A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
When I was a teenager and young adult, I enthusiastically made New Year’s resolutions, and I kept a lot of them. I can’t remember the specifics of a single one, but I remember spending a lot of time in December thinking about what small thing I wanted to change. Maybe the key to my enthusiasm about resolutions back then lies in the word “small.” As far as I can remember, I never attempted to change anything major.
Sometime in my late 20s or early 30s I stopped making resolutions. I don’t remember much about why I made that decision. After I stopped making resolutions, I often saw articles in magazines or newspapers that talked about New Year’s resolutions as pointless and an exercise in frustration and futility. In fact, some authors seemed to be saying it would be better not to make resolutions at all, than to make them and not keep them. Making a plan and not fulfilling it does something destructive to the human soul, they seemed to be saying. Better not.
About ten years ago I made a New Year’s resolution for the first time in a couple of decades. I had bought a book of abdominal exercises for women, and I made a resolution to begin to do exercises for my abs. A year went by, and I didn’t start. The next year I made the same resolution. And the next.
It took about five years for me to begin to do abdominal exercises. Now I’m pretty consistent at doing them three times a week, and I can tell a difference in the way my stomach feels. Flatter and more muscular in a small but wonderful way.
So now I find myself wondering: Did the resolutions, repeated year after year, help me start to do the exercises?
I study and write about Christian spiritual practices, those repeated actions that help us keep company with Jesus. I am convinced we are shaped profoundly by what we do.
Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, noted: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Moments really do matter. Our choices of which actions to repeat – abdominal crunches, prayers at bedtime, Scripture memory, and so on – really do make a difference over the span of months and years.
What helps people get started doing something they have never done before? What helps people begin to do something consistently when they had only done it sporadically before? New Year’s resolutions helped me start new habits when I was a teenager and young adult. Yes, they were small habits, but small habits do make a difference. I wonder part of the benefit of those resolutions had to do with the time I spend in December pondering my life and examining the patterns of my days.
How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. As you think about 2013 coming soon, how do you want to shape your days so your actions will impact the pattern of your life?