This year I have no New Year’s resolutions. Here’s why.
The very idea of making resolutions implies that we aren’t living the life we want; we are slaves to destructive vices that we need to break free from, or we are failing to invest our time and energy in the good and noble things that we want in the depths of our soul. New Year’s resolutions are discontinuities. They are our declaration to ourselves and to the world that on January 1st we will cease to be the person we were the day before, and become somebody else. That’s why we usually fail to keep them. Few of us are capable of such heroics; for the mortals among us, change is slow and difficult.
Self-improvement is both desirable and achievable, but it is a continual process that requires unwavering commitment, hard work, and constant monitoring. Life change isn’t a surgical airstrike; it’s World War II. It is a long hard slog through the rain and the mud, and if you stop fighting for a moment, you will be overrun. The good news is that if you do have the grit to fight every day, you really can gain ground. As victories accumulate, you can change yourself and your world. Victory becomes a habit. And if you are striving every day to live the life that you want, New Year’s resolutions become redundant.
The past few years have been a time of incredible life change for me, largely by necessity. I had to finally confront weaknesses within myself that were threatening to ruin my entire life; the resulting change has been tremendous. My time in Jordan forced me to alter parts of my personality by sheer force of will, because I could only thrive as an Olmsted scholar if I overcame my deep natural introversion. The birth of my three closely-spaced children brought me the greatest joys and blessings of my life, but has also put incredible demands on my time and energy. As a result, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about my values and priorities and strategizing how to pursue and invest in the people and projects I am sincerely passionate about. Once a year or so my wife and I have a “Navigator’s Council” to deeply reflect on where the ship is sailing, and we make plenty of mid-course corrections along the way.
So when it came time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I realized I didn’t have anything new to commit to. In so many ways, my family and I genuinely are living the lives we want. Of course, that doesn’t mean we have it all together; each night when my wife and I collapse onto the sofa after putting the last child in bed, we are just grateful to have survived the day–and we hope we didn’t make an impossible wreck out of everything. We often feel like failures as spouses, as parents, as friends, as Christians and as professionals. But if we look past the daily grind at the big picture, we’re mostly living the lives we want, and we’re constantly striving to improve in those areas we’re not. We prioritize each other and our kids, undertake many adventures together as a family, and are constantly experimenting with different routines so we can better educate our kids or work out more or have more time to read. My wife is regularly learning new, healthier ways to feed our family. For my part, I’m always paying attention to my family-work balance, cutting out inefficiencies and wasted time, and improving my time management so I can complete the projects I’m passionate about while still dedicating abundant time to my family.
In other words, we don’t have discontinuities; we are committed to a constant process of growth and change. We are always striving to improve ourselves as individuals and as a family, and improve the ways we interact with and give back to the world.
This isn’t to disparage resolutions or the people who make them. I have plenty of resolutions–whole notebooks are filled with them and their outworkings–but I would never achieve any of them if I confined them to the start of the new year; I’m way too failure-prone to stand a chance. To succeed, resolutions must be so much more than annual pledges; they must be seared into the core of our being, guiding us as we fight the new battles that each and every day brings.
That is why I don’t have New Year’s resolutions; they wouldn’t do me a bit of good. Instead, my constant goal is to be a person of resolve. To never settle, but to always be striving for the greater good in my life and the lives of others.