Apparently, the custom of making New Year’s resolutions began with the Romans and they were usually to do with morality – being good to other people, for example. When the Roman Empire became Christian in the 4th century “these moral intentions were replaced by prayers and fasting”. New Year’s resolutions were revived by the Puritans and, as with the Romans, it was all about treating others more kindly and generally being a better person.
Today, New Year's resolutions tend to be more about self-improvement than anything else. We decide to give up a bad habit, get fitter or lose weight. They're usually connected. It's not surprising that January is the month when fitness centres invest most heavily in advertising.
I can't remember when I last made a resolution. Can you? I used to give up on my vices three months before Christmas and start again on Christmas Eve. By January, I was once more firmly gripped by my nasty habits.
Now I have no vices left to give up, January's a breeze. Especially as my Darling's Christmas gift to me was a four month free pass to Szeged's splendid sauna and steam baths.
Exercise is painless
Does taking saunas and steam baths count as exercise? Saunas relax your muscles, burn calories, improve cardiovascular performance and flush out toxins so, in one sense, the answer's yes. And you don't have to make an effort to pour with sweat..
But, unless you're able to meditate in extreme heat, saunas are boring. Which is why Sauna Seances, held by a qualified sauna master who 'takes care of the proper heat and ventilation, pours aromatic oils over the stove and makes good atmosphere' are such a fantastic idea. A Sauna Seance also, if you're lucky, involves cheesy music, flashing lights and someone dressed as an Ancient Greek making dramatic motions with a towel to waft the heat around.
(I have no idea how Sauna Seances got their name. When I told my Darling that 'seance' in English means contacting the dead. She said it meant the same thing in Hungarian. Exqueeze me?)
In my first Sauna Seance, the Sauna Mistress handed us little pots of oily salt with a slice of tomato on the top. One guy ate his tomato before the giggling Sauna Mistress told us we were meant to rub it on our sweaty bodies along with the oily salt.
Sauna Seances are enormously popular in Hungary. I'm trying to persuade my Darling that she should qualify as a Sauna Mistress. She'd look delightful dressed in a Greek chiton. (This is not her, by the way. She's far, far more beautifuller.)
I have to say, though, that while I feel fantastic after a session with the sauna and steam, I'm not convinced I lose any weight. Nor, by the looks of their paunches, do the other regulars. But, now that I've learned not to smile when I step into the sauna, they're at least beginning to tolerate me. (If you smile when you walk into a room in Hungary, people think you're an idiot.)
Another great advantage of resolving to spend more time at the sauna is that it’s incredibly easy to stick to. All I do is go somewhere else, take off my clothes, sit down and pour with sweat. I mention this because New Year’s resolutions are often not such a great idea.
According to social psychologist Amy Cuddy, the problem is that we set unreasonable goals which fill us ‘with feelings of anxiety and lower our self-worth’. What we should be doing is making resolutions that are authentic to our ‘true selves’ and practice ‘self-nudging’ - setting small, achievable goals and not ones the size of oil tankers.
While what Amy says makes sense, the problem comes with defining what 'authentic' and 'true selves' actually means. And this is something I want to have serious fun with in my January posts.
Throughout January, I'll be asking:
- Why are we able to make major changes to the way we live at some times and not others?
- What makes us believe some people who claim to be able to help us change and not others?
- Why, in the affluent west, are we obsessed with finding our 'authentic, true selves' and our 'purpose' in life?
- What are the characteristics that all methods of self-help share and why?
And, who knows, we may even be able to find some answers.
Happy New Year from all who sail on the good ship Disorder@theBorder.