The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions began during the reign of Caesar, when the calendar was adjusted so that January falls where it does today.
In a December 31, 2015 Washington Post story, writer Howard Bennett notes that during Caesar’s time New Year’s resolutions were of a moral nature, such as being kind to others.
And while New Year’s resolutions are not specifically a Catholic practice, reflecting on the changes we hope to see in our lives is a very Catholic thing.
“Our God is a God of second, third, fourth and endless chances,” explains Katie Dawson, diocesan director of Parish Faith Formation. “Examining our conscience is a good starting point toward loving God, each other, and receiving the love of God in our lives.”
When we repeatedly cultivate the good habits essential to changing our lives, Dawson says, science shows that we grow white matter in our brains. “The cultivation of small daily habits that are manageable rather than undertaking overly ambitious transformations is key to success in keeping our resolutions.”
Theo Tsaousides, writing in Psychology Today, says our brains want to make resolutions — and that making them is the only way anything ever gets done. “Goals mean clarity,” he writes. “Goals provide you with a vision and a direction.”
In addition, Tsaousides says, goals give our lives meaning and purpose, including a way to improve our lives and the lives of others. Unsurprisingly, having goals makes us feel good.
The Catholic Church offers many methods to reflect on our lives and identify areas we can improve, Dawson says. Ignatian tradition instructs us to examine our lives each morning and analyze our priorities. At night, we review our actions and lift up our day — good and bad — to God.
Dawson recommends a helpful guide to developing meaningful resolutions. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website at usccb.org includes a conscience-based focus on the Ten Commandments.
The one resolution Dawson recommends everyone make is to get adequate sleep. Though seemingly unrelated to our faith lives, sleep is something everyone benefits from. “Everyone is nicer when they’re well-rested and it’s easier to love people when we’ve had enough sleep. Letting go of control, recognizing that God is God and accepting that the world will go on even if I go to bed is important for all of us.”
Dawson also suggests that we resolve to make space in our day for solitude and conversations with God. Beginning each day by intentionally lifting our hearts and minds to God, or reading the day’s Scriptures helps us consistently make space for God’s presence in our lives.
Catholic smartphone apps, such as Laudate, offer myriad ways to connect with our faith, including the Scripture readings for each day and suggestions on praying the Rosary. Developing family projects, such as serving meals to the hungry, involves everyone in a faith-based resolution. Other resolutions could include developing a Marian devotion, attending daily Mass, or going to confession once a month.
“We fail to keep our resolutions simply because we are human,” Dawson declares. “With all the difficult forces and demands coming at us, a year can go by and we realize we haven’t done the important things.”
Online resources for Catholics considering new year’s resolutions: