Exercise more.

Spend less.

Eat better.

Drink less alcohol.  

Meet all my deadlines, turn up to all my tutorials and classes, maintain a socially-acceptable sleep schedule, pick up a new hobby, have a better social life, travel the world, start yoga, become fluent in five foreign languages and just generally become:

A Better Person.

I exaggerate, slightly. But the chances are that more than one of these things has featured on your list of New Year’s Resolutions at some point, and some of them might even be threatening to make an appearance on your 2021 list after what has been a rollercoaster of a year.

For many people, I suspect, the coming of the new year has not quite stirred up the feelings it usually does; certainly, New Year’s Resolutions had been the last things on my mind. Unsurprisingly, I was feeling rather pessimistic and quite ready to begin 2021 with no resolutions to improve myself whatsoever.

That was until the other day, when my 15-year-old brother asked me, out of the blue, if I had managed to keep my 2020 New Year’s Resolutions. I just laughed, because surely no one even remembers their resolutions by the time December rolls around, let alone has managed to keep them. If I had made a resolution last year, it was probably my favourite and much-overused ‘I will not eat chocolate’, which I break without fail every year on January 1 when I find a leftover box from Christmas sitting invitingly on the kitchen table.

My brother remembers his quite clearly though: he had promised to smile at everyone he saw this year. I was stunned by the simplicity of it. Perhaps, I thought, the trick is to make our resolutions about the little things: write letters to old friends, keep a diary, start scrapbooking or even just remember to smile more.     

Yet even the smallest of resolutions can be hard to keep once university life starts up again in January. During termtime, we are used to facing what seem like near-impossible goals. We push ourselves to achieve as much as we can academically, as well as trying to maintain extra-curriculars and healthy friendships. If you are anything like me though, getting to the end of an Oxford term and feeling that you have truly fulfilled, or actually surpassed, your goals is practically unheard of – but, I have come to realise, that is exactly the point.

New Year’s Resolutions and termly goals, like any ambitions in life, are not there to be merely completed – where would be the fun in that? Perhaps, you did not succeed in exercising more this year; I definitely did not eat less chocolate; my brother certainly did not manage to smile at everyone he saw (trust me, I would know) – yet that does not mean any of us have ‘failed’ this year.

How to keep your New Year’s Resolutions? I have no idea. How to break them? Easy – but the really hard part is figuring out what you do afterwards.

So yes, I still believe we should all start off 2021 with the best of intentions, with a colour-coded list of whatever resolutions we choose scribbled in the front page of a brand-new notebook, enthusiastically repeating to ourselves that age-old mantra: ‘This year is the One!’

And, 10 days into term, when work has started to pile up; when the most physical exertion you have completed all week is the trek from your bed to your desk; when even microwaving a Super Noodles seems like an act of culinary genius; in short, when every single New Year’s Resolution you could possibly have made is broken, don’t feel bad about it. Make a new one.

There’s a line from Tangled (possibly my favourite Disney movie ever) about what you are supposed to do after your dreams come true. I think it applies to all our goals, resolutions and ambitions – whether we manage to keep them or not. So what should you do when your resolution falls through? Well, as Flynn Rider says: “That’s the good part I guess…you get to go find a new dream.”

With illustration by Alisa Musatova

Uma Gurav

Uma is a columnist for The Oxford Blue. She is in her second year studying History and English at Wadham College. Her column "Your 'How-to' guide to Hilary Term" was inspired by the film 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days'.