Do you believe in New Year resolutions? There was a time when I would make pious commitments which I would rigidly stick to for a week, weakly pursue for one more and happily forget thereafter. The first week felt good. The next left me feeling guilty. But the best was once I'd cast off the resolution and returned to my bad old ways.
The conclusion I came to was as obvious as it was convenient. Giving up something feels good. Giving in feels even better. Oscar Wilde, as ever, put it pithily and wittily, "The best way of overcoming temptation is to give into it." But what he didn't realise is how much better it feels to give in after a period of resistance. A spot of denial whets the appetite and gives a sharper edge to temptation. The lapse, when it happens, is all the sweeter.
So today, as 2011 gets underway, if you're struggling to give up something let me offer a little advice. It has to be something that isn't easy. Otherwise you won't feel like a martyred saint for the good first week. But it also has to be something you want to do. Otherwise you can't reproach yourself when your resolve starts to weaken. But most importantly of all, it has to be something that ultimately doesn't matter. Otherwise, when you give in, you won't feel relieved as you cheerfully bid your resolution goodbye.
The truth is that narrows the choice pretty considerably. In the days when I was a smoker, giving up cigarettes was an easy, if not irresistible, first choice. In fact, now that I'm not, I often think this is one very good reason for taking it up again!
Many people opt for giving up puddings or chocolates. Some, poor fools, give up alcohol. I even know the odd person who's forsaken meat. But I've never been tempted by any of this. Quite frankly, I like my desserts and tipple far too much to even contemplate the idea. After all, a New Year resolution is not the first step to sainthood. It's only a bit of self-inflicted and short-lived tribulation.
But let me share a story. There was an occasion when I opted to stop telling lies. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not a proverbial liar but, like you, I do tell the odd fib. And, if you think about it, giving up lying fits the requirement for New Year resolutions to perfection. It feels good when you do it, guilty when you start to stumble and you're mightily relieved when you forsake the promise and go back to telling porkies.
Alas, I didn't even make it to the second day. In fact, the first was bad enough. Every little exaggeration had to be checked. After all, that too is a lie of sorts. Consequently, conversation became well-nigh impossible.
I ended up so precise and measured in what I had to say — and so often did I have to correct myself to ‘unlie' an inadvertent lie — that I could barely speak. And let me tell you if you can't fib you can't tell a story. So I literally had nothing to say.
These days I can see the case for giving up something but I can't decide on what. Since I failed to take a decision yesterday I've got 364 days in hand to choose for next year.
If you think of something suitable do let me know.
Happy New Year!
The views expressed by the author are personal.