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

It’s only when you learn to accept who you are, flaws and all, that you can make real, worthwhile change

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.

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