New Year’s Resolutions: A Spiritual Approach

As a child, I always had New Year’s Eve plans. My parents would go out, and my brother and I stayed overnight with my aunt. I savored the thrill of staying up late watching the ball drop as revelers on TV partied like it was perpetually 1999. I secretly dreamed that one day, I would be one of them—out and about doing something festive and fun.

As I entered adulthood, I discovered that New Year’s Eve filled me with both excitement and melancholy. Would I be happier, healthier, more prosperous, and farther along on my path in a year? I usually vowed to be all of those things and made resolutions accordingly. But, like many people, by Valentine’s Day, my fire had turned to vapor. Over time, I discovered that a more spiritual approach to resolutions helped me stay motivated. Instead of making a single, big resolution, I found that taking smaller steps of personal reflection worked better.

Here are nine ways to think about new year’s resolutions a little differently:

1. Get quiet

Take time alone to think about what brings you joy and how you can use that enthusiasm to propel you forward on your journey. Go for a walk in nature. Pray. Meditate. Turn off your devices. (Don’t worry—text messaging and voicemails exist for a reason—you don’t have to be available every instant. Your friends will still love you.)

2. Keep a gratitude journal

Write down five things each week that you’re grateful for. Quality, not quantity, is key, so focus on the people and experiences—not things—that you appreciate the most. Writing things down helped me to consider my days differently. Small experiences — like appreciating a pretty sunset or the train I was waiting for arriving quickly on days when I was tired — took on new significance. I discovered that my day usually wasn’t defined by big moments, but by a series of smaller ones.

3. Think of your mission

Instead of being solely goal-focused, ponder the meaning of your life’s work. Ask who you want to be rather than what you want to do.

4. Learn to discern

It can take time and practice to discern the direction of your life. When I have big decisions to make, I try to pay attention to whether I feel peace and whether the options align with my values. Sometimes, it’s impossible to know the outcome before making the choice, so I allow myself the space to grow, make mistakes, and be renewed. Sometimes, finding the courage to take a leap of faith is the lesson itself.

5. Seek spiritual guidance

If you are struggling with figuring out the direction of your life, speaking to a person strongly rooted in faith, like a spiritual director, may help you uncover the answers you seek — or at least, pose different questions to yourself. A spiritual director can be a priest, a nun, or a layperson. And reading the works of spiritual seekers like St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Teresa of Avila can help remind you that people from all eras grapple with the same eternal questions.

6. Practice the Daily Examen

The Daily Examen is an easy method of daily reflection that was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. It encourages awareness, forgiveness, and hopefulness. It is a way of assessing how you respond to the challenges and blessings of the day. It allows us to see where God’s presence has popped up in our lives most visibly on any given day and provides insights into opportunities for deeper growth.

7. Find an accountability partner

Need a little extra boost staying on course? Find a friend who will support you and help you stay accountable—to them, yourself, and your goals. When I started writing a memoir, a classmate and I began sharing pages we had written each week. Knowing I had an external deadline to meet and that my friend would be waiting to read and critique my work motivated me to turn off Netflix and write on days when I resisted.

8. Craft a vision board

While I don’t believe that simply pasting pictures of a new car or trip to a lush island on poster board will get you those things, I do find it helpful to make wishes and goals visible in a tangible form. If you hope to run a marathon, a picture of a runner might remind you to stick to your training schedule. A photo of a diploma might remind you why you are plugging away on a grad school paper at midnight. A vision board with verses from scripture or quotes from saints might inspire you to reconnect with life’s deeper meaning.

9. Believe you can do it

A positive mindset helps any endeavor. With God’s grace and your own dedication, amazing things can happen. Though the new year rolls around every January, a new you is possible at any time.

Originally published on December 26, 2018.

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