were evaporating from the cupboard, and my body was crying out for meaningful exercise.
I tried to reign in the poor eating during the last week, tried to get back to something approaching normality. I looked forward to running again, and on January 31st did a quick two miles to remember what it all felt like. The progress I made in the second half of last year didn’t feel wasted, like I feared. After a month long blow out, ten (or hopefully eleven) months lie before me, filled with the promise of frequent – and better - running.
Nearly a whole year to build something good; to eat well and maybe even complete a half marathon.
Back In The Habit
Running and writing are now inextricably linked for me. I kept writing during January, but it only got harder as the energy levels dropped. Reaching February and starting running again has reinvigorated the good habits I developed in 2012.
This whole thing was an accidental experiment. It’s something that has, ironically, become clearer as January has progressed, albeit becoming slightly out of control at the same time. But the more I’ve thought about it as something that could be planned, the more I’ve thought: ‘why not?’
Instead of fighting through the post-Christmas blues with unreasonable expectations of what you can achieve, why not let it all go and wait until February? Instead of flogging yourself for one month and ending up disappointed, why not commit to eleven months of achievable goals and let January be whatever it needs to be?
I’m not the only one to have taken a different approach to January, though I might be the only one who has gained some clarity on it after the event rather than before it. Back in December, I listened to a podcast by Milo McLaughlin and Fabian Kruse, in which they discussed starting their creative year in the second month of the calendar:
This, in turn, inspired Michael Nobbs to use January as month of planning and reflection.
I can’t say that I planned much, nor reflected upon a great deal. I wrote as much as I could, and enjoyed a lack of pressure. A lack of pressure on my body, mainly. Yes, I took it too far in the end – to the point that I ate so much cake and chocolate, ate so many biscuits, that I stopped enjoying it. My relationship with food has always been a difficult one, but again: that’s a topic for another day.
2014 (and beyond)
That doesn’t mean I have to take it too far in future years. Depending on the depth of winters to come, I may have to encompass December and/or February as well. At the end of the day, if I have discovered a way to keep writing while accepting the realities of the season, and if I can maintain motivation and positivity while doing less exercise than I’d like, then that can only be a good thing.
Doing things differently to the accepted norm is a strange sensation. But it appears I might have a template for future years that works for me. It might not be the easiest thing to describe in the office when everyone else is pledging to eat better and drink less, but I can live with that. While they’re having that conversation, I can just think about what I’d like to write…