Media CenterCarolyn Woo’s CNS Column – The Daily New Year's Resolution

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By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo

January 2015

An essay for January naturally focuses my attention on the matter of New Year’s resolutions. Research shows that the majority of Americans engage in this practice although few of us see it through with resolute consistency. I am among that mass, I regret to say, and have not yet lost those pounds as promised year after year.

"Why bother?" some may ask of making resolutions. Is this just a perfunctory ritual taken on without thought and commitment? Would we be more honest with ourselves to simply stop? As one who has failed frequently, I really pondered this. Happy to say, I come out of my musings affirming the practice and cheering for my compatriots who keep trying.

January takes its root from the mythical Roman god Janus with his two faces confronting both the past and the future. Because Janus could turn his gaze in that way, the Romans, beginning in the reign of Caesar, made the New Year a time to atone for the past and appeal to Janus's forgiveness through acts of kindness. From their inception, New Year’s resolutions as expressions of the desire and the agency for improvement are inherently self-critical and optimistic. There is something fresh, renewing and energizing about the ability to imagine a better future through one's efforts. It is the Charlie Brown in us unbowed by the hard-nosed realism of the Lucy. It is a vote for ourselves, saying that we will not just "throw in the towel."

Despite my spotty track record, I am glad I have made my collective resolutions over the years. Weight may not have peeled off but I have learned a lot about nutrition, healthy foods and better eating habits. These now inform my choices. I may not exercise with an iron will but it has become part of my regimen, and I miss it when I get away from it. From actions prompted by past resolutions that eventually took hold as habits, I now take my vitamins daily, chug down a big glass of water when I wake up in the morning (to replenish a dehydrated body) and explicitly acknowledge God's presence in everything I am about to do that day. I may not have gotten an "A" for perfect execution, but taking the long view, I see that not all is lost.

Research shows that for resolutions to stick, they need to be small, denominated into very specific actions as micro-doses. This means the opposite of grand intentions such as “become fit,” “be thoughtful,” “get organized,” or the like. Instead, the commitments would be, for example, to take the stairs instead of the escalators out of the subway three days a week; mark the birthday of your assistant or closest colleague in your calendar and send a greeting; organize one drawer a month.

While resolutions point the way to the great expanse of the future, our actual living is done day by day, moment by moment. To give up on our resolutions because of a lapse that happened yesterday ignores the fact that today is a gift filled with its own opportunity and invitation. While the New Year naturally denotes a beginning of sorts, each dawn actually offers us a fresh start.

The hopefulness that fills us at the beginning of the New Year can present itself every day if we choose to claim it. As Psalm 118 proclaims, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it." Not only will I hold onto the practice of New Year’s resolutions; I think I will just make it a daily thing.

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service. You can follow Dr. Woo on Twitter at @WooCRS.

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