‘I’ll start on Monday’ and the power of fresh startism | Jack Marshall’s column

The tweet was 15 words long but it said just about everything. “This is it,” it read. “This is the notebook that will help me get my life together.”

The intoxicating illusion of a new start is the kind of dopamine mine that we will frankly never tire of drilling as a species. We’re hard-wired to drift into the comfort of ‘I’ll start on Monday’ and of performatively superficial quick fixes - a crisp new notebook to organise your whole life in or an impossibly strict new diet to carve abs out of a soft belly.

It’s the irresistible temptation of a red line marking the trench between the old you with flaws and unresolved issues, and the new model, all 6am runs and iron-fisted control. There is no transition because transition is messy and hard. Transition is gradual, it’s not a new notebook which acts as totemic evidence for immediate change. It’s intangible.

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It’s why ‘new year, new me’ is a thing and why an errant couple of biscuits on a Wednesday can lead to a takeaway on Thursday, a fry-up on Saturday, and promises to start again on Monday. Fresh starts are so seductive because they’re a mental commitment to changes we want, just not a commitment to the effort now: easily written-off accountability debt.

I'll start on Monday, I'll start on Monday, I'll start on Monday, I'll start on Monday

The minor acts of indulgence and self-sabotage once the week you’d earmarked as destined to be perfect are some of life’s great acts of pleasure and pain. Despite Sunday plans, Monday piety, and Tuesday steadfastness, a Wednesday blip becomes a Thursday wobble, an often-epic Friday surrender, Saturday pledges, and more strict Sunday plans.

It’s all-or-nothing, an impossible merry-go-round of destructive perfectionism and self-brainwashing. Real change doesn’t happen on a Monday as scheduled, it just happens as a result of slow, murky effort. As a result of turning up, of accepting lapses as inevitable and moving on with forgiveness in mind because you’re human. Not now-or-never.

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It’s horrible, but the person you picture when you make Sunday plans to be executed with military-grade precision and discipline come Monday morning doesn’t and never will exist. They’re too idealistic a creation. But there is a happier version ready to be lived rather than written on fresh stationery.