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Why you should make New Year's resolutions in autumn

Why you should make New Year's resolutions in autumn

You likely won’t be shocked to learn that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions fail almost as soon as they’ve begun. The odds of you actually quitting smoking, getting in shape or sorting out your savings are a bleak eight per cent, according to research from the University of Scranton. Of your fellow resolution-makers, 27 per cent will have tapped out within the first week, and 31 per cent by the end of the first fortnight. Just half will make it past a month.

If you’re wondering why we’re bringing this up now, months before your first New Year’s Eve invite has even dropped onto the doormat, it’s because we’d like to suggest a change to your resolution schedule. This year, you should turn over new leaves just as they start to fall to the floor.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions dates back 4,000 years, to the Babylonians, who made promises to various deities as part of an 11-day festival marking the rebirth of sun god Marduk. Sensibly, they held that shindig in March, just as it was starting to brighten up. It wasn’t until the Romans rejigged everyone’s calendars that Julius Caesar transposed this annual hootenanny to the first day of January – the month named for Janus, god of new beginnings. While rendering unto Caesar all due respect, the dead of winter is a terrible time to be setting ambitious goals. Nature is conspiring against you like so many backstabbing senators.

The human brain and body don’t respond well to darkness. Though the cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately, SAD) isn’t fully understood, it’s believed that the lack of sunlight plays havoc with your brain’s hypothalamus, the small, cone-like structure in charge of hormone regulation. That leads to underproduction of serotonin (which regulates mood, appetite and sleep), overproduction of melatonin (which makes you drowsy) and an out-of-whack body clock.

The symptoms of SAD are, however, well-documented. According to the NHS, sufferers can expect “persistent low mood”, “a loss of pleasure or interest in normal everyday activities”, “irritability”, “feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness”, “feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day”, “sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning”, and “craving carbohydrates and gaining weight”. Mix in the physical and financial hangover from the festive season, douse with the year's worst weather, and you have a resolution-breaking perfect storm.

So instead, why not make them in September, when conditions are infinitely more favourable? Like January, it’s a time of new beginnings – you might be long out of school shoes, but we bet that right now you can’t walk past a shop advertising pencil cases without feeling a twinge of possibility.

Unlike January, September is the start of a new season, meteorologically and sartorially. Nature’s shedding of its clothes heralds the best time of year for men to put on theirs – not least because we can wear more of them. If summer is about stripping down, autumn is all layering up; tricksy colours and fabrics become satisfyingly rugged textures – tweed, flannel, corduroy – and earth tones like rust, olive and camel, which go with everything and everyone.

The weather, while unpredictable, offers options. It's not so hot that a pair of jeans leaves you dabbing sweat out of your eyes all day, but not so cold that you’re forced to cover up all your hard outfitting work with a heavy duty coat. There’s also the not insignificant fact that everything you buy now, you can enjoy until April. Which means investment pieces suddenly develop excellent cost-per-wear.

The transition from summer to autumn is also so much more abrupt. Spring and summer creep up on you slowly, a gradual disrobing over a period of months. Autumn is upon you quicker than a jacket on that first brisk morning. What you wear doesn’t alter from December to January anything like as dramatically as it does from August to September, which is another reason why the latter is suited for starts that feel as fresh as the air outside your window. It’s a chance to autumn-clean your wardrobe and stock up on some more visually interesting new-season pieces, to cultivate a new look or even some facial hair.

It’s not just your wardrobe that responds best to autumnal overhaul. By far the most popular New Year’s resolution is losing weight or eating more healthily: 21.4%, versus 12.3% for other forms of self-improvement, the second-most popular category. Better financial decision-making comes in third and quitting smoking at four. Working out more often is seventh, after doing more exciting things (more exciting than working out, presumably) and spending more time with family (lower priority than exciting things, naturally).

 Reacquaint yourself with the symptoms of SAD detailed above and you’ll understand why embarking on a new fitness and diet regime in January is spectacularly ill-conceived. Even if you manage the Herculean task of dragging yourself out of bed and through the cold and dark to the gym, you’ll still have to fight through hordes of fellow ‘resolutionaries’ in order to use any equipment.

Putting it off until spring won’t do you much good either: contrary to popular belief, most gyms tend to be even busier in March or April, doubtless because of warmer, lighter mornings and the looming holiday season. Better, for a whole host of reasons, to start any new regime in autumn: according to Gold’s Gym, the month with the fewest check-ins is October.

Fitness take time to build, as do the habits required to sustain it, or indeed any other lifestyle change. A UCL study found that, on average, it takes 66 days before new behaviours become automatic. That’s a lot of time in which to relapse – and old, unwanted habits die hard. Reverting to the University of Scranton though, people who succeed with resolutions fail at the same rate – 71 per cent in the first month – as everybody else. The difference is, they drag themselves back on to the wagon. And that always easier to do when the wagon’s not covered in ice.


Words: Jamie Millar
Illustrations: Tom Jay