If it seems that the word “resolution” is used only during that two or three week period straddling the holiday season, it’s probably because it’s true.
The dictionary definition of the word is “a serious decision to do something,” and at its root is the Latin verb “resolvere,” which generally means to “loosen, undo, or settle.” When we use it in relation to the New Year, it means an individual has settled in his or her mind to act - or not act, as the case may be - on something during the upcoming year.
Although it is by definition a serious decision, we have all unfortunately learned through experience that resolutions usually fail. We sooner-or-later come to a realization that what seemed like a good plan on December 30 or January 3 is really more-than-difficult to achieve, and usually involves substantial work and sacrifice. That is why the overcrowded gyms of January inevitably regress to the point where by spring you can step onto any one of a dozen treadmills at any time of any day.
Yet, the decision to use a milestone like the first day of the year to help us make decisions about the future is an important one, because those decisions are the result of serious self-reflection. It is a time when we look back with objectivity and identify our shortcomings and weaknesses, and look forward with hope and a resolve to do better next year.
Personally, I don’t like to make resolutions. When I think of the term, I’m reminded of the great Puritan Jonathan Edwards who, as a young man around 1722, drew up a list of 70 resolutions on how he would live his life and serve his God. Here’s an example of one of Edwards’ formal resolutions: “Resolved, To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, wherein I could possibly in any respect have done better.”
Reading Edwards’ resolutions, and reflecting on how seriously he took them, makes some of our modern day resolutions look trifling in comparison. This type of resolution-making is a trap into which we are destined to fall, and leads to self-flagellation occasioned by our inevitable failure to keep them.
I’d rather set simple goals for the New Year, which is, after all, an arbitrary but convenient place to begin pursuing them.
I have always been a voracious reader. I can remember staying up all night when I was a kid reading through an encyclopedia that was about ten years out of date. This love of reading, particularly non-fiction, has stayed with me throughout my life, and I recently realized that I don’t do nearly enough of it these days.
The distractions of electronic devices are a big culprit. In the past I would sit on the couch or flop into an easy chair and read a book. Now, it is easier to read an article or scroll through Twitter on my phone. It is for this reason that e-books just haven’t worked out well for me: the lure of other content on my web-connected iPad, time and time again, proves to be too strong to resist.
Another reason is simply the fact that I am simply too busy doing my job; it is easier to unwind by doing something that doesn’t require much thinking.
A third reason is that my young children require – and deserve - a great deal of attention, and it is hard to delve into a good book when you are constantly distracted.
But when I dig deep, my reflections on the past year lead me to but one conclusion: I am just making excuses. My goal, then – not my resolution - is to read more in the coming year. Maybe I won’t read as much as I used to, but I will stop making excuses. I won’t be dogmatic about this and beat myself up if I don’t read as much as I think I should: when life gets in the way, I will let life win out.
But I will try. I have chosen the books I want to read - or re-read - and have already begun. Of course, the distractions life throws my way means that I might still be reading this same book come springtime, but I will keep reading – because that is the goal I have set for myself. If I had, instead, made this a “resolution” I think it’s clear I would be setting myself up for failure.
So it’s a goal.
I will leave the significant resolutions to people like Edwards for now, and focus this year on achieving small victories if I can, when I can, and as I can. So maybe, at this time next year, I will be able to look back with pride and see achievement, and leave disappointment to the resolution-makers.
Happy New Year to all.