New year, same old you! The secret to self-improvement is embracing your messy, imperfect life – The Guardian

New year, same old you! The secret to self-improvement is embracing your messy, imperfect life – The Guardian

It’s the time of year for reinventions – or, perhaps more accurately, preparing for reinventions. For buying the diet book, drawing up the new morning routine, bookmarking the therapists’ websites or purchasing the storage cabinets for the soon-to-be-perfectly-organised house. As with all attempts at personal transformation, at new year or otherwise, this is the fun part. You get to experience all the excitement of becoming an entirely different person, without having yet had to put in the effort – and without having failed. Like untrodden early morning snow, the vision of who you’ll become remains pristine. Usually, though, something inside you knows the truth: in a few days’ time, the whole thing will have turned into unpleasant grey slush.

Personal reinventions fail partly for the obvious reasons: you set your goals too high; or your existing obligations at work or home get in the way; or you find (who could have imagined it?) that the unimpressive level of self-discipline you’ve demonstrated for your entire life until this moment can’t magically be tripled overnight. But there’s also a deeper problem with quests for wholesale transformation, which explains why they rarely work as intended – and why, as 2022 begins, embracing the existing version of yourself, with all its messiness and imperfections, might be the most transformative thing you’ve ever done.

Schemes for constructing a New You are inevitably devised by the Old You, who has some pretty glaring issues

The core of the trouble is that schemes for constructing a New You – whether in every area of life, or just one major one, such as your relationship with your children, or your physical fitness – are always devised by the Old You, who by their own admission has some pretty glaring issues. (Otherwise why would you bother to envision a new one?) You’ve got no good reason to trust this dubious character’s thoughts about reinvention; indeed, it’s likely they’re using what looks like “reinvention” to reinforce old hang-ups instead.

And so, for example, your vow to become more productive this year might just stem from your old belief that you’re obliged to fulfil every demand made by those around you, when a better way forward might be to start strategically letting a few people down. Likewise, your intention to make this the year you find your soulmate might simply represent your conviction that you don’t have what it takes to cope on your own. Even if it works, the so-called reinvention will only end up entrenching the status quo.

“No one awakens in the morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘I think I will repeat my mistakes today’ or, ‘I expect today I will do something stupid, repetitive, regressive and against my best interests,’” writes the Jungian psychoanalyst James Hollis. “But frequently, this replication of history is precisely what we do.”

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