Albert Einstein gets credit for the definition of insanity: trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results. By this definition, most of our New Year resolutions are completely insane. We know this. Some of us are not ready to admit it yet. Give us a couple of weeks. Others among us fully embraced the futility of New Year’s resolutions and didn’t make any.
This is too bad, because New Year’s resolutions offer hope. They help us rebalance our lives. New Year’s resolutions are our stretch goals to becoming a better version of ourselves. We make them knowing that parts of our lives need changing. It’s our annual course correction, an attempt to climb out of a well-trod rut and to chart a new path. It’s also challenging.
Consumer Reports recently made a video of three well-known cars being tested in snowy conditions. You can watch these cars turn or change lanes, leaving the well-trod path and turning into unplowed snow. Almost all the cars fought the turn, keeping the car in the tracked snow. Even our cars know that leaving the well-worn path for unplowed territory is hard work.
If you have already abandoned your new resolutions, give yourself another chance to try again. Because waiting another 51 weeks to get out of your rut really is the definition of insanity.
Most of our resolutions involve two practices: an introspective look at what needs rebalancing; and attempts to act on this insight repetitively until we incorporate it into our daily life. One way to break desired changes into the new, helpful habits would be to sort our insights into body, mind, spirit, relationships, and community.
Body. The most clichéd New Year’s resolutions involve changes to our body. That’s why health club attendance surges and Weight Watchers promotes their service most heavily in January. The cynical me can wrap this part up in four words: more broccoli, less chocolate. Yet what wisdom is my body really telling me? More sleep? Less tension? New habits might range from using a CPAP machine to manage sleep apnea (talk to your doctor first!) to yoga, to attending one of the weekly dances in our area.
Mind. Should it surprise us that our minds wander into dark, dismal spaces when we bath them regularly in hate speech or violent images in movies or on TV? Gratitude changes our viewpoint; we scan for things to appreciate. I’m taking up a challenge I saw online to review each week that passes, write myself a note about what was good, and add that note to a Mason jar. Next New Year’s Eve, I’ll pull out the notes and read them, but I’ll have already gotten the benefit: carving new neural paths by looking for signs of hope amid the dreariness.
Spirit. Whatever your practice – meditation, prayer, spiritual reading – the challenge is doing it daily. Have you established a place in your home and a time in your schedule? Knowing that we are not perfect, we can ask for grace, wisdom, and courage to do our best as we live into new habits.
Relationships. Fr. James Martin wrote an interesting meditation after the election in America, the Jesuit weekly. In “Pro Unity and Pro Voice,” he quoted the founder of his order, St. Ignatius Loyola: “Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition that to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it.” In other words, assume positive intent by those you meet along the way. Assuming positive intent is the prerequisite for listening, which is the way to understanding. How would the New Year be different if more of us adopted these practices, particularly in our online interactions?
Community. In his article, Fr. Martin combines advice for reconciliation and generosity of spirit with a call to speak out and stand in solidarity for the poor and the marginalized. Martin calls this being “pro-voice.” Break this down into daily life. Where and when do you encounter people who are being ignored or treated unfairly, people who may feel so discouraged they do not speak out for themselves? How would you react if you saw someone harassed by another person because of their race or their appearance? What can you do regularly to be a light-bearer and a spokesperson for these people?
Brother David Steindl-Rast, an Austrian Benedictine who’s been active in interfaith dialogue, says the willingness to change and to show it in small matters is a very important element of our practice. May small moves bring hopeful, healthy changes to you and to those around you in 2017!