Illustration by Alisa Santikarn for Varsity

I have moved to three different cities over the past four years. I have matriculated in three different universities, and graduated from two. At the start of every academic year, and especially of those in which I found myself in a new city surrounded by new people, I thought the time had come to completely reinvent myself. New year, new me.

I’d be cooking real food (not just heating up canned soup) and going running three times a week. I’d be keeping a healthy work-life balance – eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of free time. I’d be less shy and less concerned about what others thought of me. This was my year, I told myself. But then, somehow, two or three weeks into the term, I’d still find myself in the library at 11pm, eating a meal deal from Tesco, trying to finish that essay that I should have started way earlier, worried that my newfound friends would think me lame for not joining them at the pub that night. New academic year, but old me, and old habits. At that point, I’d basically just scrap the first few pages of my brand new journal, which I had filled with good resolutions for the new year, and just give up even trying, postponing the transformation into the ‘new me’ until the beginning of the next academic year.

No ‘new me’ can magically materialise herself on the 1st of October. It’s just a change of date

It took me four years to realize that there is no ‘new me’ as there is no ‘old me’, but there is only the present me. Life isn’t one instantaneous make-over, and no ‘new me’ can magically materialise herself on the 1st of October. It is just a change of date. The fact of the matter is that most of my personal resolutions for the new academic year usually concerned the external, most obvious aspects of my personal development.

These were then doomed to fail from the start, as I tried to treat the symptoms – such as changing my routines and rebranding myself in front of others – rather than the underlying problems. I am aware this may sound obvious and trite, but I also really believe that to change our behaviour and attitudes we need to first start believing in ourselves and in our power to change. Now, this is not to say this is easy.

We have to actively (and earnestly) recognise which habits and attitudes we would not want to find in our future selves - in one, five, ten years time. We have to wake up, day after day, ready to work towards getting rid of them, to better ourselves. A new day, a new chance to improve.


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This doesn’t mean that we will never slip up. We can change, sure – but we cannot magically evolve into better people. Self-change is gradual, and little efforts every day add up to big effects over time. Studies show that it takes anywhere between eighteen and two hundred and fifty-four days for people to form a new habit. Waking up at midday after two weeks of healthy eating and productive working days doesn’t mean that we are back to our old selves – which, in fact, do not exist: ‘I just can’t change, this is who I am!’ is an excuse. We are not machines, and it is normal to have ‘bad’ days – indeed, they are a necessary part of the process. Instead, we have to learn to recognise and appreciate our successes. During these past four years, I have learned a lot about myself: I know how I work best, and I am far more confident. Can I pinpoint a specific day when this happened? Of course not. Does it mean that I don’t waste entire days on Youtube anymore? I wish. It is all a work in progress.

Once we realise this, it seems foolish, counter-productive, and even counter-intuitive to give ourselves a time limit to change – the beginning of the academic year, or the beginning of the week, or the beginning of the Cambridge week (who even starts anything on Thursday anyway?). It piles on pressure to be our perfect new selves right away, and to make drastic and unrealistic changes which are doomed to fail. So, I’m taking change slowly. I still buy my morning coffee from Pret instead of making it at home. That can be a task for next year.

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