What does it mean to resolve? According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the type of resolve relevant to our New Year’s lists means “to make a definite and serious decision to do something”. Contrast that definition to the common trope and truth of the New Year’s resolution: something everyone makes big promises about in the first week of the new year, only to forget about them by the end of January. How often have we heard “I’m going to workout more this year,” or “eat less junk”, or “do better in school” only to find habits unchanged? In effect, this frequent failure in our resolutions has diluted the very meaning of the word resolution. To make a resolution is no casual acknowledgment of something we should do; to make a resolution is a “definite and serious” decision – a promise in effect, and so our attitudes toward resolutions should be elevated appropriately.
This refocus on the word resolution is not for mere preservation of the word’s integrity in the years to come. Rather, this clarification is important to reflect the incongruence of our words and actions. Failing to keep a resolution is not bad because the object of the resolution is forfeited, but rather because it means our resolve, our ability to do what we say we will do, has failed. This harmony of words and actions is not something merely to strive for in New Year’s resolutions either, but at all times, in all situations. Annually writing a resolution on January 1st that is quickly forgotten only reinforces our indifference to the disparity between our words and actions. We practice lying to ourselves.
Matthew 5:37 says, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.” This verse contrasts the simple “yes” to the “I promise to…” responses to another’s request. If our actions only follow if we are to say “I promise”, what does that mean regarding our “yes” to others? So, our actions should always follow our words, not only if explicitly called a promise. To keep our resolutions, whether made on New Year’s or in the workplace, school, or at home is key toward building our character – toward possessing honesty and integrity. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.”
So, we might ask, how can walk the walk this year, rather than talk the talk? Looking back at my 2021 New Year’s post, I kept two of three resolutions – not bad, but not perfect. My resolution this year is to make that score a 100%. My resolution, my promise to myself, is going to be simple – no multi-part resolutions . Some might see that as lowering the bar so one can jump over it. But no one jumps high without first jumping at all, and so my New Year’s resolution will be simple and seemingly “easy“, because it is far more important that my words and actions align than for my New Year’s resolution to be difficult. In doing so, I will have achieved something great at the end of 2022: the improvement of my character.