Putting off difficult decisions costs humanity dearly
Published 04/01/2013 | 08:00
On Sunday, I gave away my mince pies. I had got to the point where I didn't really like a cup of tea without one. And, when you drink as much tea as I do, that adds up to an awful lot.
In this, I am like many other people who have started the year with a list of things they're trying to give up. My former neighbour, for example, is, for 31 days, giving up not just mince pies, but food.
Maybe she'll manage it. Maybe she won't. More than 80% of us break the resolutions we make.
We all like the idea of willpower while we're still eating the mince pies, but when we've stopped, we prefer the mince pies.
We all like the idea of deferred gratification, in other words, but when it comes down to it, instant gratification, as Carrie Fisher said in Postcards from the Edge, "just isn't soon enough".
It isn't clear how many people are making the resolutions they're breaking. Or how many of them are really fat. But an awful lot are. About a quarter of British adults, in fact.
That, by the way, isn't fat as in plump, tubby or "celebrating curves". That's fat as in obese.
The Royal College of Physicians has just published a report which says that treatment for obesity, which currently costs the health service £5bn-a-year, is "patchy" and "inadequate".
The report, like every other report on obesity, says that this is an urgent problem that must be addressed.
The figures show, in fact, that this is a big, complicated problem, to do with corporations and marketing. And this big, complicated problem is a crisis.
But we're so used to hearing that everything is a crisis that we don't seem to know what the word crisis means. Or if we do, we don't care. Human beings have always preferred to do things that are easy and only to address a problem if it can't be pushed away.
Not everything is a crisis. Things being slightly worse than last year isn't a crisis. Having to pay slightly higher taxes, or having a slight drop in income, if you're fed and clothed and have a roof over your head, isn't a crisis.
We need - and our politicians need - to be able to tell the difference between the things that are really important and the things that aren't. And we need to put our efforts into the things that are important. And to recognise that solving complicated problems takes thought. And energy. And time. Quite a few of the problems that face us have come about because we've wanted to forget about the future and think about now.
That's why many of us don't have pensions. That's why so much of the Western world is in debt. And that's why the problems of obesity won't be solved by giving up mince pies.
If you want to keep a New Year's resolution, you should, according to the psychologists, make it clear, and realistic and brief. You should identify the goal and then focus on the strategy.
You're going to need to put a lot of effort into the strategy. You're going to need, in other words, and it would be nice if the politicians would listen, to do less, but to do it well.