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January 7, 2013

The beginning of the New Year brings with it a flurry of resolutions, ranging from the impossible to the foolish. Many pledges and promises will be short-lived. By the time you read these words your best intentions may have already been discarded just a few days into the year. Many of our pledges of resolve will meet with mixed results.

A man in Georgia resolved to win the lottery. He spent so much money on tickets that his exasperated wife left him.

A woman living in a New York apartment resolved to adopt a new pet every month. Her landlord soon evicted her.

Most of us have had the unhappy experience of making resolutions we could not keep. Failure to honor our goals has often left us feeling guilty.

Here are some tongue-in-cheek suggestions that should be relatively easy for us to keep.

  1. Gain weight, at least 20 pounds.
  2. Stop exercising.
  3. Read less. It makes you think too much.
  4. Watch more TV.
  5. Procrastinate more. Start next week.

The New Year is both a time for looking back and for anticipating the year ahead. It’s a time to reflect on and make changes that might improve our lives. According to, the top ten New Year’s resolutions contemporary Americans make are also the ones we have the most difficulty keeping. This list may help you consider your goals for the coming year.

  1. Lose weight and get fit.
  2. Quit smoking.
  3. Learn something new.
  4. Eat a healthier diet.
  5. Manage money.
  6. Spend more time with family and friends.
  7. Reduce stress.
  8. Make better use of time.
  9. Simplify by getting organized.
  10. Quit drinking.

Three psychiatrists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, who are also professors of psychiatry, advise that the key to achieving even the loftiest goals is to get started immediately. Allow action to precede motivation. Don’t wait until the mood seems right. Begin now!  University experts offer these additional tips for keeping New Year’s resolutions:

  • Be positive. Avoid perfectionist thinking. While we certainly want to better ourselves, it is healthier to think in positive terms than it is to focus on how much we fall short of our aspirations.
  • View setbacks as lessons for growth. Mistakes can be, and usually are, opportunities for learning. If you fall short of your goals, ask yourself what hindered you from achieving them. Then try to make corrections. People who like to sail understand this navigational concept. You almost never go directly from point A to point B. You set a course, take readings of your position, and then make adjustments as you proceed.
  • Make resolutions that are flexible and realistic. Avoid words like never and always in your resolutions. Think in terms of gradual, steady improvement.
  • Share your goals with trusted friends. They can gently nudge you in the right direction when you veer off course. Accountability contributes to success.
  • Give your resolutions personal meaning. Your goal should be something you really desire to change or achieve, not just something that others say will be good for you. You can be successful with strong, internal motivation.
  • Set realistic goals that are attainable. Take small steps that are likely to be met with success. Rather than trying to lose ten pounds in a week, join a weight-loss program instead. Try to lose one pound a week.
  • Acknowledge the spiritual aspect of your goals. A good resolution will honor your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual dimensions.

In my personal experience with New Year’s resolutions, I am more likely to be successful if the goal is not simply self-improvement. A higher goal is to make life better for others, as well as for ourselves. A few examples may prompt a similar sense of resolve for you. This is a list I have honed over the years.

  1. Express more appreciation for others. Make opportunities to offer a simple thank you. A word of encouragement affirms others and reduces stress for them and for us.
  2. Perform random acts of kindness. These gifts of grace ease the way for others.
  3. Plant a tree or a few flowers to brighten a corner of the world.
  4. Recycle.  Doing so helps the environment and raises our awareness.
  5. Give a handshake, a hug, or a pat on the back. Kneel when you speak with a child. Call a person by name and look them in the eye. Personal contact enhances life.
  6. Vote. Your voice makes a difference for us all.
  7. Obey the law, especially when driving. Everybody benefits.
  8. Pray beyond your own circle of concern.  Impart hope to others.

The best resolutions are not so much the ones that make us better individuals, but those that make the world a better place for us all.

For several years I have enjoyed using the daily devotion book Forward Day by Day. It is a quarterly publication of Forward Movement, an agency of the Episcopal Church. Every issue includes a section entitled “Morning Resolve” that has become a part of my prayer life each day. I offer here a slightly modified version.

A Morning Resolve for Every Day

I will try this day to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking; cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.

In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe God has shown me to be right.

And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord my God, for the strength and courage to persevere. Amen.

Kirk H. Neely
© January 2013

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