About a week after New Year’s Day 2014, my friend Keith asked me what resolutions I’d made. Keith is an insightful, non-conformist “Red Letter Christian” in his mid twenties. I looked at him suspiciously, assuming he’d look down on this mainstream practice. Most non-conformists I know roll their eyes at the passé ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions. He couldn’t be serious.
I was surprised when he said, “I think everyone should make New Year’s resolutions. We should make resolutions every month, every week, every morning! The only way to live with purpose is to regularly examine the direction of our lives. How can I live an examined and meaningful life if I don’t routinely evaluate who I’m becoming and commit to practices that will move me towards the life I’m called to live? I’m not saying January 1 should be the only date we do this, but it should at least be one of the days we do it each year!”
Keith, as usual, made a good point.
Approximately 45 percent of Americans make resolutions every year, 17 percent make resolutions sometimes and around 8 percent are successful at fulfilling their resolutions. Now 8 percent seems like a low number on the surface, but imagine if our mortgage rates increased by that much overnight? In those circumstances 8 percent would seem anything but small and insignificant.
According to the Toronto Star, 68 percent of Canadians made New Year’s resolutions in 2012. Nineteen percent failed the first day, but another 19 percent kept their resolutions for the whole year. That means (depending on the age range used for these statistics) between 3 and 4.4 million Canadians made a positive life change in 2012. Perhaps Keith is right, resolutions aren’t so silly after all.
Here’s how I see it. Attempting to shed negative habits and adopt healthy ones is better than making no attempt at all, and using Jan. 1 as the date (even if it is a cliché) to evaluate one’s life and make commitments is better than never doing it. Choosing possibility, hope and optimism is healthier than apathy, fatalism or elitism. (By elitism I mean the attitude that “I’m above the mainstream nonsense the herd of mindless masses participates in.”)
One reason people often give for not making resolutions is because they’ve failed to fulfill their commitments in the past. They’ve given up and stopped believing not only in the ritual but in themselves.
I would encourage those individuals to try again and think of success in terms of baseball. The highest batting averages in Major League Baseball today are in the low to mid .300’s. This means the greatest hitters in baseball succeed roughly 33 percent of the time and fail nearly 70 percent of the time. This has wonderful applications for personal and spiritual growth.
None of us “bat 1000” and God doesn’t expect us to. We are called to growth not perfection. Setting measurable goals is one of the best ways to grow and this becomes less intimidating when we view failure to achieve our goals as research, helping us figure out what works and what does not. As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” I say learn from your strikeouts, celebrate your hits and never be afraid to step back up to the plate.
I don’t always make resolutions but I reflect on my life at the end of each year and refine my Rhythm of Life (the principles, priorities and practices I live by). In fact my Rhythm of Life includes engaging in major self-examination every September and December. This works well as my birthday is Dec. 28. The three days between my birthday and Jan. 1 take on a death and rebirth motif culminating with the beginning of a new year. And any resolutions I make are about pursuing a higher standard of life, not solely focused on self-improvement, but increasing my willingness and capacity to contribute to the greater good.
Last year retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield asked Canadians to make a New Year's resolution in 2015 to change the world. He said, “There are problems with everything and nothing’s yet perfect. But that shouldn’t be cause to bemoan, it should be cause to achieve…It all starts with a resolution. What’s yours?”
It doesn’t matter if it’s New Year’s Day, Groundhog Day or every day, what’s important is to routinely take time to prayerfully ask what this season of your life is about and commit to something.
Troy Watson has made a few resolutions for 2016. firstname.lastname@example.org