It is an intoxicating moment. We realize that things we are doing are making us unhappy and we feel we have the capacity for change. We then muster our will around the concepts: “Enough” and “I can change this”. Then comes the articulation of the “From now on…” We begin then to feel a deep happiness and a fresh beginning like when we open up a brand new textbook in September and start to take notes in our clean, just purchased notebook.
What follows is often discouraging. The initial enthusiasm wanes as the cost of what we want to accomplish grows in us. There is a period of time between that initial burst of energy and the construction of a solid habit in which many people just stop doing what they had at one time resolutely decided.
For instance, I may have made a New Year’s resolution to go to a gym and work out each day. So I get my stuff ready (sweat suit etc.) and I happily go to the gym. I stay 2 hours and come back exhilarated. But the length of time spent there was imprudent. The next day I am a mass of pain. But I still go to the gym the next day and stay even longer. Of course, even more pain hits me when I wake the next day. I also get in trouble with my boss because in the interest of my resolution, I have not the time to do my job the way he wants it done. And so I stop going to the gym ‘just for a few days’. I don’t have to tell you that this spells the end of the resolution.
Resolutions are only partially fed by enthusiasm. They must also be prudently undertaken. An initial 15 minute trip to the gym would have started to limber up my unused muscles. I could return after a day’s rest with more energy. I could be a little more prudent in the length of time not only for the stress only body but also to make sure the new resolution does not take too much out of the other valuable things I do (like my job!).
When a resolution is done with care and its implementation is prudently undertaken, what happens is it develops into a habit that continues to guide the person and becomes part of the person’s way of dealing with the world. There was a recent book entitled “The Power of Habit” that outlined very convincingly the enduring strength that a good habit develops in a person. It becomes part of the person’s ‘rule of life’. It does not have to be constantly debated but it’s benefits become self evident.
When one approaches intellectually all the major factors about life, we see the utter importance of developing those habits of mind, body and spirit that will continually renew the person, eventually in an unconscious way.
One can also see by extension the terrible debilitating effects of developing bad habits and the deep pervasive damage they do to the person. Hence, the importance of choosing resolutions carefully. They should be simple to do, simple to measure, and realistic in both the time needed to do them and the benefits that they give.
Take for instance, the resolution one might make to pray more. One can say to oneself: “I am going to be more prayerful in everything I do. I am going to make all my decisions in union with prayer so that I do not deviate from the will of God.”
Now this is a wonderful thought and in line with the witness of the saints. But how are we to keep this resolution? How can one always monitor oneself? And how do we know when we are not fulfilling this resolution. It is too amorphous and hard to evaluate. A person would be better off keeping it simple and direct: “I will pray for 10 minutes in the morning looking over the day ahead with a pen in hand and a journal. Then at night I will go over what I wrote in the morning and prayerfully evaluate how God centered my decisions were.” To measure it we have just to put down the time on paper when we start and finish. A simple look at our journals would tell me whether I was faithful in fulfilling my resolution for the week or the month or the year.
Resolutions are a great way to make progress in our spiritual lives. But to be effective they must be simple, doable and easily evaluated. For a brief but faithful visit to the gym each day is better that two hours on January 2 and then aches and pains till we just give up on it.