New Year’s resolutions in review
I find New Year’s resolutions useful. I’m wracked with anxiety, constantly overwhelmed, so having a set of priorities for the year is a useful way to channel my energies into a few things, rather than floundering in a sea of potential activities.
Some people prefer small, incremental change, but my black and white brain finds it easier to process big, lofty challenges. That sounds like a good thing — and it often is — but it can be paralysing. As the year draws to a close, this is a reflection on the goals I set in 2016; a chance to see what’s worked, what hasn’t, and whether I’ve achieved what I wanted to.
1. Read 52 books
Reading has become a regular part of my routine over the last few years. I squeeze it in where I can: in bed in the morning, over lunch, during commutes, sitting in cafés at the weekend, and, mostly, at night before I fall asleep. I spent many years not reading (including the years of my English Literature degree — thanks, Cliff’s Notes), but managed to read 52 books for the first time in 2014 after growing frustrated with myself for frittering away too much time on the internet. Last year, I tried to keep up a similar rate of reading and managed 42. In 2016, I thought I could get back to reading a book a week.
The start of the year went according to plan but various situations derailed my reading rhythm throughout the year: moving to Sweden in February, losing my job in March, and moving back to England in August. Reading wasn’t enough of a priority for me when life was messy. But considering the events of the year, I feel happy to have read as much as I have — a grand total of 35 books (check out my book log). It’s always a meditative, nourishing experience and forces me to slow down and relax.
I want to keep reading in 2017 but in a less militant fashion. On top of the books I’ve been trying to read, I have subscriptions to Stack Magazines (12 issues/year), Delayed Gratification (four/year), Positive News (four/year) and Huck Magazine (six/year), so I’ve also been wading through 26 fairly meaty magazines. And that’s before we get to online stuff. With that, I usually save everything I want to read to Instapaper and check it out when I have time.
My appetite for words is as crippling as it is insatiable. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe, in 2017, I’ll try to read either a book or a magazine per week. So on top of all the magazines that make their way through my letterbox, I’ll aim to read 26 books.
2. Journal every day
If I had a dollar for every Medium article I’ve read about the benefits of journalling… Anyway, I hoped this resolution would solve two problems: help me use up some of the Field Notes that I receive throughout the year with my annual subscription, and show me why people love journalling so much.
Well, I managed it. My entries were mostly nuts and bolts (woke up, did this thing, had lunch with x, ran home, made dinner for y), which I loved because it logged all the things I did with ink and paper. It’s easy to feel like days, weeks, months disappear with nothing to show for them, but this helped me see that I did actually do something.
However, I don’t think I set enough time aside for journalling in depth — i.e., processing my feelings and inner state. That’s because I mostly journaled last thing at night when I’m tired, and also because I find it frustrating that writing by hand is so much slower than typing on a computer. Perhaps if I’d kept a journal on my computer then I’d have written (typed) more. But it wouldn’t have helped with using up those damn notebooks, and something about keeping a journal on a computer seems too tech — I’d rather use paper and pen.
I think I’ll keep this up in 2017 but try to make it less exhausting, perhaps by journalling solely with bullet points. I still want to find an outlet to write and think about things more deeply, which could be in diary form, but I think I’d find it easier to commit to writing a monthly Medium post where I reflect on whatever’s on my mind. It also forces me to articulate myself better because I know that someone is going to read it.
Eating vegan pancakes in Göteborg
3. Go vegan
Inspired partly by notions of saving the planet and partly by a desire to get in better shape for running, I decided to cut out all meat and dairy. When people found out about it, they’d usually say a number of things:
“I could never go vegan because I love meat!”
Um, you could. It’s not that I don’t love meat. I do! It’s that I think it’s more important to reduce (or eliminate, for a time) my meat intake for the good of the planet than it is for me to eat everything I want to eat. Believe me, I’ve craved that chorizo and sweetcorn pizza from Homeslice this year. I’ve salivated as plates have been brought out at a restaurant and everyone around me has a beef burger while I have the veggie burger. But those cravings eased off, to the point where I don’t really miss meat anymore.
We deny ourselves things all the time. We say no to another slice of cake, even if we want it, because we know it’s not healthy for us. Denying myself meat and dairy was the same kind of thing. I wanted it, but I also want the planet to be in some kind of shape to leave for our children and grandchildren.
“But isn’t it hard to cook vegan?”
No. If anything, it’s easier. You just have to adapt the things you know how to cook, or find new things. My primary concern was chilli. I love chilli. So I went to Google, searched ‘vegan chilli’, and found this by Jamie Oliver. It’s that simple: Google the thing you want to cook and put ‘vegan’ in front of it. The ingredients are usually cheaper because meat is expensive. And, despite the protestations of staunch meat-lovers (yawn), tasty food is not all about meat.
Eating out can be harder, but not much. If I’m choosing the venue then I’ll use Foursquare to search for vegan-friendly places. But most places are accommodating towards vegan diets, especially in London. I love Thai, Indian, Mexican and Italian foods, and there’s always a range of options at those restaurants. I eat a lot of pizza and it’s surprisingly good without cheese — sometimes better.
The problem comes when someone else picks the venue and it doesn’t cater for vegans, which is usually more of an issue with English or American food. There’s almost always something to eat, but it might be a salad (which is rarely enough to fill me up) or one other alternative that may not be your dream dish. But you learn to suck it up and realise it’s not the end of the world. I’ve only been to one place — a pub in Gothenburg — where there was nothing for vegans, except a side of chips. That time, I ate chips and had a sandwich when I got home.
“How can you run marathons? Don’t you need to eat meat and eggs?”
Again, that’s a myth. Take athletes like Scott Jurek (one of the world’s best runners), Rich Roll (lawyer turned ultra-runner) and John Joseph (punk rock icon, endurance athlete, and author of Meat is for Pussies). They’re just three examples of people crushing it in sports with a vegan diet.
Yes, you have to be careful with your diet and ensure you’re giving your body everything it needs. But if you eat a good mix of fruit and vegetables (it’s kind of impossible not to if you’re vegan) and have some lentils every now and then, you’ll be okay. The only supplement you definitely need is B12, although some people also take iron supplements, which I didn’t. Here’s a good guide to switching to a vegan diet.
I’ve managed to stick to veganism pretty consistently throughout the year, with a few exceptions. A friend’s family invited me to join them on holiday for a few days, and while they loosely accommodated my diet, it was unfair to expect them to cook completely vegan — and it would have been rude of me to do my own thing. So I ate a load of cream and cheese and a few bits of fish. Another time, I went to a magazine event where the editors cooked us a meal in return for us telling them a story about food. Suddenly, some steak appeared and I’d have felt pretty rude turning it down. So, steak it was. (I’m not even the biggest steak fan.) Lastly, I ate ice cream all year because, well, everyone needs one cheat food, right?
As the year’s gone on, I’ve relaxed my self-imposed rules. If I’m at the office and (non-vegan) cake is handed around, I might have a slice. If there’s no soya milk left in the office fridge for my cereal, I’ll have cow’s milk. In those cases, the items have already been bought and my decision to not eat them won’t affect anything. That said, I think it’s powerful to ask for vegan options when you’re eating out, even if you can’t see any on the menu. Asking for vegan cake at a café tells them there’s an appetite for vegan food, and once a few people have asked then they might start offering it.
Looking to next year, I’m going to pursue a plant-based (not entirely vegan) diet. It’s simpler, healthier and cheaper, and I feel so much better for the switch. However, I’ll probably reintroduce meat and dairy in a small way, perhaps eating one meat-based meal each week, at a place where I really want to eat. I don’t completely disagree with eating animals, except for when they’re treated badly — although, of course, you can argue that killing and eating an animal is treating it pretty badly.
But I do disagree with the way many of us eat meat day in, day out, without thinking about it. It’s gluttonous and unnecessary. We don’t all need to stop eating meat and dairy — we just need to eat way less of it for our diets to be sustainable along with the wellbeing of the planet.
4. Go teetotal
I knew this year would be busy, what with starting a new job, training for marathons, and attempting to pursue other creative endeavours. I love drinking as a vehicle for meeting people but I’m also perfectly happy to go out and not drink. For me, drinking always takes more than it gives. I might have a ‘good night’ and occasionally end up in a fun situation that wouldn’t have happened had I not been six beers deep. But there’s a lot to lose.
- Alcohol makes me sleep badly, so my body doesn’t recover from the general rigours of the day, let alone from running training, where my damaged tissues need time to heal.
- Alcohol gives me a headache and makes me feel ill, which makes doing everything else that much harder.
- Alcohol costs money. A lot of money.
- Alcohol upsets my mental state, often leaving me depressed and anxious.
- Alcohol helps me do stupid things that I don’t want to do.
- Alcohol makes it harder to get up the next day. Waking up for an eight-mile run is hard enough without a hangover, let alone with one.
So I quit. And it’s been okay. The lack of hangovers (or even just a fuzzy head) made it much easier to get up in the mornings. I dread to think how much money I saved. And by not drinking throughout my rough patch in Sweden, where I was battling depression, I’m sure I saved myself further pain. If anything, I’ve found that other people have more of a problem with my teetotalism than I do. Sometimes, people seem offended — like my decision is a judgement on their choice to drink (which it’s not).
However, I did take to using snus occasionally while in Sweden. I’ve never smoked but I found the nicotine rush stilled my anxiety and helped me relax when I was at my most neurotic, which was a comfort. It increases the risk of cancer, but I don’t think I really used it enough to be at great risk. I hope.
I don’t really have a desire to return to my drinking days, for the reasons above. However, next year, I might indulge in a glass of red with dinner, or a delicious IPA if I find myself in a pub with something interesting on tap that I really want to try. I just don’t want to drink for the sake of it anymore.
5. Run a 3:15 marathon
I ran a 3:28 marathon near the end of 2015 and thought that 3:15 was a fair target this year. My training’s ramped up over the past few years (810km in 2014; 2,112km in 2015; 2,430km in 2016) and I’ve been getting quicker. But when I ran the Stockholm Marathon in June, it all fell apart and I ended up with a 3:38 time. I was pretty disheartened.
However, I signed up for the Wolverhampton Marathon on a whim shortly after returning to England and managed to hang on for 3:18. It’s three minutes from the time I wanted but it’s close enough. I’ve got four marathons in the pipeline for 2017. Two are trail marathons so I won’t be breaking any records, but I’d like to get 3:10 in either Paris or London.
6. Get a promotion
I wanted to progress in my ~professional career~ this year and have a new job title to put on LinkedIn. It didn’t go totally according to plan (I was fired) but in a roundabout way, I got the job title I wanted and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in a proper, grown-up workplace.
7. Start Eis Life
At the end of 2015, a friend and I designed some clothing to celebrate the glory of ice cream. In January, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to print it. Thankfully, 47 other people thought it was a good idea and the project was funded, as well as featured by Kickstarter. I had plans to do more with Eis Life but they’ve fallen by the wayside as other projects have come along. But still, it happened and now 47 people are walking around with an Eis Life logo on their person.
8. Play classical piano
I started playing piano when I was four and proceeded through all the grades. When I went to university, I decided it was more fun to play pop than Poulenc, so my classical piano playing ground to a halt. But in recent years, I’ve had pangs for Mozart et al. again and have dabbled occasionally. When I got my apartment in Gothenburg, the first thing I did was buy a piano. And for the months that I was there, I played a bunch of Copland, Debussy and Beethoven. However, I’m now back in London with no room for a piano, and playing the likes of the above on my keyboard isn’t so fun. Next year, I’d like to make more time for classical piano than I did this year, and find a real piano to practice on.
9. Start a new music project
After a solo ‘career’ that’s spanned 11 years, I’m hankering to try something new. There are a few musical projects I want to have a stab at but only one that I made progress with this year. In short, I wrote an EP that will hopefully become something more, in collaboration with a friend. If it doesn’t, I’ll release the songs in another form in the near future. I want to make progress on this project next year, and also start another. And possibly make another Luke Leighfield record.
10. Learn Swedish
When I moved to Gothenburg, I didn’t want to make the same mistake as when I moved to Berlin — not learning the language. I didn’t think I’d stay long enough in Berlin for it to matter, although I ended up being there for two and a half years. This time, I thought I’d be in Gothenburg for a number of years but left after six months.
Despite that, I managed to complete Duolingo after a couple of months of being in Sweden. And, in case you’re curious, completing Duolingo by no means gives you fluency in a language; I could just about order dinner and tell someone the colour of their cat. But I guess I did ‘learn Swedish’ to a degree.
If you want to ask me about anything above, or tell me what a bad vegan I am, then I’m on Twitter and have an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. We can be running pals on Strava, reading pals on Goodreads, and you can buy an Eis Life t-shirt here.
How about you: Did you make any resolutions in 2016? Are you going to make any in 2017? Seriously, I want to know.
Here’s to all of us thriving in 2017.