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Visum Monachae…On Resolutions

Sister Edith Bogue

New Year’s Resolutions. Can you even remember yours? Surveys show that most Americans break or abandon their resolutions within a month. Many don’t remember if they made one. Is it our fault that we fail? I think not.

The standard template for resolutions is flawed. It calls on us to undo the results of long-standing habits, lose the weight we gained or the stuff we accumulated in the last year, rebuild a bank account decimated by retail therapy, or stop an addictive behavior. The pain of huffing up the stairs, living in clutter, or juggling bill payments hasn’t motivated us. Such problems need an action plan, not a resolution.

What kind of resolution is better?

Why not start with a shorter time frame? Benjamin Franklin worked on a different habit or virtue each month. Jerry Seinfeld builds a chain of X’s on a calendar, one for each day he spends time writing. What happens when he misses a day? He starts the next chain.

Ellen Goodman suggests we look over the past year with an eye for potential. I loved my drawing class for the four weeks it lasted, but I have rarely lifted a pen since. A friend learned to knit, but stopped after her first project. A student speaks of an exciting science class, but she hasn’t read science news since. Imagine resolving to take up those interests and rediscover the joy we felt.

Here is another option: resolve to be different in little things. Take a different seat. Chat with strangers. Eat a meal that’s not your style. Listen to different viewpoints. Read a bestseller or see a movie in an unfamiliar genre. It is as interesting as overseas travel without the cost and inconvenience.

A final suggestion is to do something that you are crummy at, and do it every day. Resolve to make a bad drawing, tell a joke poorly, make awkward conversation, or write bad prose. There’s magic in repeated practice. Your drawing, joke telling, and writing will improve. Conversation will flow and become natural. Want some inspiration? Watch Jia Jiang’s TED Talk, “What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection.”

Each of these new resolution templates is Benedictine at its core. St. Benedict expected his monks to make mistakes. He told them to acknowledge the error, make amends if necessary, and go on. He expected the monks to do any type of assigned task, even if it was unfamiliar or seemed impossible (Chapter 68). His purpose was as much spiritual as it was practical. This way of life teaches us to depend more on God and less on ourselves. It helps us to see the opportunities God offers us every day. St. Benedict promised that, when we live this way, “our hearts expand and overflow with the inexpressible delight of love.”

Is your New Year’s Resolution long gone? Follow St. Benedict’s advice: start again tomorrow.

Sister Edith Bogue is Associate Professor of Sociology at the College and Vocations Director at the Monastery.