After the Resolutions Die

After the Resolutions Die January 8, 2014

OK, we’re now a week into the new year, which is about the time that people’s New Year’s resolutions generally start biting the dust. I have a theory about why this is the case, why all our good intentions dissolve so quickly. It’s my conviction that the problem with most resolutions is that we resolve to do stuff that we don’t actually want to do. Nobody wants to go on a diet. If you liked exercising you’d probably be doing it already. You’re addicted to TV or video games or Facebook because you enjoy them. If you wanted to give them up you would have already done so.

Most resolutions, it seems to me, come out of some Calvinistic, judgy part of ourselves that knows that we are inadequate, broken, and need to be fixed—in this case not by the grace of God, but rather by that fiction know as Will Power. (Wouldn’t “Will Power” be a great name for a super hero?) We are determined to finally make ourselves right, good, admirable, slim. We are broken, but we’re going to get fixed.

And then we fail to fix ourselves, leaving us all the more convinced that we are broken to begin with. But what if our resolutions started with the conviction that we are blessed, gifted, wonderful—but still learning? Then we might resolve not to tidy up our many flaws, but instead to enjoy our growing edges. I still remember with admiration a seminary classmate who, when invited in a class to consider her health and eating habits, and to come up with a change she would make for a month, returned to class the next week having done her homework. “I thought about my eating habits,” she said, “and decided that I like them just fine. So I decided to have dessert every day for the month.” I still have the recipe for Chocolate Decadence that she handed out more than 20 years ago.

OK, so my friend’s solution might be a growing edge in more than one sense of the word for some of us, but something in her resolution struck a chord. She recognized the health she already had, and decided to revel in it a bit.

I’ve made and dropped the usual variety of noble resolutions over the years. One year, however, I made a resolution that stuck. More than that, it changed my life. My resolution, from several years back, was simply this: More dancing! (Always with the exclamation point.) I realized that New Year’s that I liked dancing on those occasions when my spouse and I got around to it, but it wasn’t very often. What I wanted was not to fix something that was broken, but rather to give a way for something that was already whole and healthy to grow. So, with the enthusiastic support of my wife, we started dancing. A lot. More and more. For weekends, or even weeks at a time. We got good at it, but we also found a community, a new connection to each other and a whole lot of joy.

Of course, dancing is very likely not what you want to grow in your life. But there might just be something, some seed of a resolution, some inkling of a revolution of joy that you want to feed. You might want to resolve to get out more in nature, Skype your grandkids, sing in a choir, take up belly dancing, teach your dog to do tricks, grow a garden, travel to Spain. You might want to search your life for what feels most precious, most joyful, most connected, most creative, and make a space for that thing to grow. You might want to vow to have dessert every night for a year. If so, let me know. I have a terrific recipe for Chocolate Decadence.

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