Eight days ago, on an empty Devon beach in the very first hours of 2023, I felt an urge to rip off my wet-weather layers and jump into the ocean.
True to my only New Year’s resolution — to grasp life and opportunity rather than overthink and under-do — I followed my impulse, took the very cold plunge and emerged minutes later in my undies, shivering and exhilarated.
Few of my past New Year’s resolutions have been so easily kept, and instead have lingered undone, frustrating me.
Rather than galvanising me into self-improving action, they have always signified something else to beat myself up about.
Eight days ago, on an empty Devon beach in the very first hours of 2023, I felt an urge to rip off my wet-weather layers and jump into the ocean. True to my only New Year’s resolution — to grasp life and opportunity rather than overthink and under-do — I followed my impulse
Historically, the first of January is a day when I reflect on my failures, my unfulfilled ambitions and the many changes I need to press ahead with.
But not in 2023.
This year, after turning 60, I have decided simply to stop worrying about years gone by and instead look only to the future.
Take diary-writing, a fine example of first-week-of-the-year failure. For decades, every year I have excitedly cracked open a new journal and begun to write a daily diary. Perhaps one day, I muse, I will inadvertently become a self-help guru, with an archive, stretching back years, of every mistake I’ve ever made to reflect upon and help guide others.
Once New Year’s resolutions are broken, usually in the first few weeks of January, we too break and give in. That, for me, is New Year in a nutshell
In reality, I achieve three or four days of scribbling down every transient thought and event, bore myself to death with my own banality, then dry up completely, concede failure and chuck the whole thing in the back of a drawer.
The following year, in a repetition of the madness, like an old dog unable to master new tricks, I do it all over again.
The Diary Error can, in my opinion, be applied to all resolutions: dieting, giving up alcohol, exercising daily, not shouting at our teenagers. We decide to alter ourselves but instead set onerous challenges that can’t easily be achieved or sustained.
Once they are broken, usually in the first few weeks of January, we too break and give in. That, for me, is New Year in a nutshell.
Yet this year, after more than six decades on this planet, I have concluded there is a kinder path to future improvement: we must be more flexible and less perfectionist.
Ultimately, we think that if we are not doing something properly then it’s not right and not worth it — so we stop. In every way, this is detrimental. Such tendency towards judgment, both of ourselves and of others, sometimes feels like a national epidemic. What is wrong with a more gradual, little-by-little approach?
Of course, resolutions in your 60s are wholly different from those in your 20s or even 40s. When I was younger, mine were focused on work success, boyfriends — either finding or getting rid of one — and body shape
Take diary-writing. Why not write one entry a week or — more likely — every day of the first week of January, then stop and try again in February for a week, later filling in thoughts over the summer holiday . . . and finishing on December 31? It’s still a diary.
The same applies to the dieter and to the concept of Dry January. If you have a blip — and goodness knows, we’ve all been there — it’s not the end of days.
Ultimately — and this is the wisdom of age speaking — the most important skill-set in life is resilience and the ability to bounce back from failure. Life is an uphill challenge, punctuated by an occasional and very welcome gentle glide across less daunting terrain, and adjusting expectations is one of the keys to those moments of harmony.
Certainly, the build-up to turning 60 in November was like an ascent of Everest proportions. I felt only shock and dread as I hurtled towards a number that is, if not exactly old, certainly at the far reaches of middle age.
Sixty has historically signified the beginning of the end — not of life but certainly of one’s useful working life. I couldn’t bear to even think about reaching that pinnacle, so I elected to keep my head down, hang in there and hope that an avalanche might somehow slow my upward path.
I was happy to see the back of 2022 — and already I am grateful for the calmer waters of 2023
Then the big day arrived and, although I wasn’t singing for joy that I have less time left, I was relieved that I didn’t, in fact, feel as crushingly sad as I’d anticipated.
Yes, there is a sense of time running out — but with that comes an urgency that there is much still to be achieved. Rather than finding it daunting, I’m excited. (It helped that my husband and friends organised a surprise birthday weekend at which they all dressed up as me — allegedly — with blonde wigs and baffling leopard print.)
I enjoyed the day itself, but my Big Birthday did bring in its wake all kinds of unsolicited memories that threw me for a while.
Old frustrations, professional slights and even old desires bubbled to the fore like an emotional flash flood, and briefly I was deluged.
On bad days I’d feel as if I was perched on a precipice — behind me the glimmering, varied lights of life’s possibilities; ahead the dismal half-light of a long Scandinavian winter without a hope of returning to spring.
So I was happy to see the back of 2022 — and already I am grateful for the calmer waters of 2023.
Of course, resolutions in your 60s are wholly different from those in your 20s or even 40s. When I was younger, mine were focused on work success, boyfriends — either finding or getting rid of one — and body shape. ‘Go to the gym every day’, ‘Do seven spin classes a week’, ‘Find abs’. That sort of thing.
Like many of my generation, I worry about the state of the world that is being handed over to my children. At 60, I want to change the world — but not for my own sake (or not entirely)
As the years go by, my resolutions are becoming less goal-orientated yet more ambitious.
Like many of my generation, I worry about the state of the world that is being handed over to my children. I find myself feeling lucky to have been an older mum: my two, still in their late teens and very present in my life, both distract me and keep me aware of broader concerns for the future. At 60, I want to change the world — but not for my own sake (or not entirely).
My menopause campaigning is a case in point. Initially I was driven by my own desire to understand what was happening to me during this period of tumultuous change, but today it has become a mission to ensure that no woman suffers in silence or has to turn detective to seek out HRT and support.
Last year I wrote a book with Mail journalist Alice Smellie, Cracking The Menopause, and I am chair of Menopause Mandate, a coalition of campaigners with the goal of revolutionising the support and advice women receive from both our health service and wider society.
I intend to fight for this until the day I no longer need HRT — which will also be my last day on this earth (I’m not joking when I say they’ll have to prise my oestrogen gel from my cold dead hand!).
Yes, occasionally I am brought up short by the thought of the coming decades and the challenges my peers and I will no doubt face.
But not all challenges are bad ones. I love to read about role models, such as 69-year-old Yorkshire grandmother Chris Hobson, who only took up marathon running at 61 and has just made headlines by completing the gruelling Antarctic Ice Marathon — literally a marathon in sub-zero temperatures on an ice-bound continent.
Or 52-year-old Sally Cooke, who has smashed all UK sprinting records in the women’s 50-55 age group, despite only recently returning to running after a 30-year break.
We used to think that once women reached menopause they were redundant. Happily, there has been a seismic shift in that perception but we need to push farther and harder.
Great — you’re not useless by the age of 55! But let’s take that optimistic view into our 60s, 70s and 80s.
Physically I feel no different at 60 from when I was 40, and mentally I feel much improved.
I’m on the lookout for fresh discoveries, places less travelled, experiences unexplored. It feels like an urgent quest for the new. I don’t want to tootle on in the same way
In fact, when I look around my house, which is draped with teenagers lying down and moaning about being exhausted, I’m relieved not to be 18, since it’s clearly so incredibly tiring.
Better still, now I feel unfettered. In my 50s, I forged ahead with my domestic and professional lives, nose to the grindstone — but today I feel horizons expanding beyond them. My children are increasingly independent of me; my working life is full of exciting challenges; and my domestic life, after being married for 20 years, is pleasantly grounding.
I’m on the lookout for fresh discoveries, places less travelled, experiences unexplored.
It feels like an urgent quest for the new. I don’t want to tootle on in the same way.
Tempting as it sometimes is to settle into an armchair — and yes, there are aches and pains, most of which are currently resolved with yoga and Pilates — I’ve no intention of allowing that to happen.
Perhaps because I spent so much of Christmas with a stinking cold, I want to ensure I am as healthy as possible. I am about to head off to the Yeotown retreat in Madeira for a detox, and this year I dream that I’ll be able to sustain the energy I feel on returning from a week of walking and yoga.
I know how much better life is when I’m not running on caffeine to help me stay awake and red wine to help me sleep.
But I don’t intend to beat myself up any more. Should I fall off the caffeine or wine wagon, I will clamber back on. That’s the way happiness lies.
I’m not blind to the fact that my face is getting older and, like many women, I’m not interested in changing the way I look. But it’s as much about the mind as the body — both need tending and appreciating.
Back to my New Year’s Day plunge. I’d also like to live in a world where the sight of a woman over the age of 50 in a bikini isn’t headline news.
I’m hopeful that will happen in my lifetime, as the older I get the more constraint-free I want to feel.
I haven’t mentioned this to my family, but I’d love to have a little more time on my own, Virginia Woolf-style, too.
In a noisy world, being left in peace with your thoughts is a rare luxury. Whether it’s wandering alone on a bright morning or a weekend binge-reading in bed, or indeed a night in a hotel room alone with the remote control, a welcome discovery in maturity is that solitude by choice is one of life’s most valuable gifts.
So should you happen to wander along a British shore on a rainy day and see a blonde bob on a nearly-naked body that’s definitely seen some wear and tear but thankfully remains adequate for the job, then it might well be me.
For I shall continue to embrace my New Year and my new decade in absolutely (in)appropriate and utterly joyful fashion.
Cheers to you all!
Gwyneth Paltrow, 50, poses for cheeky snap in skimpy black bikini as she celebrates New Year’s Eve with lookalike daughter Apple, 18, son Moses, 16, and mum Blythe Danner, 79
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