Integrity: combatting the pressure of New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement

We are halfway through January; the month of good intentions. Some are doing Dry January, some are doing Veganuary, some have joined a gym (again). What we need to do better, or what about ourselves that has got to change, is a topic of conversation for most people in the early days of the year, and if you yourself haven’t written up a solid set of New Year’s resolutions, you’ll have seen others post theirs on Facebook with all the appropriate hashtags.

According to history.com, the concept has been around for at least 4000 years. Originally, New Year’s resolutions were of a religious nature and consisted of offerings and vows of virtue, but in modern times they have increasingly become about self-improvement, not so much in terms of righteousness, but rather in terms of physical appearance and about correcting our self-perceived flaws.

This hardly comes as a surprise: we’re living in an age where having #goals seems to be #goals in itself; where social media is feeding a collective delusion of how awesome other people’s lives are, all framed in ads for all our favourite self-enhancement products; and where we are bombarded with articles on how to unlock this mythical creature within called “potential”.

Am I the only one who’s had it up to here with self-improvement? Maybe this year our goal for the future should be not to change at all.

Danish psychologist and philosopher Svend Brinkmann has written a book called Stand Firm on the topic of challenging what he calls the “tyranny” of positivity and personal development with which our culture seems to be obsessed. In Stand Firm, Brinkmann talks about how this persistent focus on bettering ourselves is, in fact, making us feel worse, more anxious, and less content. Instead he proposes a different way of thinking, one where you choose to be happy with who you are, flaws and problems included, and furthermore, stop being so self-absorbed.

What Brinkmann tells us is to quit the navel gazing, be at peace with having a bad day without feeling like it’s a problem that immediately has to be fixed, to accept that life isn’t always great, we aren’t either, and we don’t need to be. He tells us to challenge our FOMO and miss out on things, say no when we might feel like we ought to say yes.

The mindset he prescribes is, in his own words, somewhat stoic. It urges us to avoid blowing problems out of proportion and realise that some hardships in life just need to be endured without too much fuss. They simply are parts of life’s rich tapestry.

Brinkmann’s point of view can seem controversial, and at times it almost sounds like he’s telling us to suffer in silence and be happy with that, but that is not the essence of what he is saying. What Brinkmann is talking about is integrity. When you look Integrity up in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it gives you three synonyms; incorruptibility, soundness and completeness. It explains integrity as having a firm set of beliefs that you adhere to, and from which you derive your sense of self. Brinkmann is suggesting that we shouldn’t strive for constant self-development, but to be true to ourselves, to our morals, to what we are as a whole with our good and our bad sides, and precisely stand firm.

Personally, I applaud Brinkmann’s ideas. As a cheerful nihilist, I fully accept that I was born and am going to die the same person, just bigger and hopefully twice as wrinkly. And while I’m here, I aim to be content, not to chase an idea of perfection that will always be at arm’s length, thumbing its nose at me.

To me, having integrity is about owning up to yourself and being honest about your feelings, your conscience, desires, and about your mistakes too. If you don’t wanna go to the gym, don’t let anyone make you go. If you can’t think of anything worse than being on a diet, don’t you dare going on one. However, if you at the same time really want rock hard abs, you need to either make peace with the fact that that’s not going to happen, or you need to have enough integrity to bite the bullet and make the necessary lifestyle changes. Own whichever decision you make. Remaining in that no man’s land of whinging about it, but not acting on it, is not a good place to be.

Having integrity is about knowing yourself and realising you are a whole human being with strength and flaws, and that that is okay. You are enough, with or without rock hard abs, and if there are things that you want to change you do it on your terms and in your own time.

So start trusting your core instincts and your beliefs. Know your morals, your worth, know what you want and try not to let your desires be fuelled by the fitness industry, popular culture, or social media. Be unapologetic about your existence, but apologise when you know you’ve done wrong. This year, and for the rest of your life, just be you.

Matilde Christensen

Art by Laura Dowson. Find her on Instagram: @laura_dowson

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