I gave up making resolutions years ago. I abandoned the practice for several reasons.
Naturally, I end up breaking my resolutions fairly quickly, which led to shame, discouragement, and a frenzied feeding of my vices. Like Paul, I am grossly disappointed in my ability to keep my resolutions. He describes his wrestle between virtue and vice in Romans Chapter 7.
“For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19).
Same, Paul. Same.
I also recoil from resolutions because they focus on items that are easy to quantify: diet, exercise, finances, and so forth. Most of my yearnings to better myself concern virtues that become superficial, contorted–even obscene–if made into something that can be checked off a list. My apologies to Benjamin Franklin and his chart of thirteen virtues. However, I feel inauthentic when trying to track a virtue such as “sincerity.”
And finally, there is the lack of flexibility in a resolution. I’m a human being not a computer program. My desires in January often differ by March.
Elder Shakespeare notes this violence of forcing ideals upon people in play Love Labor’s Lost. A group of gentlemen decide to retreat from the world in order to achieve greater heights of mind, body, and soul.
Ferdinand (King of Navarre) and three of his noble companions take a series of vows at the start of the play, which they all end up breaking. This creates dialogue about the tragicomic elements of oath breaking. These four men try to deceive each other about their broken vows until they finally concede that such a project was misguided.
They decide to live more organically, more authentically, and more dynamically by the end of the play:
In Act IV, scene 3, Berowne (also called Biron in some editions of the play) recognizes how sometimes slavish obedience to an oath can lead to more harm than good:
“Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths” (lines 365-6).
I also perceive some arrogance in establishing my own program for self-improvement when my Divine Creator may have different plans for my year than the ones I set forth on January 1st.
For these reasons, I have recently started adopting a Word of the Year instead of making resolutions. I like this better because a word is more principle-based and can be reimagined throughout the year. I do invite heavenly help by praying about which word I choose. By approaching the spirit of a word instead of the rigors of a resolution, I see an expanding horizon as my understanding and application of my chosen word transforms from month to month.
How do I choose a word?
Even though I am a little suspicious of lists, I do find myself regularly looking at the list of divine virtues in these passages of scripture: 2 Peter 1, Doctrine & Covenants 4, and Mosiah 3:19. Sometimes during sacrament meeting, I study these three passages as a way to focus on divine traits rather than worldly definitions of desired personality traits.
Two of these traits—humility and compassion–kept coming to mind when I went through some hardships as I launched all of my children last August. I was tired of being mad and sad about being sidelined by my increasingly independent children. When trying to shift into a more peaceful response, I kept returning to humility (why did I feel so entitled?) and compassion (how could I think of other people going through things more difficult than a normal, expected life event?).
Because these words kept speaking peace to my soul last fall, I decided to chose them as my WOTY: Word(s) of the Year. Yup, I’m cheating bit by choosing two words of the year. But these words kept coming to my mind in a pair, so why not innovate as a way to be dynamic, authentic, and organic to the process of putting off the natural woman?
I look forward to discovering unexpected definitions and applications of these divine traits as I journey through 2020.